Marketing campaigns focus on western heritage

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— The most recognizable marketing image of the Steamboat Ski Area is of a man and woman on horses, with skis across their laps, breaking trail through deep snow. The majestic old More barn is in the background and the ski-trail-striped Mount Werner is behind that.

In fact, as former Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Vice President of Marketing Rod Hanna puts it, it could be one of the most famous ski posters of all time.

"It's a very recognizable icon to Steamboat," Hanna said.

The photo was shot in 1973, but a poster of it didn't get widely circulated until the early 1980s. The scene nailed the image of Steamboat's marketing concept -- skiing in the real West.

Though that marketing approach has seemed timeless in Steamboat, the western flavor wasn't always the face of skiing in the Yampa Valley. Brochures through the 1960s pitched the ski resort as a modern ski experience and didn't mention cowboys.

Hanna said it wasn't until LTV Corporation bought the resort in the 1969-70 season that the western ideals of the area were linked with the resort.

It made sense, Hanna said, when you looked at what other ski resorts in Colorado were pitching. Basically, steep majestic peaks in tight valleys that hinted at a European experience.

"Then you come up here and it's a different attraction," Hanna said. "When you get on top of the mountain, what do you see? Wide open ranching land."

The advertising company hired by the corporation recognized this. The next ski season, the western ski image was launched. "Steamboat's A Coming" was the pitch, and the brochure showed a stagecoach in the backwoods with the Steamboat emblem.

Hanna explained that the idea was to mix three things that made Steamboat unique -- the western setting, the deep snow and the friendly people.

"The one thing that is consistent through all this time is keeping with that character," Hanna said.

Steamboat acquired the services of Olympian Billy Kidd in 1970, whose trademark cowboy hat fit the Steamboat image perfectly.

A series of posters were also made, showing different shots of western oriented scenes. Real-life cowboy and local legend Pat Mantle appeared in several of the photos. Marketers also decided to replicate famous art. For example, they created a poster similar to Fredrick Remington's famous Buffalo Runners painting, except the cowboys are holding Steamboat Ski Area flags. Another poster of Billy Kidd and Olympian Hank Kashiwa greeting a group of cowboys in a barn, including Mantle, was a take off on a Normal Rockwell painting of a soldier coming home. In this case, it was skiers coming home from a competition.

The western image remained strong through the 1970s until Ski Corp. officials were faced with a new problem in the 1980s.

"People just didn't understand how big this place was," Hanna said.

That is, with terrain expansions after Martin Hart bought the ski area in 1979, ski-able acreage in Steamboat surprised people when they got here, he said.

The western image was coupled with a new marketing slogan in the 1984-'85 season, one that still resonates with some locals.

"More mountain than Aspen; more powder than Vail; more lifts than Snowmass, more sun than Sun Valley; more bars than Utah; and less skiers. Steamboat," it read.

Hanna said in the mid-1980s, Ski Corp. wanted to present an image of a large ski resort where families were welcome, but out in the West where things were a little bit wild.

"It's arguable that this is the time Steamboat was put on the map," current Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said.

The number of Olympians who have come from Steamboat has become a big part of marketing Steamboat. During the Olympics, Ski Corp. marketing zeroed in on that as a way to sell the ski area.

"That didn't begin until the late 1990s," Hanna said.

"We always talked about how more Olympians came from Steamboat than anywhere else. But now, it's just amazing how many."

In 2001, Steamboat launched a marketing campaign tied to the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Advertisements read, "When Olympians gather in Utah it's called the winter games. When they gather in Steamboat it's called Thursday."

But now that the Olympics have passed, Ski Corp. has returned to Steamboat's western roots. In fact, there are two images on Ski Corp.'s home page on the Internet -- a photo of the mountain behind More's Barn and a photo of cowboys racing horses through the snow.

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