Eric Strassburger is the Director of Partnerships with Boulder-based OpenSnow, a team of weather forecasters who write “Daily Snow” updates that will point you toward the best snow conditions around the country.
How did the company get started? And why?
This was a classic “scratch your own itch” beginning for a business. Joel Gratz was forecasting powder for himself and his friends because they all wanted to ski powder and Joel was a trained meteorologist. That turned into a weekly email newsletter, which turned into a blog, which eventually turned into a fully-featured service for skiers and snowboarders across the world.
Who was filling this niche before OpenSnow?
The best place for skiers to get snow forecasts before OpenSnow was from local National Weather Service offices and a few local blogs. The NWS forecasts are created by knowledgeable people, but are more generic and not written especially for skiers. And the small, local blogs are good, but often hard to find.
Who are your biggest competitors? And how do you differentiate yourself?
Lots of websites and apps provide some reports and many provide snow forecasts as well. Our differentiation is that we have local forecasters who know skiing, who know weather, and who put the forecasts into terms that skiers want. For example, instead of saying “chance of snow next Thursday”, we might say “the best powder day in the next 10 days will be next Thursday and the most snow will likely fall for these specific mountains.”
How have you marketed the business, and grown your customer base to 1.5 million skiers and riders?
We have not done any paid marketing. All growth has been word-of-mouth, as skiers tell other skiers about us on the chairlift and when planning powder days. We will likely begin to pay for some limited advertising soon.
What are the biggest challenges you face in marketing the business?
Seasonality. We are most relevant for only 4-6 months of the year, so we have to make those months count!
How is the weather – this year – impacting both ski season? And your own business?
It’s too soon to know. Most of the bookings for Thanksgiving and Christmas are made during the prior season or over the summer, so these times are somewhat insulated from slow starts (warm weather with little snow). However, if the lack of snow and warm air continues into mid-December, I would expect bookings to decrease and interest in snow to wane, which could affect the entire industry and our business. That said, late November and December should be colder and snowier based on many long-range forecasts, so fingers crossed that the flakes begin to fly soon!
How do you stay in touch with your skiers and boarders in- and off-season?
We launched a weather app for hikers called OpenSummit. Right now it provides forecasts for the Colorado 14ers, and we are hoping to expand this to hundreds or thousands of other trails.
What’s your best/favorite accomplishment over the last 3-5 years?
To have created a sustainable, profitable business that educates people about science and helps all of us enjoy a few more powder days than we used to!
What’s your vision for the next 3-5 years?
To create a year-round business made up of snow forecasts in the winter and hiking and biking forecasts in the summer.
What advice would you give to yourself or someone else as they are starting a business?
Love what you’re working on because it’s going to take more time and more effort than you imagine.