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Eco-Marketing

Aspen Offers Stark Look at Snowless Slopes

Campaign Hits Tony Skiing Types Hard as Resort Operator Pushes Renewable Energy

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Aspen Skiing Co. kicked off its ski season last year with an alarming print campaign depicting the Colorado snow paradise melting into a blood-red desert if global warming continues unchecked.
Grim forecast: Aspen got on the map via a futurescape without snow.
Grim forecast: Aspen got on the map via a futurescape without snow.

"Snow: An Endangered Species," screamed one of three print ads, which ran in Outside, Ski, Powder Resort Guide and Aspen magazines.

It was a scare tactic intended to jolt the skiers who make 1.4 million annual visits to the Aspen resort into taking action.

And it galvanized a mostly wealthy market segment.

Strong reception
Reaction to the campaign, which included online and travel-industry collateral materials, was intense.

Within three months, the SaveSnow website tallied 65,000 unique visitors, and it became a rallying point for environmentalists to join Aspen Skiing Co. in its radically cool form of environmental activism.

SaveSnow.com argues that if present warming trends continue, skiing could cease to exist by 2100. It urges people to join Aspen Skiing Co. in contacting elected officials to promote renewable energy and cut carbon-dioxide emissions. It also asks people to change their energy-consumption habits and to wear green armbands to provoke discussion about global warming. As part of the company's pitch urging consumers to educate themselves and reach out to advocacy groups, ASC links to the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, which outlines an upcoming competition among water stakeholders and access to limited resources.

Green slopes
For more than a decade, ASC has been a pioneer in pursuing environmentally friendly policies. All of the hotels, restaurants and facilities at the 5,000-acre resort (whose mountains include Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk) are 100% powered by renewable energy, including certificates purchased from wind farms. Its buildings are heated and cooled by solar power and ponds; all of its snowcats run on biodiesel, and nearly every faucet and light is being retrofitted for energy efficiency.

"We realized it was time to engage a larger audience in our mission of environmental responsibility, and the best way to do that was to use our national advertising dollars and take it directly to the skiers," says Jeanne Mackowski, the company's VP-marketing, who oversees marketing along with David Perry, senior VP-mountain division. The campaign was created in-house with a 10-person marketing and publicity staff that took the photos and wrote the copy; independent designer Curtis Maddox assisted.

Although it's been at the forefront of environmental responsibility, Aspen Skiing was surprisingly late in blasting a green marketing message to consumers.

The hesitation was because the company wanted to avoid any taint of bogus greenwashing, says Auden Schendler, ASC executive director of community and environmental responsibility, an avid skier and mountain climber who came aboard in 2000 from the Rocky Mountain Institute environmental-policy think tank.

"There were definitely some risks in warning people about losing snow and scaring off skiers. But our research shows more and more people care about green issues and they were ready to hear it," Mr. Schendler says.

Employee contributions
ASC's environmental discipline extends to its 3,400 employees, who undergo training about environmental impact and who are invited to contribute to the company's environmental action fund, where it matches donations.

This year's advertising campaign will return to more traditional images promoting skiing, but SaveSnow is now a year-round mission for the company.

"It's a marketing campaign that's become analogous to a social movement," Mr. Schendler says.

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