Skiing, Colorado: Over the hill and long ago

Ski operators have discovered the power of nostalgia in marketing winter sports. What is it about old images that makesenthusiasts dip deeper into their wallets?

There's nothing old-fashioned about Beaver Creek, Colorado. Some 10 miles to the west of its sister resort Vail, it was built from scratch with thefirst ski area to be modelled by computer. The resort, which opened in 1980, has state-of-the-art snowmaking machinery, fast and efficient liftsand even boasts a moving-carpet "travellator" to help skiers from one lift base to another.

There's nothing old-fashioned about Beaver Creek, Colorado. Some 10 miles to the west of its sister resort Vail, it was built from scratch with thefirst ski area to be modelled by computer. The resort, which opened in 1980, has state-of-the-art snowmaking machinery, fast and efficient liftsand even boasts a moving-carpet "travellator" to help skiers from one lift base to another.

But you would never guess all that from its new advertising campaign. "North America's grand mountain resort" - as it styles itself in the full- pageadverts currently appearing in US travel magazines - uses a nostalgic image, a Thirties-style painting of a daredevil skier dashing down the Birdsof Prey piste. True, the skier's clothing and equipment are clearly contemporary; but the setting, a deserted slope bereft of the hardware of amodern resort, evokes a golden age of skiing which disappeared 40 years before Beaver Creek was born.

Chris Jarnot, director of marketing for both resorts, explains that the campaign is designed to give Beaver Creek its own identity, separate fromthat of Vail. "I suppose it does seem ironic that one of the youngest ski resorts should be promoted in this way, but we took the nostalgicapproach because skiing at Beaver Creek is a timeless experience," he said. "Although it's a new resort with modern architecture, it offers skiingreminiscent of that at European resorts up to 60 years old."

Doesn't the single, lone skier suggest that Beaver Creek has no queues or crowds? "There's that aspect as well," says Jarnot. "It's a very welllaid-out resort, so we don't suffer from congestion." Even if his ad campaign proves successful, he says, the resort has "quite a long way to gobefore we have to start worrying about overcrowding".

Jarnot is not alone in believing that nostalgic images will strike a chord with this season's skiers. Flexiski, the Brighton-based short-break skioperator bought by First Choice earlier this year, has a sepia image on the cover of its 1999-2000 brochure which shows a ski lesson atChamonix in 1942. The company derives 50 per cent of its business from corporate- incentive groups, and the photograph inside the brochureof a man dressed in a business suit skiing down a slope with a mobile phone pressed to his ear and a briefcase in the other hand - plus theselling line "Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life" - seems to accord better with its style. But Flexiski's commercialdirector, Darren Pearson (who chose the cover photograph), believes the nostalgic theme, which is continued inside the brochure, reflects thecompany's approach.

It's not trying to sell the illusion that the experience of skiing can be the simple, uncluttered adventure that it once was, he says; rather, thebrochure's style fits with the heritage of most of the featured resorts and with the company's traditional, bespoke approach. "Flexiski's attitude is:if you want us to jump, we'll just ask 'How high?'," he declares.

There's no doubt, though, that nostalgia can make skiers take out their wallets: the auctions of winter-sports posters at Christie's in London'sSouth Kensington show that. The first sale, in February 1998, realised £269,000, almost double what the auction house predicted; andthe second, last February, produced the highest total of any of the Christie's poster sales since they started in 1982. The sale is now an annualevent (next year's takes place on 24 February). There are also some winter-sports posters, dating from 1913 to 1965 (priced between pounds250 and £1,400), among the items in next Thursday's South Kensington auction of posters from the 19th and 20th centuries. NicoletteWhite, Christie's specialist, says most of the winter-sports posters go to private buyers. "Owning them is an extension of their interest in the sportand they often want to have on their wall an image of the first place where they skied, or of a favourite resort," she said.

One of the posters in next week's sale, the Sports d'Hiver illustration for the French ministry of tourism in 1954, also hangs on the wall of theoffice of the ski operator Erna Low, just across the road from Christie's. The Erna Low brochures heavily feature nostalgic images - with somejustification. Ms Low organised her first ski package in 1932 and the images come from the company's own archive. When it was relaunched as abonded ski operator for the 1996/97 season, the managing director Joanna Yellowlees-Bound produced a brochure which, as she says,"celebrated" the history of Erna Low. "It wasn't that I particularly wanted to trade on the company's heritage; I just thought the old brochures werevisually splendid."

The 1996-97 brochure cover reproduced artwork first used in 1964; inside were old logos, graphics and photographs - including a marvellousblack- and-white picture of two staff beside a Fifties Bedford minibus. One virtue of all the nostalgic images, says Yellowlees-Bound, is that "theydemonstrate the company's longevity - a good thing from a commercial point of view. There had been a lot of almost fly-by-night ski companieswhich were around for one season, gone the next, then reappeared under another name. We got a really big response to that brochure, a lot ofpeople enjoyed it in a purely nostalgic way but it brought in plenty of new clients too."

Yellowlees-Bound believes that there is an inherently nostalgic appeal to skiing: "With the fast pace of life and technological development,people look towards simpler things such as skiing," she says. But anyone who has stood in a weekend queue for a chair lift at Val d'Isere isunlikely to take images of lone skiers hurtling down mountains at face value.

Those who use nostalgia to promote skiing do so with a more subtle intent, says Steve Hastings, managing partner at the Banks, Hoggins,O'Shea FCB advertising agency, whose clients include the ski operator Mark Warner. "Marketing people have to find a way to add value to aproduct and they use images to set off a whole chain of resonances," he says. Old skiing pictures can be an emotional signpost towards oldvalues, harking back to a time "when life was easier and the air cleaner, when skiing offered a sense of pioneering and real adventure". Hesuggests a bizarre but instructive parallel between ski brochures and signs offering "fresh eggs for sale" at the roadside.

"If you saw a bright, neon sign, you'd drive straight past; but if you saw the same message painted on an old, worn, piece of wood, you'd probablystop." Just as an old wooden sign "adds value", so do nostalgic skiing images. "Of course," he added, "it would be different if the roadside signsaid 'flying lessons'."

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