Organizing a snowboard contest can be a little tricky. With emerging liability issues and the potential organizational nightmares, a lot of shops tend to steer clear. Those that don’t may sponsor contests indirectly. That is, they are approached by an event organizer to contribute prizes or money in return for some exposure at the event.

For those who aren’t afraid and want to be a little more ambitious, organizing and sponsoring a contest is a great way to achieve a well-rounded marketing mix. It’s also a way to show the snowboard community that you are involved and contributing to the sport they love.

Small local shops usually have the fewest resources to organize an event, but they are often the ones that can benefit most from it. Many small shops feel that, despite contest sponsorship’s advantages, they have little time and money to work with. Sponsoring contests is a one-time shot and a potential money pit, they argue. Most shops consider magazines advertisements their principal means of promotion because they are assured that a certain number of people will see their message, and they reach a broad range of people. A lot less of their promotional budget is available for contests, particularly as advertising rates in magazines rise.

But with a little resourcefulness and energy, you can organize a successful contest at little cost. Gloria Wright, owner of Smoked Monkeys Board Shop in Portland, Oregon, could run a clinic on this. Networking and involvement is the key to Wright’s success. She paid almost nothing to advertise her Slopestyle contest at Ski Bowl, Mt. Hood. Here’s her method: Wright puts up fliers in her shop all the time for her local radio friends. In exchange for advertising their radio-sponsored events, the radio people give Wright a little air-time to announce her events. “I’m also big on sending press releases to newspapers,” she says. “It’s free and it’s a viable form of advertisement.” Other than that, she just puts up a few fliers, and some ads in school newspapers.

How much did the contest help her business? “The results aren’t black and white, but you hear a lot of people talk about your shop on the mountain afterward,” says Gloria. Obviously, Gloria is very involved in the snowboarding lifestyle and networks well within her business community; just what it takes to run a successful event.

An emerging problem in the ski industry has been the requirement and expense of liability insurance. Contests require an extra insurance binder. This may well be the most expensive component of the contest. Most small contest organizers say that their local mountain “took care of the insurance.” If you have to get insurance on your own, you’ll pay between 1,000 to 5,000 dollars. “We went through the mountain’s insurance carrier and paid 4,000 dollars for a five-million-dollar umbrella,” says E. Dan Smith, owner of Free Wheelin’ in Telluride, Colorado. Smith organized the area’s first boardercross, drawing more than 150 contestants from across the nation.

The next two most significant costs that Smith reported are paying for cat time and hiring the race department. “The race department at your local mountain can be a great resource because they are experienced at putting on contests,” says Smith. Every mountain has a different attitude, but you may be able to convince your mountain to help you out for free with insurance, race department help, or cat time. You can explain that it is excellent P.R. for them to get closely involved with a growing sport like snowboarding. Or you can take an approach like Smith’s: “We got Bacardi as a sponsor, and they paid for all the costs associated with the ski area,” he says. Financially, Smith figures that he broke even.

The most time-consuming element of organizing your contest may be gathering the prizes. The best people to hit up for prizes are your vendors. The most effective method is probably through writing letters. Backing your idea up with a letterheaad from the ski area works even better. And as long as you’re at a trade show, you might as well hit everyone up while they’re all in one place. Others find it easier to just use the phone. Let’s say you carry Swag clothing and call up Lisa Hudson, marketing director at Swag, to see if she’ll kick down a few jackets for this year’s pipe event. “How much and what you receive depends on how big the event is, how long your shop has been with us, and how much of our product you sell,” explains Hudson.

A new way shops and manufacturers near Mt. Hood have been taking care of the insurance headaches and all the other particulars that go into organizing contests is through one service that does it all for them. Bob Gilly, owner of United States Snowboard Training Center on Mt. Hood, has gotten so good at organizing contests over the past eight years, he decided to start Event Management Services last year. It works like this: You tell him who you are and what you need, and Gilly sets up the rest. He does everything from printing up the entry forms to building the perfect pipe. “There are so many technical aspects people don’t know,” says Gilly. “We provide each client with what makes sense for them individually.” Gilly’s next step is to take his services national.

Here are a few of the most important considerations thatGilly mentioned:

Target market: determining exactly who your customers are will help you answer a lot of other questions such as location, venue, and sanctioning.

Timing: Does your event fall on a date when some other event is happening? Did you check the long-range weather forecast?

Prize Structure: If you are a small local contest, you should have prizes all the way down the line so the kids feel good about it. A raffle usually works best for this.

Punctuality: A lot of complaints come from parents if the contest starts an hour late and finishes two hours late because they have to drive the kids a long way home. This kind of thing will tarnish your reputation for future events. You need to have a cut-off and you need to know how long each run will take.

If you’ve already considered these factors and feel ready to run a contest, the final thing is to just go for it. Realize that contests are hard work and few will thank you later. But snowboarders talk, and if your contest is a good one, people will want to be a part of it.

By Barry Russel

Barry Russell is an MBA student at SOC in Ashland. He wrote “The Chain Gang “story in the August issue of SNOWboarding Business.