Probably not, but it won’t be for lack of trying
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The announcement last May that Vail Resorts bought OnTheSnow.com didn’t make a lot of waves. Coming at the tail-end of a lackluster season, the deal got a few inches of ink here and there, but wasn’t really reported in the context of information management and spin control, something the company excels at.
Control of OnTheSnow gives Vail Resorts the opportunity to connect with millions of skiers and snowboarders who may not ski at Vail-owned resorts, but who are potential customers for the company’s products and services.
It may be significant in the sense that, in the information age, control of information equates to power.
OnTheSnow claims more than 2 million web hits per month during the peak season, so a few people did take notice, including Marc Guido, who publishes First Tracks!! Online Ski Magazine. Guido has been at it since the mid 1990s, the early days of the online boom. He said his site also sees gets more than a million hits, and sometimes up to 2 million, in busy winter months.
“My perspective, frankly is, you can’t ignore them. They are the most-visited snowsports site on the web. You can’t ignore the 500-pound gorilla in the room,” Guido said. “It’ll be interesting to see what they do with it.”
Guido said he’s concerned about the potential for a single company to control a significant chunk of the online ski media market. He said that, so far, he hasn’t seen any signs that Vail might misuse OnTheSnow to boost its own properties at the expense of others, and said that, as far as content, he doesn’t see a big threat from OnTheSnow.
But that could change as Vail Resorts integrates other elements of its digital presence with the website, for example content from its own network of bloggers from the buzz.snow.com network. OnTheSnow could also become a platform for Vail’s EpicMix product, aimed at integrating skier stats with social media networks.
Vail also announced that it’s opening a European headquarters in Innsbruck, Austria for OnTheSnow, so I checked with London-based James Cove, of PlanetSki.Eu to see if there might be an impact to European-based ski websites.
Cove said he’s heard some rumblings and rumors of concern about the fact that a ski resort company now owns one of biggest online sources of snow conditions information, but hasn’t seen anything to suggest that it will make a big difference in the way OnTheSnow reports ski conditions.
But sites like Guido’s First Tracks!! and PlanetSki have deep grassroots and a loyal user base. Guido has even integrated the snow reports from OnTheSnow into his site. In the end, he said, there’s plenty of room in the digital media landscape for a wide variety of information sources.
With the snow season upon us, it’s time to get dialed in to some of the information sources that are out there, so here’s a short listing.
First, check out OnTheSnow for yourself and see if it has what you’re looking for. I go there sometimes when I’m curious about ski conditions in other parts of the world.
And while PlanetSnow focuses primarily on Europe, it always includes a few nuggets of information that are of interest to skiers and snowboarders everywhere. Most recently, for example, the site reported on the near-completion of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which will be the longest tunnel in the world, at 57 Kilometers.
I often visit PlanetSnow when I’m doing the winter resort roundups for Summit Voice. The site also does an excellent job of covering European avalanche news.
Then, of course, you have the big corporate ski magazine websites from SKI and Skiing. I recently went to the SKI site for the recently released “top-ten” list of North American ski areas, and found it, after quite a bit of searching. I wanted to see the rankings beyond the top ten, as well, but had no luck finding that material. It’s like the online version of a Vegas casino where they try to suck you in and farther and farther. They do have a nice shot of Julie Mancuso on the home page right now, though, although why she’s posing like a sweater model for a story about two of the best women skiers ever is beyond me. but that’s SKI.
Skiing Magazine recently announced that it would stop offering a print version, going fully online instead at Skiing Interactive. I just visited the Skiing mag site to find the correct URL and was pleasantly surprised to see a link to my recent dust-on-snow story. I was ready to be all sarcastic about Skiing, but I guess I can’t, seeing as how they were nice enough to link to my favorite story from this week.
Then there’s Powder. I had a story published in that mag once, a short April Fool’s blurb back in the mid-1990s about Vail buying the entire state of Colorado and using nukes to smooth an intermediate ski run down the I-70 corridor. I thought it was pretty funny, but apparently some of the Vail folks don’t share my sense of humor. A few days after the mag came out, I found a threatening message on my answering machine: “If you ever show your face at Vail, we’ll kick your *@s right off the mountain and back to Durango,” the unidentified caller said, so the following year, I moved to Summit County so I could be closer to my fans.
But I digress. Check out Guido’s First Tracks!! It’s got a wealth of content, everything from resort reviews to a resort and industry news feed that’s indispensable if you want to keep up on the latest doings.
If you’re a telemarker, you have to visit Telemark Tips, which also pre-dates the social media craze, but has a very cozy, communal feel to it, with threads on everything from Subaru repair to where to find wild mushrooms. Telemark Tips, gotta love it! Tons of good tele gear info, peer reviews from readers, trip reports with the real skinny on snow, and more.
For general mirth and irreverence, head over to the Teton Gravity Research (TGR) forums, where it can get wild and woolly in a hurry. Warning: Don’t go here if you have a thin skin or are easily offended by bad language. Do go here if you want to keep it real. These folks (I think) are hardcore — you’d have to be with a user name like meathucker, right?
Finally, there’s EpicSki.com, which is kind of a TGR for grownups. this is a good stop if you’re looking for technique tips from earnest instructor types, or if you are looking for a babysitter in Deer Valley. Seriously, I used to hang out at EpicSki quite a bit, and there are some good people there who are committed to the sport and its online community. There’s also a few self-righteous SOBs as I recall, but hey, you’ll find them wherever you go!
I know there are many other online ski communities out there, and I’d love to hear from you what your favorite ones are, so leave a comment below or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.