Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s The Pipe mountain coaster opened on the May long weekend, attracting a pretty big crowd and line-up on Saturday.
I visited the day before, when RMR hosted a special preview day for people who work in the tourism industry. Looking at the steady flow of restaurant staff, hotel staff, and such, most who were offered a free ride took the resort up on the offer.
I talked with Revelstoke Mountain Resort marketing manager Nico Leenders for about 15 minutes at the guest services station. During that time, two separate groups with kids in tow — who were not part of the invited crowd — pleaded to let them ride. He had to turn them down for insurance purposes, and asked them to come back on Saturday. Judging from their interest, there is market segment that really, really wants this.
These days, marketing professionals have all kinds of data at their fingertips when they market online. Liz Craig handles media relations for RMR. She told me the their YouTube video had about a quarter million views, and their Facebook one had over a million. (The YouTube video, which features drone shots, is up to 274,382 at the time of writing.) RMR also saw a surge in their Facebook page likes.
The view numbers are important, but more than that, digging into the data is what interests marketing types. Craig said, for example, that when they crunched the numbers, they saw a surge in interest in posts about The Pipe from women, compared to their more usual posts about skiing. They were seeing a different demographic interested in The Pipe, and I think that’s the point.
In summer, the tourists who come to the area are different than in winter. They’re on summer road trips, and are more willing to play it by ear, take detours, and explore — something that plays well for The Pipe. Winter visitors to Revelstoke, on the other hand, know what they are coming here for — skiing, riding, touring, heli, or sledding.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort tends to attract more hardcore skiers and snowboarders, who are willing to travel further to get the good powder and more challenging sidecountry terrain. (If you’re from Calgary or Vancouver and plan to load the kids into the minivan for a ski weekend, there are other mountains closer than here that will do.) I wonder what the impact will be on winter visits, when more of the soft tourism visitors get a chance to check out Revelstoke.
What about the ride itself? It’s something you pretty much have to try. After quick instructions and a safety briefing, you buckle onto the 190-pound cart, and grab onto the joystick. Push it forward, it goes. Pull back, it slows down or stops. Let go, and it stops too. It has a built-in regulator that uses centrifugal force, maxing you out at 42 km/h. It’s a 1.4-kilometre trip from the Revelation Lodge to the resort village. Winding through the trees is genuinely fun. Because you have control of your speed, it doesn’t have the same terror factor of a roller coaster, and it’s definitely not as fast.
But it is good fun, and you have to hold on. If you try the coaster and it’s not fun for you, you’ve likely already killed off your inner 12 year old.
There are some similar mountain coasters in North America. Craig said this one is unique because it uses a monorail system, where the others have two rails. Revelstoke Mountain Resort sourced it from an Austrian manufacturer, and it was that company’s first build in North America. Craig said the cost was about $1 million.
I went to high school in Lynn Valley, in North Vancouver. On hot summer days, we’d head down to Lynn Canyon Park, walk across the amazing suspension bridge over the river, then head to the natural pools for a dip and some cliff jumping. It is a public park, so it’s free. It had its busy days, but it was never really that busy.
On the other side of North Van, there’s the much more famous and very busy Capilano Suspension Bridge, where throngs of tourists decamp from tour buses and pay a pile of money to walk across the bridge, which is privately held, and fenced off.
In my opinion, the two suspension bridges are about the same thing; a walk across a cable suspension bridge above a sheer river canyon. (The Capilano Suspension Bridge had other amenities at the time, and have since added more.)
The difference between the two is one had a huge marketing budget, and the other didn’t have one. So, one was busy with customers paying a substantial entrance fee, and the other was less busy even though it was free.
RMR has a good digital marketing team. In the run-up to the grand opening of The Pipe, they’ve proven they can get the message out.
(I actually had a woman from Honolulu call me a few weeks ago after reading the story announcing The Pipe on revelstokemountaineer.com, saying she’d seen the video and was coming to try it. She wanted to know whether it was better to fly to Kelowna or Kamloops.)
If you’ve been in Revelstoke for a few years, you’ve probably had the conversation a few times: ‘How do we get more people to stop off the highway? If only they knew what a cool little town it is.’
According to a 2012 B.C. Ministry of Transportation traffic study, the ‘summer average daily traffic’ count for July and August at the Trans-Canada Highway bridge over the Columbia River is 13,928 vehicles.
Surely, The Pipe with its digital marketing, billboards and lots of other marketing efforts, will get some people off the highway. Because if you’ve got to try it once, and if you’re only passing by Revelstoke once, then you’ve got to try it.
I’m curious to see what the tourism impact will be. Revelstoke is more known for hardcore, outdoor, destination, adventure tourism. But so-called ‘soft’ tourism represents a big slice of the tourism dollar pie. If you stop to ride the mountain coaster, you’re likely stay for at least a meal. They’ve built it, now we’ll see how many come.