Area Nordic centers hope to build on popularity of combined passes
As this winter’s ski season approaches, area cross-country ski centers are working to extend the success of last season’s combined pass program and other cooperative efforts.
Last year, just as the season was getting started, Bethel Nordic Ski Center at the Bethel Inn manager Mike Cooper and Sarah Weafer spearheaded an effort to keep the Sunday River Inn's cross-country trails in Newry open and set up a pass program that would help both centers.
The program offered season passes that were good at either the BNSC or what is now known as the Outdoor Center at the Sunday River Inn, and also provided a three-center pass that included Carter’s Cross-Country Ski Center in Bethel. The options included both family and individual passes.
“The combined passes were a hit,” Cooper said last week. “Every pass holder commented on how much they liked the flexibility. It was interesting to see folks who never skied at ‘the other place’ come in the shop and say, ‘that was so much fun.’ It was also fun, and nice for us. We saw familiar faces at both locations, and we could suggest places and trails had never tried and we could tell folks where the best tracks were on any given day.”
Later in the season, he said, “folks would call in the morning to get the scoop. We’d get things like, ‘I have to go shopping later, should I try to ski here this morning or throw my skis in the car when I go to town?’ It was just fun to see folks play with their choices and enjoy a wider variety of trails.”
Cooper said family passes made up about 60 percent of the total. They sold 160 two-center passes and 25 three-center ones.
“Economically, combining the passes worked out better than any of us expected,” he said. “I think initially we attracted folks to get passes because of the combined passes but later in the season, I think the good snow simply drew folks who had not gotten a pass in a few years back to the ski centers. Based on all the positive feedback we heard, I am sure folks will be more interested in getting a pass, knowing that they have more flexibility in skiing terrain.”
The centers also tried a shared day pass. A ticket from one place was valid at the others on the same day.
“This appealed to more diehard skiers, and later in the season it began to draw these folks to town,” said Cooper. “They would ski 20 kilometers or so at one center in the morning, have some lunch, and head off to ski the afternoon at one of the other places. They loved the variety for a full day of skiing.”
The new approach also provided the ski centers with a new perspective, he said.
“You know it really is fun to let go of all the old senses of competition or allegiance and simply point people to what you know they will enjoy,” said Cooper. “The Nordic skiing in Bethel is incredibly varied, and there is a lot to offer for a wide range of abilities.”
For more on the joint passes go to www.caribourecreation.com/#!rates.
The ski centers and other people interested in supporting cross-country skiing in the area are also continuing a Nordic skiing visioning effort began early this year.
They brainstormed then on other ways to cooperate that would benefit everyone, such as combined marketing and finding a way to link all the centers’ trails together.
Some also see potential for the area to become more of a cross-country ski destination.
Facilitator Amy Scott of the Bethel Area Nonprofit Coalition said Monday that progress is being made toward making some of the visions a reality.
“The work will be done by task groups, but it’s still a long-term process,” she said.
Scott said there is also a significant focus on creating opportunities for a broad representation of people - not just tourists and serious athletes - to get out on skis.
With that in mind there is renewed focus on youth programs.
Dave Carter of Carter’s Cross-Country Ski Center is optimistic the efforts will pay off.
“I think we’ll see an increase in skiers,” he said last week. “We offer one of the best venues out there.”