October 18th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 42
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New website, new brand, new focus… New potential at PPK
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Anna kroupina photo
The ski hill has entered into an agreement with TechnoAlpin to rent four T40 snowmaking guns for the upcoming season.
ANNA KROUPINA
Pass Herald Reporter
There is a new invigorated energy up at the Pass Powderkeg Ski Hill that has perhaps been dormant the past few years suggests the promise of improved services and enhanced activities and programming.

A survey conducted in the springtime identified various operational and programming gaps from Pass Powderkeg users. Responders rated their satisfaction levels in several key areas of ski hill services and operations, things like food and quality price, length of season, value for price and grooming quality.

What the Pass Powderkeg Ski Society found was that length of season, special events, food & beverage quality and price, and operating hours ranked low, below a score of six out of 10. The good news is that the ski hill ranked quite well on the mechanical side of things, with grooming quality/consistency ranking the highest of all 11 items, with a 7.3 out of 10 score.

Based on these results, the Pass Powderkeg Ski Society is determined to put the focus back on the customers. For the upcoming season, they are taking a long, hard look at the glaring omissions at the hill and trying to rectify them. Coming in on budget last season, they’ve got all the possibility to do just that, and with minimum added expenditure.

“A big part of this year is changing the culture around what it means to be a service-based organization. I don’t think we’ve ever acted as though we’re in the customer experience and tourism game. We were just operating a ski hill,” says Marty Neumeier, chairperson of the Pass Powderkeg Ski Society.

With a dedicated Ski Hill Board, a new Community Services Manager with a legacy of turning bankrupt or almost-there ski resorts into profitable businesses, and a renewed vision for the Pass Powderkeg, the possibilities seem endless.
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“Throughout my three years of board involvement and my 10 years of skiing at the hill with my kids, I’ve never really felt as excited and energized as I do now about the possibilities and the path that we’re on,” says Neumeier.

Finding their identity

Many changes will be taking place at the ski hill as early as this opening season. The first step has been establishing the Pass Powderkeg’s identity and determining what kind of ski hill they want to be.

The launch of their brand new website was just the first step in crafting their unique brand, showcasing what the ski hill has to offer and who they are offering it to.

The Ski Society has determined that their branding should cater to families, first-timers and skiers/snowboarders that have been out of the sport for some time. The message is that the hill is affordable, a safe place to ski, a place where kids can’t get lost.

“Our branding and our messaging is about coming back to learning the sport, having fun outside, getting back into nature and family memories. These are a really holistic approach to winter fun. The idea is that we want our branding to be soft, inclusive,” says Neumeier. “We’re a niche market and I think we didn’t realize that before. We always thought we had to compete with Castle [Mountain Resort]. That’s completely not the case. Castle is a completely different operation for a completely different skier.”

With the hill’s terrain park and black diamond difficulty runs, Powderkeg’s appeal by no means excludes advanced-level skiers and snowboarders.

“We’re fitting into that beginner ski resort, but we can actually service people their whole life. You can’t grow out of us unless you just want something different,” says Neumeier. “There’s a market out there for hard-core skiers to have this ‘retro’ type of experience. You don’t get that at the big corporate hills, but you can get that here.”
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What’s new for the upcoming season?

Big plans ahead…

Growth

The hill can accommodate 350 skiers at any given time, or 700 per day, as not everyone is skiing at all times. Currently, on a regular weekend, usage is estimated to be around 150 to 200 people per day, and even less on weekdays. The lodge comfortably holds 75 people on the main floor and 25 in the upstairs lounge.

There bottom line is that with the low utilization, there is room to grow, yet keep it comfortable for guests.

With that in mind, the Ski Society has amped up their online presence through their new website, optimized use of social media and storytelling.

“It’s easy to tell a story around a ski hill without always asking people to spend money. That’s our mission right now. What this gives us is the ability to be a bit more focused on how we drop our message into different markets. We have a market here that generally knows what we are and what we offer, but you go half an hour to Sparwood, and they’ve never heard of us,” says Neumeier, adding that there will be a focused push on targeting the public east through to Lethbridge and north up to Calgary.

Increased transparency through storytelling and giving readers an inside look at the operations of the ski hill are distinct focus going forward.

“People don’t have that sense that it’s their hill, it’s just the hill. We want to change that story. We want to make the lodge the hub of activity in the winter and beyond,” says Neumeier.
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Early opening!

Friday, December 1 – that’s the goal for opening the lower portion of the hill this year.

Traditionally, the lower portion of the hill had a targeted opening date of Christmas Day, with the upper portion opening well into January.

The ski hill has entered into an agreement with TechnoAlpin to rent four current-generation snowmaking guns, which are expected to arrive at the beginning of November. They allow for better snowmaking at warmer temperatures with one third of the power and water than the previous decade-old guns, essentially deferring the rental cost in savings.

“Our old guns were like flip phones and the new guns like iPhones. There has been quite a large technological leap in last four to five years, so these are a game changer. The new snow guns are more directional, so they keep the plume of snow at the crest of the tree line so it doesn’t blow away,” says Neumeier. “Early season skiing is so much more valuable than late season skiing.”

Studying historical weather conditions over the past few years, Manager of Community Services Joey O’Brien determined that with the new guns, weather should allow for snowmaking as early as November. Should weather cooperate this year, the hill is aiming for an opening of Friday, December 1 in conjunction with Christmas in the Mountains, the earliest opening as far as Neumeier can remember.

“We don’t think it’s ambitious. We think it’s quite realistic. It would have to be an unseasonably warm November to prevent that,” says Neumeier.

As for the terrain park and black diamond runs on the upper hill, they’re aiming to have it open by Christmas holidays.
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Untapped potential

With both first-time and expert-level skiers in mind, the hill will bring in new core programs like week over week lessons and advanced masters program, something they’ve never offered before.

But the Pass Powderkeg’s service to the community doesn’t end at skiing and snowboarding, or at least it shouldn’t. Located in a prime location that can offer activities for any given season, the Ski Society is thinking of ways they can turn the hill into an all-year destination offering, for the first time, events oriented at non-skiers, like guided snowshoeing expeditions, fat biking, weddings and wing nights.

Friends of the PPK

Want an insider’s view of what’s going on at the ski hill? You can subscribe to the Friends of the PPK newsletter on the hill’s new website at www.passpowderkeg.com to read about the inside story of the hill, from some of the decision making going on to fun stories about equipment, volunteer and job opportunities.
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October 18th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 42
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