Schweitzer moves on without Ski NW Rockies

The Ski NW Rockies Corporate Pass is a hot ticket. But this season the vouchers good for a sweet discount on passes at local hills aren’t good at Schweitzer. A lot of local skiers and riders who can’t otherwise afford to ski at Schweitzer are disappointed.

Schweitzer pulled out of Ski NW Rockies last spring. Ski NW Rockies is an organization promoting snow sports at the grass-roots level. Inland Northwest ski areas provide Ski NW Rockies with the Corporate Pass vouchers. It sells them to fund marketing, as well as programs designed to create future skiers and riders.

There’s no doubt that Schweitzer is a cut above its local brethren in terms of size, amenities and scene. On a national level, Schweitzer is a player. But some locals feel overlooked as Schweitzer seeks broader horizons.

Tom Chasse, president and CEO of Schweitzer, said leaving Ski NW Rockies was a business decision. He also said Schweitzer is still helping locals in different ways.

“We made some pretty big changes this year to our marketing strategy,” Chasse said. “We took a hard look at Ski NW Rockies and figured we get the same programs from Ski Idaho. We get matching funds from the state of Idaho for those programs. With Ski NW Rockies, an organization operating in both states, those funds aren’t available.”

Chasse was referring to the 5th Grade Passport Program and the E-Z Ski and Ride 1-2-3 Program. The 5th Grade Passport offers fifth-graders three days of free skiing or riding during the season at participating hills. E-Z Ski is a three-day package of lessons and gear at a steep discount. Ski NW Rockies offers these programs at member hills in Washington and Idaho.

“Some of the dollars we would have spent with Ski NW Rockies we invested in technology,” Chasse said. “Now through our website we can provide discount services to locals, corporations and whoever we want.”

Schweitzer has discounted passes available at some local ski shops and REI. The resort also has an e-store on its website offering passes for a few bucks off the ticket window price. Companies that register with Schweitzer can enable employees to buy lift tickets at a discount. A unique code accesses a voucher employees can print out at home redeemable for a pass at the ticket window.

“In this region there are about 80,000 unique skiers and riders,” Chasse said. “Collectively, they put in about 500,000 days the five local ski areas compete for. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that skier base is growing. For us to grow our business we need to reach further out. So we go to consumer shows in cities like Boston, Minneapolis and Toronto.”

Chasse said Schweitzer’s goals are different than Ski NW Rockies. But he believes the local mountains benefit businesswise from the investment he makes to bring people in from outside the region.

“As a destination we bring those people in and they add a day or two at other ski areas,” he said. “I can tell you firsthand we have clubs that will do four days at Schweitzer and a day at Mt. Spokane and 49 Degrees North before they fly back. Or they may fly into Coeur d’Alene, ski at Silver and Lookout and then come up here for a few days.”

Meanwhile, Ski NW Rockies carries on and frugal locals still have plenty of good choices. Although Schweitzer’s absence has affected some skiers and riders, it hasn’t affected business for its members this season. In a statement, Ski NW Rockies said if membership fits Chasse’s goals in the future, it would welcome him back.

Bill Jennings can be reached at snoscene@comcast.net

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