When Bryan Dunn ’14 realized that almost 70 percent of skiers are below the age of 34, he decided to offer a solution to help millennials navigate their chosen slopes. In December, he launched SnowSearch, a “one-stop shop” of resources for skiers and snowboarders planning their trips.
“Every step of the way there’s been a degree of Cornell influence or Cornell involvement or support from the Cornell network and it’s been definitively helpful,” he told The Sun.
During his sophomore year, Dunn, a New York native who has been skiing since the age of eight, read about Henry Purcell ’57, nephew of Robert Purcell ’32 of RPCC, who owned a ski resort in the Chilean Andes called Ski Portillo.
Dunn reached out to Purcell, who offered the then-sophomore “hotelie” a sponsored visa, a front desk job, paid housing, food and an enthusiastic invitation to ski everyday.
What followed was the first formative experience in his snow-minded hospitality career.
Following graduation, Dunn worked in Boston at Yotel, a hotel real estate firm. In his free time, he acted as travel agent for his group of friends and grew increasingly frustrated by what he called the “confusing and convoluted process of booking a ski trip.”
Meanwhile, the snow sport industry was actively evolving. Dunn said his research revealed that about 70 percent of skiers and snowboarders in the U.S. are under the age of 34 — a stark departure from the historic baby-boomer consumers of the industry.
That generational shift presented a disconnect between the adventurous, explorative millennial spirit and the loyalty based snow travel industry.
Dunn created SnowSearch as an informed solution to this market dilemma along with his roommate, Dartmouth graduate Luke Zirngibl.
“We were a business mind and a tech mind for the first time ever working together to design our ideal solution for the industry’s future,” Dunn said about his partner.
After subletting their Boston apartment, Dunn and Zirngibl bought an RV to serve as the SnowSearch workspace and spent months living in major ski regions. The two co-founders now reside in Utah.
Despite the lack of a steady paycheck, Dunn said, “We knew in our heart of hearts that this is something we firmly believe is an amazing opportunity and something that we both think we’re uniquely suited to tackle…I was sitting at a job that I loved and I couldn’t stop thinking about skiing and planning that next trip and just getting out there.”
SnowSearch emerged as a one-stop shop for planning and booking ski and snowboard trips made to order for the millennial adventurous spirit.
With partners like Expedia and HomeAway, as well as genuine winter sport lovers (who Dunn calls “Ambassadors”), SnowSearch answers every pre-travel question from ‘where can I store my gear?’ to ‘what should I eat?’ and ‘where should I socialize?’
The service offers a “wide array of inventory in the industry’s verticals — lodging, lift tickets, and gear — of any snow sports-focused site on Earth,” according to Dunn.
SnowSearch currently provides information on 400 ski resorts across the U.S., Canada and Japan. Dunn said he hopes to expand into European and Chinese destinations as well as wide-ranging get-away options including heli-skiing and cat-skiing.
“Every win that we have as a team creates a whole new list of next steps that we’re eager and excited to tackle,” Dunn said. “There’s definitely great moments and exciting wins but it’s always just what’s next. There’s always another goal.”
“It’s both a challenge and an opportunity to be two young guys who are more or less industry outsiders trying to affect pretty significant change on a really old school space,” he said about his progress. “It’s a constant grind. And that’s definitely where the passion aspect of it becomes incredibly important.”