For ski resorts, content comes of age

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It wasn't long ago that ski resorts clamored for video coverage, rolling out the white carpet for film crews, and even paying—often quite handsomely, depending on the production company—for a three-minute segment in a ski movie. And after all the begging and bribery, they had to sit back and be happy with the message that was portrayed on screen.

That's no longer the model. As more and more eyeballs are migrating away from a TV screen and to the computer screen, more and more resorts are getting into the business of creating content. This season, the trend has hit new heights, as three different resorts (or resort groups, in the case of Ski Banff) have launched thoughtful, well-produced, and heavily stylized web series. Aspen Snowmass has released a three-part series called “Mind Body Spirit”; Ski Banff launched “Sculpted in Time”; and Whistler Blackcomb put out “The Beyond Series.”

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It's easier to talk about all three together than it is to find differences between them. They are all short by web-series standards—three to four episodes each. All three are professionally produced. Sherpas Cinema, who produced the Banff Series, has won best film at the Powder Awards. Switchback Entertainment, producers of “The Beyond Series,” is the company credited with first bringing the web series to snow sports, in 2007. Aspen’s Vital Films, who produced “Mind Body Spirit,” has worked with MTV, ESPN, and NBC. And all of them highlight the people, the artists, and innovators—who also happen to be skiers and snowboarders—who make each place unique (at least from where the majority of people live, though apparently not all that unique from each other).

The concept of a resort spending big to push its own video message is nothing new. In the early 2000s, legendary filmmaker Greg Stump, producer of the iconic ski film “Blizzard of Aahhhss,” made promo films for Whistler, and then Aspen. “Mountain Town,” Aspen's 2006 film produced by RattleCan Films, brought the genre to levels yet unreached during the DVD era by highlighting the people behind the resort, rather than the snow, terrain, or amenities.

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Aspen invested heavily in “Mountain Town.” In addition to hiring the filmmakers, the resort made and distributed more than 200,000 DVDs. But it paid off. The film was highly acclaimed and earned an invitation to the Banff Film Festival. But even as “Mountain Town”was enjoying success as a traditional film release, the content distribution landscape was changing. The same year that “Mountain Town” debuted, Switchback Entertainment launched Salomon Freeski TV, skiing's first web series.

Eight years later, it's no longer necessary to spend a slew of money printing DVDs and placing them in hotel rooms with the hope that people watch them. The resorts can splurge on the content, then uploaded it to their YouTube and Vimeo channels for free and push it out through their own site and social channels.

<iframe width=”640″ height=”360″ src=”//” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>Mountain Town: The film that created the mold. 

The message, though, hasn't changed. “Mountain Town” sought to humanize resort marketing. It followed around 11 of the unique characters who form the backbone of the Aspen Snowmass experience. This storyline is still effective today, though it’s safe to say that, if three different entities are doing it in a single year, it’s become formulaic. Even the people they chose to highlight—the artist, the photographer, the writer—are similar. Or even the same—Eric Hjorleifson appears in two out of the three.

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Screen grabs from, starting left: “Sculpted in Time,” “The Beyond Series,” and “Mind Body Spirit.”

The three series do have their differences. The two Canadian versions are longer and more in-depth. The half-hour or so of total content the viewer gets from “The Beyond Series” and “Sculpted in Time” is closer to the “Mountain Town” model, whereas “Mind Body Spirit,” at about two minutes an episode, comes off as more of a commercial than a story. “The Beyond Series,” meanwhile, is more personal, allowing the viewer to get more intimate with its subjects, while the other two are more stylized, offering more aerial shots, more slow motion, and flashier editing.

The end results are more high quality content for us consumers, albeit with the resorts pulling the strings on what it says. This year, for Whistler, Aspen, and Banff, that message appears to be that the mountains are a great place to be. Just ask the people who live here.

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