On the web, Tahoe is a blizzard: In a click the ski resorts ignite in pop-ups, blogs, tweets, photos flashing of skiers, snowborders - in latest apparel - jumping, carving, plowing. The sites are a whiteout of ski cams, snow reports, interactive maps and the banners calling, forecasting, epic powder, fresh powder, the finest corduroy. It's a torrent of branding: "Just 25 minutes from Reno!" "Your Tahoe Place!" "Rare Earth!" "A good day!" "package deals!" "group rates!" "We know what you're thinking!"
And it's all about a five letter word: v-i-s-i-t. Specifically, visit Tahoe, take the kids, spouse, dog if accommodations allow, and come in the camper, the SUV with board and skis atop, up Interstate 80, in a chorus of headlights, from west or east, San Francisco or Reno and enjoy the North Shore, South Shore and visit, visit, visit!
It's a familiar mantra, Tahoe marketing campaigns repeated, revised, reinvented - dusted off and reused for decades; however, in spite of the hyperbole the reality of Tahoe's marketing core is, surprisingly, shockingly, well grounded.
Take a visit to Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and the proof sits in a black swiveling chair. His name is John Monson and he's the resort's director of sales and marketing. At the moment, he is hunched into a series of emails, mousing a path through the day's work. There are coffee thermoses rising out of the paper work, round pen tins standing over folders and a box of resort brochures perched against his pair of worn leather boots.
Monson's office is no flashy executive palace. No legions of secretaries wait in the alcoves. There are no spacious rooms, no jutting conference tables. In fact, there isn't even a road to access the building, which was converted from a mountain cabin into office space years ago. To arrive at Sugar Bowl's marketing HQ is to hike through the snow - roughly a half mile from the Sugar Bowl village. Upon entry, three marketing staff are busy working in what used to be the cabin's living room. One staff member, Marketing Manager Jennie Bartlett sits on a giant blue medicine ball while the other two, Sales Supervisor Peter Avedschmidt and Marketing Coordinator Heather Graziano, can be seen typing amidst a steady supply of Red Bull Energy Drinks.
Monson's office is up a narrow staircase in one of the cabin's old bedrooms. His ski's take up half the wall while goggles drape their straps along his desk. Skiing is what he and the marketing staff like to call, warmly, going out for "product knowledge."
"I try quite a bit actually to get out. I've seen a lot of people in the industry over the years get - to their detriment - pulled too far into the office," said Monson. "I never like to hop on a phone call with the media and be asked 'how is it out there' and not have an honest answer."
Monson, a tall guy with a shaved head, jeans and purple sweater, said this honesty is what he ultimately hopes is communicated to their guests, the public and even those skeptical journalists, of which as Aldous Huxley once wrote, "won't take 'yes' for an answer."
Arching his back into his swivel chair, Monson's speech is pragmatic, logical and simple. He understands advertising campaigns are meant to advertise and resorts will always be driven by the twist in crowds. Yet, linked with these truths, Monson dually understands ski resorts can be a powerful revenue streams for thirsty mountain towns.
Growing up in Boulder, Colo., Monson has felt the industries influence throughout his life. He knows the ebb and flow of tourism. In Tahoe, it begins with the families that will come from San Francisco, Sacramento, up the western slope, to visit a resort one day and then another the next, the crowds will move through Truckee, go to the shoreline, Kings Beach, Tahoe City, Incline Village, Homewood and South Lake. Monson understands it is a process of feeding, each resort with a ladle stretched along the basin's winding roads, Highway 267, 89, 28, 50, feeding the shops, feeding the restaurants, feeding the schools and hospitals, police and fire stations, filling the towns and communities with revenues.
"The ski industry drove so many economies of the mountain towns and those resort operators were doing such an impactful job for their communities," Monson said, remembering his time in Colorado.
Seeing himself and resorts as part of this link between businesses and local communities, Monson said it's critical for resorts to remember they're marketing the region as a whole: a collection of mountain towns and businesses against a barrage of national and international regions.
"It's easy to think of the competition being the other ski resorts in the area, when really, we should think of the competition being Disneyland, Las Vegas, family cruises, etc.," Monson said.
To ensure he's doing his part, it isn't uncommon to see Monson trudging through the snow around 7 a.m. hauling his coffee and checking on grooming operations the night before. His day won't end until 6 p.m., laced and punctuated with meetings, website and social media, monitoring a flurry of estimations, from crowd predictions, weather forecasts, to staffing to advertisement purchases.
Always on call, it's a schedule that runs all seven days of the week - no breaks during the winter
"The beauty of working in the ski industry is that yes the winters are crazy and the job full on but there is also a finish line," said Monson. "You know that come April (season's close), you can let out a collective sigh and then you use summer to recollect, reconnect, spend time with family and then start it all over again."
Until then, Monson works tirelessly. He sees the connection: resorts like arteries, funneling blood, oxygen, jobs and revenues, guests and services into the Tahoe -Truckee region. A cycle that brings in money for schools, money for new trails, money for pools and new community centers. Money unheard of in other mountain towns. Everyone linked together. Holding hands. A collective battle in a Great Recession. And so if the blogs burn hot and the websites flutter with banners and logos, Monson knows that perhaps the pounding drums, the trumpeting pop-ups, the endless flyers and advertisements are not without cause, that perhaps the shouting is for more than powder, for more than perfect descents, good times or even five letter words, but for a region, its communities, its people.