When MINI was preparing for the 2011 global launch of the Countryman, its first all-wheel-drive vehicle, the company’s marketing team had one word in mind to describe the ideal customer for the four-door compact sport utility vehicle: snowboarder.
“We don’t really market to people as a demographic so much as promote a lifestyle and an attitude,” MINI USA spokesman Lee Nadler explained earlier this month from the base of Vail’s Golden Peak in Colorado, the new home of the Burton U.S. Open. “We see snowboarders as kindred spirits: people who like to have a bit of fun, travel, and express themselves, and need the right gear — and car — for their adventures.”
The company has partnered with Burton Snowboards since 2011 to help deliver that message, coming on as a key sponsor of the Burton Global Open Series and pushing the boundaries of brand engagement that such a sponsorship can mean by incorporating the actual cars into the slopestyle courses at each competition. This year MINI put up a $5,000 prize to give the slopestyle course designers extra inspiration in making use of the cars, ultimately awarding it to Snow Park Technologies for a wallride feature in Vail that sent competitors careening over a 2013 MINI Countryman parked in the gap.
“It’s been a very natural connection,” Nadler says. “MINI doesn’t partner with all too many companies, but this has been a great match. Both companies try to have fun and not take ourselves too seriously, but also put a lot of emphasis into creating best-in-class products and continuously innovating.”
The partnership seems to be working out for everyone involved: Burton and MINI recently announced that they’ve renewed the partnership for an additional three years to present events including the Burton U.S. Open, the Burton European Open in Switzerland, Burton Rail Days in Japan, and Burton High Fives in New Zealand. In addition to promoting the Countryman, this year MINI took advantage of the Burton U.S. Open to introduce the Paceman, a smaller two-door all-wheel-drive vehicle that goes on sale in the U.S. this week.
Photos: Jeff Patterson
“MINI, like Burton, is a brand that really celebrates people who are creative and innovative and maybe live off the norm a little bit,” says Nadler. “We’re also a global brand, like Burton, and the Burton Global Open Series presents a great opportunity for us to introduce our all-wheel drive options in a sports environment where it’s snowing and where people are having fun.”
To further make the connection, MINI USA made loaners available to endemic journalists during the week of the Burton U.S. Open, when it happened to be dumping buckets of snow.
I tested a six-speed manual transmission MINI Copper S Countryman All 4 (base price is $28,000, but mine came fully loaded with cold weather, technology, sport, and premium packages that would bring it closer to $33,000), and drove it like it was stolen, first around Denver and then on two separate trips to Vail and back on icy mountain roads and in heavy snow. You’d want a roof rack for full-on powder-chasing missions, but I was able to fold down one of the rear seats to accommodate three snowboards, two passengers, and a week’s worth of gear. It handled well on the curves and had more climbing power than I’m used to.
The verdict? I didn’t want to give it back. I’m saving up for one now.
After asking about my experience with the car, Nadler agreed: “We think most snowboarders who try one are going to say the same thing.” Enough said.