Screw the Superbowl; Go Skiing

Tens of millions of Americans plan to settle into the furniture and watch on TV as Superbowl XLIV kicks off in Miami less than two weeks from now.

Liftopia cofounder Evan Reece would like them to hit the slopes instead.

Minnesota Vikings fan? Head to Sierra-at-Tahoe for 20 percent off the typical lift prices. New York Jets devotee? Cheer yourself up. Ski Killington for 30 percent off. You can save even more if you head to Park City during Superbowl weekend, and let’s face it, wouldn’t that make you feel better about being shut out of the big game?

Those lift prices could fall further still. That’s the beauty of four-year-old Liftopia, a San Francisco based startup that’s giving a growing number of ski resorts a way to adjust their pricing on a daily basis. “Resorts can protect their core sales and improve incremental visitation without discounting when they don’t need to,” says Reece.

If it sounds like a small idea, plenty of VCs agree. Reece says that he and cofounder Ron Schniedermann met with a wide number of venture firms when they first pitched the company back in 2006. “Everyone told us that VCs never say no because they don’t want to miss out on an opportunity, but, uh, we did have a number of them say no,” says Reece, laughing.

The duo — — both formerly “mid-level business guys” at discount travel site HotWire — may have the last laugh. Though the startup employs but a handful of full-time employees, this ski season, Liftopia has partnerships with 170 mountain resorts around the country. 

More importantly, the market they are chasing is arguably in the billions of dollars. The lift ticket market in the U.S. alone reaches nearly $2 billion annually, and there’s a “ton of associated revenue streams,” says Reece, from lessons, to food and beverages, to lodging.

There are always international markets to chase, too. Europe’s skiing industry is more than three times that of the U.S. “It wouldn’t be like flipping a switch; the market dynamics are very different,” says Reece. “But it’s an opportunity worth paying attention to.”

In the meantime, Liftopia is determined not to veer from its core target, and rightly so. It has just $2 million in backing from angel investors like former Expedia CEO Erik Blachford and Sand Hill Angels. It also has a somewhat un-Silicon Valley-like business model, one based on modest but steady growth. (Unlike many online travel companies that take a 25 percent to 30 percent cut of the total purchase price, Liftopia’s slice is 15 percent.)

For his part, Reece would rather build the company the right way rather than try shooting the lights out. “Before we touch anything else, we have to ensure that we’re the best at what we do.”

For more info on the startup’s Superbowl lift ticket sale, click here.