Feature Article - September 2021
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Playing in a Winter Wonderland

Make the Most of Your Outdoor Recreation

By Kelli Ra Anderson

Grab Your Partner

Although just in its fourth winter season, Cone Park has already generated a great deal of cooperation from local businesses to create a variety of unique events and reached its goal of being in the black after just three years of operation. Happily, the community is seeing the financial benefits of the attraction, too, as hotels, restaurants and rentals join in the action.

Cross-promotion has made for a win-win in many cases. Partnering with the local yoga instructors, for example, they have created a popular summer event, Beer Yoga, where moms enjoy leisurely yoga on lush green lawns (with a little refreshment) while their kids enjoy the spray pad. Or, partnering with the YMCA, they offer their perfect assortment of amenities to host a yearly summer camp.

Switch It Up

Even making small changes to an existing program, however, may be all it takes to get noticed. Add a disco ball or lights and music to an evening of ice-skating. Or place paper lanterns along a night time snowshoe or cross-country ski trail. It only takes the addition of a few relatively cheap elements and a couple of staff to draw a whole new demographic to an existing feature.

The hard part is coming up with the ideas in the first place. Regular brainstorming is a must to tackle the short attention span of a fickle public who are quickly bored with the status quo. It helps when staff are naturally inclined to enjoy the process of creative thinking. Brynes attributes a recent summer tubing idea at Cone Park, for example, to frequent fact-finding missions. "I stumbled upon it while doing research," he explained about a plastic-based product normally used for summer snowboarding. "I pride myself on adding three or four new things, and you never know if one or two will take off. I always encourage our team to brainstorm once a quarter."

Patience Makes Perfect

One of the trickier parts of winter recreation, however, is the weather. Whether you are reliant on Mother Nature for your programming or make your own snow for more control, being flexible is essential. Have a plan B.

When the weather doesn't cooperate, for example, a well-advertised plan B gives the public an early heads up and the staff a clear plan of action in case it does or does not snow or get cold enough. (Schedule a snowshoe hike if there's snow, for example, or just a regular walk through the woods for a guided nature tour. Roasted marshmallows will be welcome regardless of the weather.)

For those who use artificial snow, there is still a challenge. "It's a hard rule of thumb," Brynes confessed. "In March the weather is so volatile. You may be in a 20-degree blizzard and then the next thing it's 60 degrees and time to get out the clubs. It's hard to balance as we ask how long can our season go? What's the cost? What's the return on that investment? You hit that point naturally with seasonality. But what does the length of the season look like with artificial snow? How much do you stockpile? It's a daily and weekly decision."

It's not news that outdoor programming has its ups and downs. The trick is knowing how to make the most of the hand each season deals you. And that just takes time.

If there is one thing most veterans can tell you about any new project or program, it's that everything is trial and error. Everything takes time to iron out the kinks, to tweak and to perfect. Winter programming is no different. "There were lots of busy stressful nights," Brynes recalled about Cone Park's first year. "You don't know what you don't know, like how many people will come? Have patience. When you are starting these operations, you have to change up on the fly. But I promise—at times it will feel like the sky is falling—it will come together." RM