Skiing, Sweden: How do you sell snow to ski fanatics?

First, rename your resort. Even the skiing industry relies on clever marketing techniques
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The Independent Travel

There's not usually much to commend it, but at least marketing provides good anecdotes. Take the Murray Walker story, for example: when the sports commentator worked in advertising, he was given the task of shifting more packets of Trill birdseed, a brand which already dominated its market. His solution was to increase the UK budgerigar population - to two birds per cage - with the slogan "An only budgie is a lonely budgie". Whether the strategy worked, I don't know; but as an example of sheer cunning, it ranks with the tale of the man who told a US toothpaste manufacturer, also dominant in its marketplace, that the best way to sell more of the product was to widen the hole at the end of the tube - since everybody judges the correct serving of toothpaste by the length of the portion squeezed on to their toothbrush.

The marketing of ski resorts has yet to achieve such heights of sophistication. Beyond claiming the standard credentials - beautiful mountains, excellent skiing, luxurious accommodation - resorts rely on a handful of unimaginative devices to attract skiers, such as exploiting local celebrities, trumpeting snowfall depths and staging media-friendly events.

Until last weekend's trip to Sweden, the smartest ski-resort marketing innovation I had come across was Vail's creation of a website at vailsucks.com. Alarmed by the problems that a disaffected customer of the Dunkin Donuts chain had caused with a website that used the same "it sucks" formula (it became a popular forum for complaints about the company), the Colorado resort registered the site to prevent anyone else doing so, and put on to it a single page that reads: "No it doesn't!"

ÿre, a resort in central Sweden near the Norwegian border, may not be familiar to you. And you might, therefore, conclude that the company that owns it, ÿre Resort, does a pretty lousy job of its marketing. But 90 per cent of the clients are Swedish (among foreign markets, the UK ranks considerably lower in importance than Finland and the Baltic States); and for the locals - as a spokesperson for the resort proudly told me - "ÿre is the Kitzbuhel of Sweden".

Until about 10 years ago, ÿre (pronounced "aura") was a single resort village flanked by four others. At the time, ÿre Resort, which owns the entire ski area (plus some hotels and other properties), could fill ÿre's beds easily - but not those in the other, lesser-known villages. The problem, so I was told, was that "ÿre is the well-known brand: every Swede who comes back from a skiing holiday would like to be able to say that they have been there". So, "because we don't like cold beds" (to sell lift-passes, you have to have guests), the company adopted the name ÿre Mountain for all five resorts in the 1989/90 brochure. That way, skiers staying at Duved, Tegefjäll, ÿre Björnen and Edsåsdalen, as well as ÿre Village (as the main resort was renamed) could all go home happy.

But once all the resorts had been brought together, there was no sense in them competing for the same guests. So three years ago the company began giving each one a separate identity, developing the facilities and tuning the services to cater to a different sector of the market.

ÿre Björnen became the resort for families with small children, with a big nursery-slope area and, this season, a new "Children's House" crÿche to cater for two-year-olds and over, during the days and in the evenings. Duved, offering slightly more challenging skiing and a "Snow Kingdom" play facility, is now for families with older children, while Tegefjäll caters for teenagers with a new "Boarder-cross" adventure zone and a computer-games room.

ÿre Village, which remains the focus of the area, is for better skiers, affluent couples, youths travelling in groups - in fact, anyone unaccompanied by children who is not yet ready for Edsåsdalen, primarily a cross-country ski resort aimed at a more sedate clientele.

The idea is that by styling the resorts in this way, the area can provide guests with a whole skiing lifecycle, starting out at ÿre Björnen and ending up at Edsåsdalen, stopping along the way at ÿre Village to conceive the next generation of skiers (the ÿre Resort company has this whole thing carefully mapped out). It's still 70 years too early to judge how effective the strategy will be; but customer reaction has been good, and so have sales - although the best snowfall in a quarter of a century has probably distorted this season's figures.

How does it work on the snow? Guests seem happy to fall in with the marketing plan: parents and small children do congregate at ÿre Björnen, and young boarders certainly hang out at Tegefjäll. The whole ski area, apart from Edsåsdalen's cross-country tracks, runs along the south-facing side of a valley, with a good hour-and-a-half of skiing from one end to the other (not including the wait for the ski-bus to bridge the single gap). Apart from the steep, black section at the top of the Lundsrappet piste, the skiing is all intermediate; so anyone who wants to break out of their market segment can do so relatively easily.

The ski area, which stretches to 1,274 metres, could do with some new lifts, but is clearly well-suited to family skiing. And, typically for Sweden, ÿre's restaurants are excellent, the accommodation (mostly in chalet-style cabins) is adequately comfortable, the staff are personable and helpful. But would I like to spend my whole skiing lifecycle there? I'm not so sure about that.

The only major operator with packages to ÿre is Crystal (0870 848 7000); late departures - until 6 April - start from £439 per week, B&B. Return flights from Heathrow via Stockholm to Östersund on SAS (0845 607 27727) cost from £211.80. Further information: Swedish Travel & Tourism (020-7870 5600)

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