A Digital Schmoozefest in Stowe

In a scene that was Silicone Valley-meets-Mountain Road, Stowe’s Inntopia hosted a digital conference that brought some of the ski and travel industries’s top names together. 

If you were at Stowe’s The Matterhorn bar the first Tuesday in May, you might  have noticed a who’s who of the ski and travel industry milling around the bar. Donna and Jake Carpenter, founders of Burton Snowboards, were there. So was Ski Industries of America president Nick Sargent, HomeAway co-founder Carl Shepherd and a handful of the top resort marketing directors from around the country.

Yes, the band was good:  hey, it was Josh Panda. And there was free pizza and sushi at what has been named the top ski bar in America. But the real occasion of this private party was something that’s more Silicon Valley, than Mountain Road: the annual “User Groups” conference of a company you have probably used, but may not know, Inntopia.

More than 20 years ago a Middlebury College graduate and snowboarder named Trevor Crist had a vision for how to make booking small inns and hotels easier.

He created a digital reservation system, and set up Inntopia in Stowe, and started calling on Vermont’s small inns.

Flash forward: Inntopia is now the reservations and booking engine behind many of North America’s largest ski resorts and has branched out to four-season resorts from Hawaii to St. Moritz. The company has been bought and sold several times (and nearly went under during the dot com boom/bust of the ‘90s). It’s currently owned by Northstar Travel Media but president Craig Deluca hints that potential new buyers keep sniffing around.

But one thing has stayed the same over the years: Inntopia has remained in Stowe and Crist spends as many days as he can on a snowboard.

A sign of Inntopia’s growth and prominence in the industry was that in the first week in May it drew some of the industry’s top names to TopNotch Resort at Stowe for its annual “User’s Group” conference. “We were very proud to present a lineup of influential guest speakers from within and outside the travel industry to offer new perspectives and fresh ideas,” Crist said.

Donna Carpenter, the CEO of Burton Snowboards, talked about the four pillars of the Burton brand: Players, Partners, Premium Events and Press. Snowbird Resort’s new marketing director David Amirault showed how using humor in ads (such as an April Fools’ one that announced Alta was building a wall to keep Snowbird’s snowboarders out) earns eyeballs and Jen Kimmich, owner of the Alchemist told the story of how the brewer has worked closely with the communities to build support that’s gone viral.

More than 125 people came from as far as Whistler and southern California. Ralf Garrison of the DestiMetrics talked about how summer revenues have grown by 68.4% since 2007.

“What are we going to do about climate change?” was a question more than one person raised. Stowe resident Nick Sargent, the incoming president of Ski Industries of America fielded that one. “We have some of the best athletes in the sport working with Protect Our Winters to raise awareness of climate change and what we can do about it,” he said. Still, Sargent acknowledged, “as an industry, we have to change. We can’t keep doing what we have been for the last 20 years and expect things to work the way they have.” Sargent took over from David Ingemie, the SIA president for more than two decades, last August. “

Other speakers included Carl Shepherd, a co-founder of HomeAway and Alex Bornstein, executive director of The Chill Foundation, who told the story of how the Foundation, launched by Burton, has helped more than 17,500 kids —mainly from underserved backgrounds—get introduced to snowboarding.

At the end of the three-day event, a raffle raised more than $3,000 for the Chill Foundation.  While past Inntopia user group conferences have been held out west this one convinced Crist and others to double down on the Vermont event.

“We’ll definitely be bringing it back to Stowe again next year,” he said.

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.