From “Family Friendly” to “Too Advanced”: A History of Snowbird Resort’s Marketing Strategies from 1978 to Now

The Mountain, The Myth, The Legend

Snowbird Mountain in Snowbird, Utah, is an easy mountain to advertise. Located in Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird offers America’s most extended ski season, with over five- hundred inches of fresh snow per year, allowing for some of the best powder and terrain in the country. As a testament to this excellent snow, Dr. Jim Steeburgh from the University of Utah highlighted in his book that Snowbird and Alta are typically co-listed as the ski resorts in North America that receive the freshest snow annually. While Snowbird offers family-friendly activities and windy green ski trails, it is better known for its challenging terrain and options for extreme skiers. Over the past few decades, Snowbird has shifted its strategy from highlighting more family-friendly opportunities to emphasizing the advanced nature of its trails. As a young skier in 2012, I recall Snowbird’s difficult trails, making this research even more stimulating and applicable to me personally.

Me on the Snowbird Tram circa 2012

Family Fun Time

“There is only one thing better than skiing at Snowbird; it is skiing Snowbird at half price,” is the opening catch line to an on-air Snowbird advertisement for KUTV news. The 1978 thirty- second advertisement stresses that Snowbird offers alternatives for everyone. While it aimed to sell day passes at the whopping price of six dollars or less, its greater purpose was to entice more families to the resort. For example, the advertisement highlighted that Snowbird has “short easy trails or long rolling runs,” offering terrain for both beginner and advanced skiers within a family. It also mentioned the availability of activities after skiing, including shopping and dining, for those who might be less concerned with the sport but more interested in après skiing and drinks. Dr. Susan Session Rugh, a history professor at Brigham Young University, discussed the Tramway Bar at Snowbird, known for its “jammed tables, live rock and tippling table hopping,” further emphasizing the presence of nightlife and drinking at the mountain. Finally, the video noted family discounts and ski lessons for children, making a final appeal to families looking for a skiing vacation due to financial incentives. Through this advertisement, Snowbird solidified its reputation as a family-friendly resort with opportunities for magic carpet to double black diamond skiers. Parents can bring their children for a family discount and get the entire Snowbird experience.

Family Skiing at Snowbird with the Glazers circa 2012

A Whole New World

In 1984, Snowbird published a video highlighting its new Cliff Lodge to attract more customers with ski on and off accommodations. To start the video, Snowbird displays real skiers entering the tram, excited for a skiing day ahead, with upbeat music in the background. By showing a variety of skiers of different ages, ranging from little children learning to ski to advanced skiers carving down powder-filled trails, Snowbird continued to target families in their campaigns. Snowbird displays the beauty of skiing at the mountain, and the advertisement has a romantic feel as it pushes the concept of a perfect skiing day. The video explicitly mentions the availability of expert terrain but also discusses a whole beginner skiing area, targeting families again.

After a few minutes of simply highlighting the skiing, a voiceover speaks more in-depth about the mountain. The voiceover introduces Dick Bass, Snowbird’s owner and developer, who hopes to turn Snowbird into a full-year resort. While it does not state this explicitly, this attempted to increase profits by allowing for a steady annual income because skiing is a seasonal sport. Snowbird introduced a new architectural plan dedicated to the “protection and enhancement of the environment” that Dick Bass shows the viewers through a diorama. For example, Bass explains that they are building the new buildings and lodges upward instead of horizontally to ensure minimal environmental impact. The Cliff Lodge, which Snowbird describes on their website as “enjoy[ing] ski-in/ski-out convenience and excellent service with a luxurious resort experience,” would go from around one hundred rooms to five hundred rooms with these renovations. In highlighting the new lodge, Snowbird proves it is a family vacation destination. One can come any season, stay on the mountain, and have activities for people of all ages. This idea is furthered by mentioning year-round events at Snowbird, like hiking in the summer and Oktoberfest in the fall.

However, Snowbird slowly turned to new avenues to attract a more specific customer base twenty years later by advertising to a more advanced population of skiers.

The Snow Sells Itself

In 2007, Snowbird started its YouTube channel to help launch its marketing amongst new platforms, like YouTube, which was becoming highly popular. While some advertisements by Snowbird, like the 1987 KUTZ ad, focused on voiceovers and spoken information, I learned from watching these early YouTube videos that the marketing team intended to let the snow “do the talking.” These videos feature happy music and advanced skiers quickly making beautiful turns through the fresh powder; some videos show inches of fresh snow, while others capture fresh feet of powder being skied through.

Specifically, a video titled “Snowbird Season Pass Commercial,” shows an older skier on the slopes of Snowbird surrounded by a winter wonderland of snow; the snow appears to reach his waist. He then asks the viewer what month they think it is. Starting with January, he rules out all the proceeding months until revealing that it is, in fact, May. While this skier does not exclaim, “buy a season pass right now,” the intention behind this advertisement is clear. If you buy a Snowbird ski pass, you can ski in fresh powder for months, almost reaching the summer, making it well worth the investment. The skier rides off into the distance, “wheeing” joyfully because of the excellent conditions. While this advertisement was geared toward advanced skiers seeking powder, it emphasized the excellent investment of a Snowbird season pass. However, it also started the push by Snowbird to attract more advanced skiers through its marketing strategies, as advanced skiers, including myself, love powder days.

Too Advanced or a Skier’s Dream?

In 2017, Snowbird took a significant risk with a new campaign series. While most mountains tend to highlight positive reviews, Snowbird decided to focus on negative ones. Before this campaign, as mentioned, Snowbird tried marketing to families who had more beginner skiers. But some families became upset upon arriving and realizing the difficulty of the terrain.

I was lucky enough to speak with the Struck Marketing team, who were crucial in helping to produce this advertisement. I specifically interviewed the Executive Creative Director, Scott Sorenson, and the Head of Client Services, Kylie Kullack. Moreover, Sorenson was the lead person on rebranding Squaw Valley to Palisades Tahoe in 2021, which Kullack mentioned was a highly controversial decision.

Sorenson and Kullack worked in conjunction with Dave Amirault, the former head of marketing at Snowbird, to produce this famous campaign, which became known as the One Star campaign. Sorenson explained that Struck began working with Snowbird because of their work with Deer Valley, which concentrated on marketing it as a “perfectly crafted ski experience” to separate the luxury of Deer Valley from other mountains.

When Struck and Amirault began working together, Sorenson wondered why they targeted families throughout all the campaigns. Struck felt the current advertisements did not target the core values of the Snowbird audience: adventurous, black diamond skiers. In response, Struck asked what kind of skiers Amirault wanted to attract to rebrand the mountains’ advertising. Amirault took this feedback well and focused on reaching a new target audience, and Sorenson was complimentary of Amirault’s willingness to take this risk. Dr. Bernard Jansen from the Qatar Computing Research Institute defines a persona as a group with attributes like gender, age, level, or some kind of definable behavior that is “useful for focusing ad messages and offers to targeted segments. For Snowbird, defining their persona as advanced skiers who all have a “definable behavior,” made it easier to produce advertisements. In the Powell Movement Podcast, Amirault discussed how specific inspiration struck, when he saw a sign that said come in to try the worst sandwich ever, according to a woman on Yelp, to create a campaign that targeted the new persona: advanced skiers.

From here, Amirault was inspired to turn negative reviews into positive ones and apply this shop’s idea to Snowbird. As Sorenson explained, one skier’s nightmare is another’s ideal terrain. In this advertisement, Snowbird plastered beautiful photos of advanced skiers carving down the rugged terrain, with negative reviews deeming the terrain “too advanced” and commenting that there were “no easy trails” from different “guests.” Additionally, while these were genuine reviews, they did not include anyone’s actual name, and the text was parsed together from a few reviews, so no one pursued legal action. As Amirault described, they paired reviews with unique photography juxtaposing the “stupid comments.” This advertisement showed the public that Snowbird was meant for advanced skiers. Snowbird clearly emphasized that it is a ski mountain for adventure-seekers and people who want to venture beyond the defined trails and into unknown terrain, not those looking for easy groomed trails. While not stating the intentions explicitly, Snowbird’s target audience quickly understood the message behind reposting these reviews.

“Too Advanced” Advertisement from the One-Star Campaign (Source: Struck Agency)

Furthermore, Kullack shared that the advertisement first gained attention on Reddit. It quickly went viral and gained awards, such as one of Adweek’s Top Print Ads in 2017, and features on popular accounts like Jerry of the Day. Moreover, this positive response also came from employees who felt this strategy better represented the mountain. As expert Emily Wilkins explained, “Resorts can also adapt by altering their business decisions and diversifying revenue sources, joining ski conglomerates, marketing their offerings more aggressively” to ensure consumers. Unsurprisingly, Snowbird did just that. By marketing the advanced nature of the mountain and highlighting negative reviews, Snowbird took an aggressive approach to ensure greater sales.

What Does the Future of Snowbird Marketing Hold?

Although the one-star campaign was highly successful, the Snowbird marketing team became fearful that only targeting an advanced population of skiers would deter families, a significant customer base, away from the mountain. So, while the attitude and personality of Snowbird marketing remained focused on the advanced skiers, Sorenson explains that Struck and Snowbird helped “soften the edges” around subsequent campaigns to ensure a more comprehensive customer network. Snowbird wanted the world to recognize they are a mountain with difficult terrain for advanced skiers, but skiers of all levels are welcome and can find the appropriate trails.

“There are NO Easy Runs” Advertisement from the One-Star Campaign (Source: Struck Agency)

Today, with advertisements targeting families, beginner skiers, advanced skiers, and more, Snowbird produces exciting and groundbreaking marketing campaigns every year. From promoting its Fourth of July skiing to new train cabins and showing off its powder, Snowbird continues taking advantage of all it offers. With over eight hundred inches of snowfall this year, Snowbird could have easily rested on its laurels and eased back on the marketing. But that isn’t the Snowbird way. Instead, Snowbird continues aggressively marketing its offerings and showing the world the Snowbird authentic ski experience.


Amirault, Dave. “Dave Amirault, Digital Marketing Visionary.” Interview by Mike Powell. The Powell Movement. January 31, 2022. Audio, 5:32.

J. Willard Marriott Library. “Cliff Lodge.” 1984. Video, 0:00.

Jansen, Bernard J. Understanding Sponsored Search: Core Elements of Keyword Advertising. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

KUTV. “KUTV Broadcast.” November 6, 1978. Video, 7:00.

Rugh, Susan Sessions. “Branding Utah: Industrial Tourism in the Postwar American West.” Western Historical Quarterly 37, no. 4 (2006): 445–72.

Snowbird. “One Star.” Snowbird, (accessed April 2, 2023).

Snowbird. “Snowbird April 19 2007.” April 19, 2007. Video, 0:00.

Snowbird. “Snowbird Season Pass Commercial.” December 26, 2007. Video, 0:00.

Snowbird. “The Cliff Lodge.” Snowbird, (accessed April 2, 2023).

Sorenson, Scott. “Interview with Struck Marketing Team about the One-Star Campaign.” By Chloe Glazer. February 14, 2023.

Steenburgh, Jim. Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth : Weather, Climate Change, and Finding Deep Powder in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and around the World. Boulder, Colorado: Utah State University Press, 2014.

Struck. “Snowbird One Star.” Struck, (accessed February 12, 2023).

Wilkins, Emily J., Hadia Akbar, Tara C. Saley, Rachel Hager, Colten M. Elkin, Patrick Belmont, Courtney G. Flint, and Jordan W. Smith. “Climate Change and Utah Ski Resorts: Impacts, Perceptions, and Adaptation Strategies.” Mountain Research and Development 41, no. 3 (2021): R12–23.


Thank you to Mrs. Rausch from the University of Utah for her assistance in finding the Cliff Lodge video. I would also like to thank Kylie Kullack and Scott Sorenson for their time and information regarding the One-Star Campaign and for their permission to show the advertisements.

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