Free ski vouchers spur illegal online auctions


Marketing personnel from the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. visited the Denver Pavilions shopping mall during the Thanksgiving weekend and played Santa Claus to crowds of shoppers.

Steamboat representatives handed out 15,000 vouchers for a free day of skiing valid anytime between Dec. 1 and 7. An undetermined number of people also attempted to illegally turn the vouchers into holiday spending money.

The impact of the voucher promotion was felt last weekend, Ski Corp. marketing executive Andy Wirth said. The number of vouchers turned in had not been counted as of late Wednesday.

Ski Corp. had projected that 35 percent, or 5,250, of people receiving vouchers would redeem them and ski Steamboat. The expectation was that most would stay overnight and ski another day.

The goals of the lift-ticket giveaway were threefold, Wirth said.

First, ski area officials have known for 15 years that the first weekend in December is soft for Colorado's destination ski areas. Ski Corp. executives anticipated that giving away vouchers wouldn't offset a substantial amount of revenue, and the program had the potential to bring additional revenue into the resort community.

Second, Wirth said, he learned that other major resorts were not doing a lot of early December marketing.

"We saw a great opportunity for the promotion as a media platform," Wirth said. The ticket-voucher giveaway received coverage on several Denver TV news programs, Wirth said.

He was present at the Pavilions during the weekend, as were Director of Skiing Billy Kidd and Gina Gmeiner, a member of Steamboat's Mavericks Freeride Team.

Kidd gave on-camera interviews with Denver media and Gmeiner signed posters.

Finally, Wirth said, the promotion was a way to acknowledge Front Range skiers for consecutive years of increasing visits to Steamboat.

The promotion had a fourth unintended consequence that the ski area anticipated, but did not approve of. Almost as fast as Ski Corp. personnel handed out the lift-ticket vouchers, they were popping up for sale at discounted rates on Internet auction sites.

"We contacted eBay on (Dec. 3), and they were very friendly and helpful about shutting people down," Wirth said. "It's illegal to resell these types of vouchers, and we came down on people trying to resell our product."

The profiteering on the vouchers wasn't limited to the Internet, Wirth said. Steamboat security personnel were out in force over the weekend, contacting people who were attempting to sell their vouchers in ski area parking lots. About 50 vouchers were confiscated, Wirth said, but the approach to prospective sellers was "friendly," and no attempts to prosecute were made.

Wirth said it's safe to assume that if 50 vouchers were seized from people attempting to sell them, then more were sold successfully.

"The vast majority of our customers are honest," Wirth said.


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