Former American Airlines executive talks loyalty at Steamboat Airline Partners Summit

Michael Schrantz - The Steamboat Today

The first time a young Rob Friedman traveled to Steamboat Springs, the trip was 14 hours facing backward in the third row of a station wagon.

The family ski vacation full of denim and zinc oxide sunscreen must have made an impression because when it was time for Friedman to start his own family tradition in 2003, they headed to Steamboat Springs and have been back every spring break since.

“I’m going to tell you why you’re loyal,” he said to start his presentation Wednesday at Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.’s Airline Partner Summit.

Friedman is a former American Airlines executive who has worked in revenue management, helped lead marketing for and was president of AAdvantage loyalty program.

A customer’s experience with a brand is a combination of the product and the people, he said. The right combination can lead to lifetime loyalty.

And loyalty, Friedman said, holds benefits for the customer and the business.

Loyalty makes us feel better and more valued, he said. Companies that you’re loyal to will fix your problems and continually seek to improve.

Using photos and examples from his own family ski trips to Steamboat, Friedman broke down the components of customer loyalty.

When his grandmother died right before their trip was scheduled, Friedman was able to move the whole trip two days for his family to attend the funeral. One year, Friedman’s son came down with pneumonia during the trip, and the doctors were nice enough to provide him an oxygen tube long enough to stretch outside where he could play in the snow.

Friedman used the stories as examples of the tremendous customer service that was provided in Steamboat and the people who are just as friendly as the Western branding would have you think.

Another year, one of Friedman’s sons who was just getting the hang of skiing wanted to ski with him and show him what he had been learning in ski school.

Friedman said he’d never skied with kids before but led the way for down Giggle Gulch.

He got to the bottom, and his son wasn’t behind him.

“I’d kind of forgotten to look behind me to see if he was still there,” Friedman said.

Fifteen minutes later, a ski patroller brought his son down and admonished him to pay better attention, but the real scolding came from his wife and family.

“It was really embarrassing,” Friedman said. “I learned never to do that again.”

He wasn’t off the hook yet.

A year later, a few students in his son’s class were selected to share stories they’d written during an event. His son’s title: "Lost" — complete with a cover illustration of a mountain scene.

Brands, like dads, have to learn from their mistakes and improve.

To sustain disproportionate loyalty, Friedman said, brands have to continually measure and optimize their efforts.

Repeat customers pay a premium, give you second chances and provide stability during challenging times, Friedman said. They also make you a valuable and sought-after partner for business.

“I’m absolutely a lifetime loyal customer of Steamboat,” he said.

More than 15K vacationers expected in Steamboat on Feb. 15; 14K expected this weekend

Tom Ross - The Steamboat Today

Steamboat’s snow conditions promise to pack guest rooms in Steamboat Springs the next two weekends.

Steamboat Ski Area was reporting 5 inches of new snow at midmountain Wednesday morning and 8.5 inches in 48 hours for a season total of 242 inches, and vacation reservations seem to be responding.

If recent trends are an indication, the actual number of visitors both weekends could go higher. The Chamber was expecting 10,175 guests to stay in local lodging properties Feb. 1, and a second poll confirmed that an additional 1,400 showed up.

Snow forecaster Joel Gratz, of OpenSnow, wrote in a report Wednesday afternoon that the Colorado Rockies will continue to see significant snow Friday through Sunday.

“From Friday night through through Sunday night, the flow will be from the west. This favors Steamboat, Beaver Creek, Sunlight, Powderhorn, Aspen and perhaps Monarch,” Gratz wrote. "These are the areas that I think will see the deepest accumulations.”

Gratz is not forecasting one single big snow event but rather a steady 2 to 4 inches accumulating every 12 hours until the intensity of the storm ramps up modestly to produce perhaps 3 to 6 inches overnight Sunday into Monday.

The current snow pattern also represents good news for flows in Northwest Colorado’s rivers and streams this summer. The 19.7 inches of water contained in the snowpack at the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass on Wednesday was 137 percent of the median for the date of 14.4 inches. That is according to remote sensing devices maintained by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Buffalo Pass above 10,000 feet is 105 percent of average, however.

The NRCS was reporting Wednesday afternoon that the snow at 9,400 feet elevation on Rabbit Ears was 73 inches deep. At 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, the standing snow was 106 inches, or a little less than 9 feet, deep.

The National Weather Service is forecasting that daytime temperatures here will moderate, reaching the mid-20s on Friday when the chance for snow will be 70 percent. By Sunday, the afternoon high in the valley could reach 33 degrees,and a mix of rain and snow could fall before the temperature dips to 16 degrees overnight.

Ski Season over the Hump

Scott Condon - The Aspen Time

Here’s hoping the second half of the ski season matches the first half.  

Wednesday was “hump day” for the scheduled ski season — 72 days down and 72 days to go, according to Aspen Skiing Co. The season actually will be longer because of an early opening at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass. 

Aspen Mountain received 15 feet of snow between Oct. 1 and Friday, with Aspen Highlands and Snowmass right behind, according to Skico spokesman and record tracker Jeff Hanle.   There were eight powder days of 6 inches or more as of 5 a.m. A handful of other days ended up being 6-inch days with snow piling up after 5 a.m., he said.  

Last week, 24 inches of snow fell in a 24-hour period, and the three-day storm graced the slopes with nearly 3 feet of snow.   “It’s certainly one of the top five biggest storms ever, if not one of the top three, in the last 50 years,” Hanle said.  

There’s no comparison in snowfall between this season and last season. So far this year, 180 inches has fallen. Last year it was only 107 inches over the same period.   However, this year isn’t blowing away winters during this century, contrary to current perceptions. Since 2000, there have been five seasons with as much or more snow as this season at this point in the winter, Skico’s records indicate. 

This winter has been unusual because low temperatures maintained abundant early-season snow and few storms have been accompanied by wind, Hanle said. In short, it’s been a dream for powder lovers despite the dry spell for much of January.   Roaring Fork Valley residents have taken advantage of the powder. As of Wednesday, 498 people had skied or snowboarded 50 days or more, according to Skico.

Season-pass usage overall is up.

“It certainly has taken a leap,” Hanle said. “It’s all snow-driven.”   Skico also has noticed that use of the Mountain Collective Pass in Aspen has increased this season. That pass is good for two days each at Alta and Snowbird in Utah; Jackson Hole in Wyoming; Mammoth, Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley in California; and Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia as well as Aspen-Snowmass.   Destination-skier business is also up so far this season compared with last.

“Big snow is good for locals and good for business,” Hanle said.   The early indications are that the second half of the season will remain on a roll. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for Aspen through 6 p.m. Saturday. The website said this: “Instead of the heaviest snow falling on Thursday night through Friday night, now I think the best snow will fall on Saturday, Sunday, and especially Monday. The central mountains around Aspen should do the best.”

Revenue from Gay Ski Week continues to rise

Aspen Gay Ski Week attendance was up about 20 percent this year and the event’s organizers anticipate revenue from the festivities to be in the neighborhood of $550,000.

“Not all of the numbers are in, but it was a very successful year,” said Kevin McManamon, board member of the Roaring Fork Gay and Lesbian Community Fund, also known as AspenOut, for which Gay Ski Week is the primary annual fundraiser.

With record revenue from Gay Ski Week, the organization expects to top the $37,000 in grants it awarded last year.

The community fund uses its proceeds from lift tickets, hotel bookings and events to pay for next year’s week of programming, and for grants to support LGBT organizations on the local and national level. The nonprofit doesn’t have a set percentage of revenue that goes to charity, but gives an amount based on its remaining funds after expenses.

Last year’s grants comprised about 9 percent of the $400,000 in revenue collected from Gay Ski Week events.

“We hope to grant even more this year,” said McManamon.

In 2012, the nonprofit reported bringing in $314,000 with $295,500 in expenses, giving the balance to charities.

All of the event’s lodging bookings are made through Stay Aspen Snowmass. The central reservations agency is a sponsor for Gay Ski Week, paying the Roaring Fork Gay and Lesbian Community Fund a sponsorship fee and giving an undisclosed percentage of its commission from each booking to the fund.

On top of revenue from lodging, events and lift tickets, the eight-day gathering includes fundraisers like this year’s $250-ticket Moguls of Equality benefit dinner at the Chef’s Club, which included silent and live auctions with profits going straight to the grant fund.

The high cost of producing high quality events in Aspen inflates the event’s expenses, McManamon said. For the benefit dinner, for instance, it cost $15,000 to rent the restaurant.

“It’s expensive to throw a party in Aspen,” he said.

Beyond event costs, Gay Ski Week’s presenters keep overhead low.

The community fund is run almost entirely without paid staff. For the last two years, it has operated with a part-time paid bookkeeper as its only paid employee, and a seven-member volunteer board of directors. Another 60 volunteers help the organization during Gay Ski Week. It has been without an executive director for two years, and before that kept one on staff at $21,000 per year. McManamon said they hope to name a new director this year.

While numerous gay ski gatherings have emerged around the world since Aspen’s began in the late 1970s, it’s the only nonprofit gay ski week in the world.

“There’s really nothing to compare it to,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, when asked about other local fundraisers that draw vacationers to the resort. “I think it’s pretty much unprecedented.”

Estimated attendance this year was 5,000, but a chunk of attendees don’t book official Gay Ski Week packages, staying in second homes, or with friends.

For the last eight years, Gay Ski Week has hired PH Events — Pamela Herr’s Aspen-based production company that has also marketed the USA Pro Challenge bike race — to plan and promote its events. Its gross revenue has grown steadily since 2008.

Last year’s grants included $2,000 for each of the Gay Straight Alliances at the valley’s four public high schools, along with $3,500 for One Colorado, a statewide advocacy organization, and $3,500 for You Can Play, Inc., a nonprofit aimed at giving athletes competitive opportunities regardless of sexual orientation, and encouraging gay youth to stay in sports.

The biggest grant last year was $7,000 for TEACH (Teachers Empowering Agents of Change), a Roaring Fork Valley diversity training group founded by staffers at the Roaring Fork School District.

Heidi Kloser "so sad" after moguls crash, knee injury at Sochi Games


Vail mogul skier Heidi Kloser's Olympic dreams appear shattered after a crash Thursday night in the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park's mogul course sent her to the hospital with a knee injury.

Kloser, who won her spot on the U.S. Olympic mogul team after a podium performance in the qualifying season, was making the first turns on the course a few minutes after it opened for practice before the night's mogul qualification contest. She hit the first jump fine but crashed in the long middle section before the second jump.

"I saw an American coach quickly put his skis on and rush down and I thought, 'Oh, no, that's Heidi,' " said reigning world champion and defending Olympic gold medalist Hannah Kearney of Vermont.

Kearney, who qualified first among the 30 women mogul skiers, was told by U.S. coaches that Kloser had injured her knee.

An hour later, Kloser, a 21-year-old first-time Olympian, was getting an MRI and being taken care of by Dr. Tom Hackett, the U.S. Olympic Team's physician and a renowned orthopedic surgeon from Vail's The Steadman Clinic.

"She's in good hands right now," said her father Mike Kloser. "But she's so sad."

The Kloser clan was gathered at the bottom of the course watching training when Heidi Kloser tumbled. Mike Kloser said the fall — just a couple bumps down from the first jump — did not appear especially traumatic or major.

"It looked like she caught an edge or something. I thought, 'Oh, good, let her get it out of the way now,'" he said.

But then she didn't get up. He had to fight with strict security to reach his daughter as medics hauled her off the course.

"We just wanted to comfort her a little bit," he said.

Mike Kloser said his daughter was very excited to compete in the Winter Olympics. She had drawn the first position for the qualifying contest, meaning she would be the first to ski on the course before it was churned by more skis, which can slow skiers. She was considered a favorite to medal, especially after her second-place finish in the Lake Placid World Cup last month. She was coming into the Olympics skiing as strong as she ever had.

Although her chances for competing in Saturday's Olympic finals are very slim, Mike said his daughter hopes to walk in the opening ceremony on Friday.

"That's the goal right now," he said.

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