Ski Bus - can we make it happen or not?
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Attiva_Outdoors
January 3, 2006
Member since 01/1/2006 🔗
5 posts
I have to take a moment and thank Connie Lawn for her tremendous support in Attiva Outdoors' efforts to get a ski shuttle going from the DC-metro area.

As Connie wrote in her New Year's Eve 2005 article for DCSki, the general interest in such a shuttle bus has not been as high as we expected. I appreciate John Sherwood's recommendation to target groups, which we have actually started doing.

However, I am curious as to anyone's thoughts on why the operating model of a shuttle bus service (open to the public to sign up on an individual basis, and receive the lift tickets, etc. at group rates) may not work in this area.

We appreciate any feedback, and we continue to keep our fingers crossed! For more info on our service, please visit www.attivaoutdoors.com.
kennedy
January 3, 2006
Member since 12/8/2001 🔗
792 posts
Some of it may be schedule. In other words a full day trip doesn't appeal to all people. Personally I'm a 4 hour person. I want to get there early, rip it up for 4 hours then get home before the crowds. I'm not in to being there all day long so in that regard the car is still more attractive to me.

target groups might be good such as scouts etc who put together their own trips. If you can show them that it's more cost effective to leave the organization of the event to you that may be another niche.

If things get rolling on an even keel maybe try things like a singles event. Or if Snowtime would work with you on it, a mountain crawl from WT to Lib to RT.

It's going to be a tough niche to crack but I genuinely wish you all the best with it.
JimK - DCSki Columnist
January 3, 2006
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,702 posts
Like the others, I wish you all the best in this worthy effort.

You've probably thought far more about this than I, but in your current model you need to appeal to folks who normally drive alone to a ski area or don't have a vehicle at all, i.e. singles or college/HS students. For others that go up with a full car it is much cheaper to drive themselves than ride bus for $25, even given a group rate on lift tic. Or am I wrong on that pricing estimate?
You might target night skiing to get youth market? Or you might target day trips to areas like Wisp, Wintergreen, Seven Springs, Blue Knob - about three hrs from DC. A little far for a day trip, but maybe not if someone else is doing the driving and the customer wants some variety beyond Liberty and Whitetail. Wonder if you could dovetail with Alpine ski shop to take a bus load up to Wisp for their discount ski demo day on 1/12 or with Ski Chalet to Wisp on their demo day on 1/19? IMHO it's all about cost. If you can get the overall cost down to only about $5 more than a twosome driving themselves and get the word out on that, then you might see increased interest and not just from singles.

Respectfully disagree with Kennedy. If I'm paying for the bus ride on a weekend I want to stay all day, particularly to the places 3 hrs away.
JohnL
January 3, 2006
Member since 01/6/2000 🔗
3,514 posts
Where else have you advertised or been mentioned besides DCSKi? I'd expect you'd have a season full of losses before you built up enough word of mouth to become profitable. But that's just my guess.

Your customers will be among the following:

  • Those who don't have a car or their car is having problems
  • Those who don't want to drive themselves
  • Those looking to head out with a group


Whitetail and Liberty are close enough that most people don't mind driving to them. Plus, as Kennedy said, the 4-hour or 8-hour flex tickets mean you can head up anytime you want, slide for a bit, then head home to do other things. If you hop on a bus, you lose a lot of convenience. Plus, the Advantage Cards offer pretty good savings to those who go 5+ times a year.

Good luck with your business. I always love to have options, but I'm probably not in your core market.
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snowdeprived
January 3, 2006
Member since 01/3/2006 🔗
1 posts
It's very encouraging to see this bus effort, and you all are to be commended for trying to put a great idea into action. For what my 2 cents is worth-

I guess the question is what would it take to get someone like me on a bus? I'm in my 30's, married, and I drive to Whitetail or Liberty almost every week.

-If I go alone, I don't mind driving 1 1/2 hours for a quick early Sunday morning 4 hour outing. The cost is about $24 for gas in my SUV, but the convenience and flexibility is important. I have an advantage card, so I get the ticket discount. Get in at 8:30, leave around 12:00, avoid lift lines, get back home before 1:30 to do the "Honey Do List"... Many here know the quick Sunday SOLO trip routine.

-If I go with friends, then the cost is shared, and I get the "social" value" of a group trip. Of course, the gas cost is cheaper.

-If I go with my wife, I'd rather drive, since again, the flexibility and convenience is important.

So, someone with my "demographics" would probably not take a bus to Whitetail or Liberty.

BUT- I would take a bus to places a little farther out such as Wisp, 7 Springs, or even Wintergreen since driving SOLO for three hours or more is inconvenient. Taking a bus clearly has its advantages.

So, not to complicate matters, but there's value in offering longer day trips to places beyond the 2 hour driving radius of the DC area- too far for solo day trip, but close enough for a longer day outing.

Ski clubs offer the local overnight trips, so competing with them may be difficult, but for someone like me, day trips to farther out places may get someone with my "demographics" on the bus.

Best of luck! I really hope this effort succeeds.
Attiva_Outdoors
January 3, 2006
Member since 01/1/2006 🔗
5 posts
Thank you everyone for the feeback! It is very helpful. To try and answer some of your questions/respond to some of the comments:

1. We have advertised at the Ski Expo in Dulles back in November (where the response was amazing, and why we were so surprised to see such few takers so far), at Whitetail, in local ski and sports shops, and at nearby universities (although with winter break, we don't expect the students to start using the service until they get back). We have sent out "Newsflashes" to various local TV and radio stations, in the hopes that they will promote the business. We are also working with Whitetail (who has been very supportive) to get on their website and into their newsletter.

2. We did consider going to farther destinations, but found it difficult to make these longer trips cost effective because we do not own the buses and there is typically high added fees for days longer than 15 hours (from when the bus driver first starts his day, not from when he picks up at the first stop).

Despite our slow start, I do hope that people will give the Attiva Outdoors bus a try - it is amazing how much faster a 1 1/2 hour trip is when you don't have to worry about driving and can sit back and chat with your friends!
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 3, 2006
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,918 posts
--Idea 1: I think it's pretty clear that people want to ski just 4 hours at Whitetail or Liberty. If the bus is geared to a 4-hour cycle, it will reduce costs for Ativa, so this is one idea.

--Idea 2: Night skiing at Liberty might be a good bet because there is more of an apres ski scene at Liberty than Whitetail (you can buy beer there and not at Whitetail). Hence, people may want to ski, have a couple of beers at the bar, and then leave the driving to someone else.

--Idea 3 (themes: singles, military, Capital Hill, College).

--Idea 4: You have to convince a resort like Liberty and Whitetail to basically give you free lift tickets for bus customers. That's what Peter Pan used to do in Boston. Places like Mount Snow figured they would get there money in other ways (rentals, food, beer, less cars in the lot, etc). For the price of a bus ticket, I got to ski free ($27 RT). You can tell Snowtime that you will go out of business unless Snowtime gives bus customers free tickets, at least until this thing catches fire. After that point, costs can be divided but Snowtime should bear most of the lift ticket costs since YOU are providing a valuable service to the resort by dragging in customers, who will pay for other services such as food, rentals, lessons, etc.

--Idea 5: You will have to hit some West of the Allegheny Front resorts (Wisp and 7 Springs seem to be the best bets at three hours one way). The better snow conditions that these resorts offer (not to mention the long drive) would be a good incentive for people to take the bus. Arrange for the resorts to provide 4 hour tickets to bus customers: 3 hours there, 4 hours of skiing, and then 3 hours back = 10 hours, not 15 as you suggest. Four hours of skiing is PLENTY for Wisp or 7 Springs. That's all people need.

--Idea 5: Change your alcohol policy. When I read no beer, I immediately surmised that your operation is doomed. The ability to party a bit after skiing and leave the driving to someone else is a HUGE incentive for people to take the bus, especially for night skiing on Saturday nights. Either allow people to brown bag their adult apres ski beverage of choice, or better yet, sell it yourself to your customers. If limos and airplanes and trains allow people to endulge, why not a ski bus? Make the BUS an Apres ski scene. That's your real recipe for success.

PS Just to make sure things don't get out of hand, offer a free ticket and ride to any police or military person who will agree to act as a "bouncer" for the ride home. If anyone gets out of hand, that person will be cuffed and dropped off at the nearest police station. However, I will be SHOCKED if you have a SINGLE problem over the season.
Aaron
January 3, 2006
Member since 01/12/2005 🔗
54 posts
One thing I disagree with is the four hour day. I know I'm in the minority - but when I ski my days are usually 12+ hours. However, I think 7ish hours of skiing is really perfect for many people, plus if you want resorts to give you bigger discounts on lift tickets etc, they're going to want something in return such as people buying their overpriced crappy food. A 7 hour day requires that, while a four hour day doesn't.

Try talking to whitetail about them putting a link to you on their homepage. Then when people who are planning a trip to whitetail go to check the snowreport, they see a link to you. And if they're planning a trip to whitetail already, that's a pretty good target audience.

A note to ski clubs - I highly recommend using attiva outdoors for day trips. My club is going to whitetail on the 7th, and although your own bus may be a tad cheaper, the lift ticket prices (they get even cheaper group rates than you can) help to make up for that, and you don't have the pressure to fill up a full bus or worry about loosing money if you can't get enough people. Plus you get to chill with your ski club on the bus, and watch ski dvds to get pumped up and not worry about driving which sucks after 7+ hours straight of skiing. Brad has also been great to work with and takes alot of the workload off of you such as negotiating bus contracts and communication with the resort etc.
Reisen
January 4, 2006
Member since 01/25/2005 🔗
362 posts
First, I think starting a discussion on this board is a great idea. I was kind of surprised not to see it sooner. I might suggest you post something on epicski as well. Smart businesspeople listen to their customers, and you are obviously showing a willingness/desire to do that. Kudos.

Second, in its current form, I just don't see myself taking the bus. I was actually thinking about it the other day after reading Connie's report, and would really like to. However, at the moment, it just doesn't fit my needs.

Specifically:

-No alcohol. While this isn't a deal breaker, alcohol on the way back would be a bonus.

-The bus runs only on weekends, when if I'm likely to be visiting Whitetail, I'll be bringing friends/family with me. There's no way my fiancee is going to let me go skiing on a weekend without her. While I do ski alone, it's almost always during the week (I'll take a day off work after a big storm). As soon as I'm not travelling alone, the economics seem to indicate driving is more cost-efficient.

-Finally, most importantly, the bus only goes to Whitetail. I have nothing against WT, and will visit there often. That said, it's currently too convenient with a car for me to need/want a bus. That said, I would jump at a bus to some farther resorts. Specifically, 7 Springs or Snowshoe. Once you start talking about those distances, not having to do the driving really starts to become attractive.

If the bus expanded tomorrow to include either of those resorts, I'd probably try it. If you stick with WhiteTail, I think you need to focus on skiers without cars, which I can't believe there are many of here.
Attiva_Outdoors
January 4, 2006
Member since 01/1/2006 🔗
5 posts
Again... thanks to all who continue to provide feedback (and especially thanks to Aaron! Can't wait to ski with you and your group this weekend!).

One very important clarification... alcohol is allowed on the Attiva Outdoors ski bus! We don't sell it, but you are certainly allowed to bring it with you (if you are 21 or over, that is). We specifically made this arrangement with the bus company, and if our website is not clear, well then I must fix that as soon as possible!

As to the other suggestions, please do not give up on us if you don't see us taking these suggestions immediately. Unfortunately, our bus contract provides little flexibility on destinations so we may not be able to do farther trips this season. But we won't give up, and hopefully we can make Attiva Outdoors into something that works for all.
Bill
January 4, 2006
Member since 01/5/2005 🔗
42 posts
I also commend you on trying to get something like this going. I also have to agree with what others have said in response. While Whitetail/Liberty by bus is nice, I live out in Warrenton. I would have to drive at least 40 miles to the closest pickup point. I can be almost halfway to Whitetail in that time frame. In addition, I normally only ski during the week to avoid the weekend crowds.

A bus trip to Wisp, 7-Springs, or others 2 - 3 hours away would be something I could consider. Even if it cost a little more, knowing that I didn't have to drive for 3 hours after skiing to get home would be a major plus.

While I'm not a huge drinker, a cold beer or whatever on the bus going home sure would be nice. I used to take bus trips with the Washington Ski Club, and they always had drinks/snacks both going and coming back. Seems to me the cost was around $50 including lift ticket (for Wisp). They would leave from a parking lot near 395 and George Washington Parkway around 5:30am. Granted that it was a club function, but they sometimes had two and even three bus loads going.

If you are going to push Whitetail, and if they really want to see you make a go of it, then Whitetail really needs to give you more of a break on lift ticket cost. As others have mentioned, with an advantage card (which a lot of folks buy), a weekend ticket is (extended day) is $33.60. They need to get closer to that number to make it cost effective for folks to take the bus instead of driving.

Best of luck to you, I sincerely hope that you can make it work.

Cheers,
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 4, 2006
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,918 posts
Quote:

Again... thanks to all who continue to provide feedback (and especially thanks to Aaron! Can't wait to ski with you and your group this weekend!).

One very important clarification... alcohol is allowed on the Attiva Outdoors ski bus! We don't sell it, but you are certainly allowed to bring it with you (if you are 21 or over, that is). We specifically made this arrangement with the bus company, and if our website is not clear, well then I must fix that as soon as possible!

As to the other suggestions, please do not give up on us if you don't see us taking these suggestions immediately. Unfortunately, our bus contract provides little flexibility on destinations so we may not be able to do farther trips this season. But we won't give up, and hopefully we can make Attiva Outdoors into something that works for all.




Attiva, can you put more pressure on Snowtime for greatly reduced tickets for bus travelers? Tell them that you need the deep discounts to get people hooked on the service. Otherwise, this benefit to the resort may not be able to continue. Once the service matures a bit, you can scale back the discounts.
KevR
January 4, 2006
Member since 01/27/2004 🔗
786 posts
I received a Whitetail news flyer today in my inbox just minutes ago that features the service prominently and suggest a discount for tix...

Seems like they are on the right track to me...
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 4, 2006
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,918 posts
Kevin:

Can you post the contents of that flyer on forum?
JimK - DCSki Columnist
January 4, 2006
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,702 posts
Risking restating the obvious, the next run for this ski bus service is Jan 7 to Whitetail. See the Attiva website for more details.
comprex
January 5, 2006
Member since 04/11/2003 🔗
1,326 posts
Ski bus to WhiteGrass/Canaan Valley = happy comprex.

This would also draw XC skiers who barely even have a presence on this forum.
Maboomba
January 7, 2006
Member since 01/7/2006 🔗
7 posts
Consider offering trips to customer appreciation / demo days. For example, Ski Chalet's demo day at WISP on 1-19 offers $2 lift tickets. You could run a bus from Ski Chalet's store to the mountain for all the people going there. They are already united by a common thread - their patronage at one store - so it's easy to reach a group that will fill a bus. In the future, you could have the service advertised in partnership with the shop well in advance for these days.

Also consider contacting the officers of the Terrapin Ski & Snowboard Club at the University of Maryland. Their website is http://www.terpski.com/. It's quite a large club and you could probably stir up interest for a package deal to the area mountains. Many of the people in the club are Night Club Card holders like myself - you could offer a night bus as well perhaps.
Aaron
January 9, 2006
Member since 01/12/2005 🔗
54 posts
I went up on Jan 7 with my ski club, and I just thought I'd throw in that we all had a great time and I plan to come back.
chuckie
January 10, 2006
Member since 12/29/1999 🔗
77 posts
I salute the whole skibus endevour! Unfortunately, I'm out of the Baltimore area, so there's no pick up spot that isn't at least half my drive to the hill.

I just spent $25.00 in gas getting to LIBERTY on SUNDAY, so in terms of economics it makes perfect sense... add to that the ability to imbibe adult beverages on the ride up and it seems like a deal.

Maybe you'd have more luck with LIBERTY being the target hill?

I'd love to see a WISP trip, they have good terrain, but if you have to drive it demands a stayover... unless there's a bus of course!

Keep targeting the local interest groups, and I wish you much success and expansion.

chuckie
kennedy
January 10, 2006
Member since 12/8/2001 🔗
792 posts
Throw together an early morning bus run to Wisp and I'd be in no doubt. It's a nice little mountain but it's a grinder of a day trip.
Aaron
January 20, 2006
Member since 01/12/2005 🔗
54 posts
I went up on Jan 7 and had a great time, and I'm going back this saturday. I think they still have the sign up online for tomorrow - if anyone else from here is coming shoot me a PM, or I'll see you tomorrow.
JimK - DCSki Columnist
February 2, 2006
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,702 posts
I can't imagine that the lousy weather we've had lately has helped Attiva much. This is an old, but relevant article about the success and failure of ski busses operating from other cities around US. Ironically, nearby Wintergreen and their Tidewater&Richmond connection is cited as one of the successful markets. I'm not totally clear on why ski busses are successful in one area and not in another, but having no real close ski areas close to origination point may be one factor that raises demand, another might be that southern drivers want to leave the driving to others on snowy roads.
http://www.skipressmag.com/2001/usa/index.asp?centre=article&recno=2444
Gargoyle
February 2, 2006
Member since 01/8/2006 🔗
4 posts
I have a flexible schedule and can ski almost any weekday but don't want to drive-ski-drive in one day all alone. At the first of this year, I started looking for ski clubs that sponsored day trips and found several clubs on the web that had appealing schedules.
I've communicated with a few local ski clubs that had scheduled day trips to SS and Blue Mountain for example. Two of the clubs had to cancel all of the 1-day trips because they couldn't get enough members to sign up (warm weather was to blame for some cancellations and probably a cause of low interest).

Perhaps DCSki members could co-op some of these day trips with other clubs. I talked to the Naval Research Lab ski club and have the prices for their Blue Mountain day trip (MLK holiday):

Cost: Adults
Bus: $30.00 ($40.00 Non-Member)
Lift: $34.00
Rental (Ski): $19.00
Rental (Board) $26.00
Lessons: $13.00 (Ski or Board)

Here's the link to their trip page for this season:
NRL Ski Trips 2006

The clubs that I talked to were very welcoming. If anybody wants the NRL club's newsletter, drop me an email and I'll send it to you.
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