by Lafe Low

IT in the Ski Industry

Nov 15, 20022 mins
IT Leadership

As 2002 draws to a close and the northern hemisphere begins to cool, thousands of eager skiers and snowboarders turn their eyes to the sky, awaiting the coming snow. For the ski resort owners who serve them, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The skiing industry faces an industrywide decline in skier visits, a hurting economy and several consecutive mild winters. “Ski resorts make the vast portion of their revenue in three to four months,” says Matthew Dunn, senior vice president and CIO of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Intrawest. For Intrawest, North America’s largest ski resort operating company with 14 sites and $986 million in annual revenue, there’s a lot more to preparing for the season than testing chairlifts.

Intrawest is competing not only for new skiers but also for the attention of the old ones. Dunn is responding on one front by devising e-mail marketing campaigns. “We’ve taken a substantial step into direct marketing, trying to get more specific and targeted based on what we know of their interests and predilections,” he says. “We’re approaching this on an above-the-line permission basis. We’re not going to spam. What we provide, our customers love. We don’t need to strong-arm them; we’re just trying to remind them we’re here.”

The seasonal nature of Intrawest’s business means the company has to get its IT house in order before the snow flies. After that, there’s no time for anything but maintenance. “You get once a year to innovate,” says Dunn.

Intrawest just completed a three-year enterprisewide J.D. Edwards ERP implementation that will standardize back-office functions like finance and logistics. The last site within Intrawest’s network of resorts went live in July. “A critical step in the [implementation’s] success was bringing it in-house” rather than use consultants, he says.

The tight time frame for Intrawest’s operations also means significant seasonal hiring?not just ski patrollers and hamburger flippers but also IT staff, particularly on help desk duty, Dunn says.

Blackcomb and Whistler, Intrawest’s flagship resorts just outside Vancouver, are due to open Nov. 23 and 28, respectively. By then, Dunn hopes, back-office functions will be running smoothly, each of Intrawest’s four major call centers will be fully staffed, and skiers will be informed via e-mail of resort attractions, prices and deals.

Then all he’ll need is the white stuff.