Did you read my post last week, Has The Joy Gone Out Of Skiing? In a nutshell, I talked about how instead of being a respite from aggravation, skiing has become a source of aggravation for a lot of people. For example, here in my little ski town in Vermont, we’re seeing more crowds and more traffic than ever before, and it’s putting a damper on the entire ski experience. Sure, I still love the act of skiing, but it seems like all the peripheral stuff has made things a lot harder to deal with.
I closed without offering any solutions. It’s a knotty situation — a perfect storm of corporatization, cheap season passes, not enough staff, lack of affordable housing, resort mismanagement, and a two-year plus pandemic. And as I said, I’m just a skier with a keyboard griping about my privileged life. But I’ve had some time to reflect on things — as well as to discuss the situation with members of TheSkiDiva community — and I have some thoughts about how things can improve, after all.
Here’s what needs to happen
• Getting to the mountain (and parking once you get there) has to get better. Traffic in ski towns has become a nightmare, clogging up roadways (on weekends and holidays, especially) and making it impossible for locals to get out their driveways or even for emergency vehicles to get by. The State of Washington recently closed one of its three major East-West highways due to Stevens Pass traffic. This is not sustainable. One solution is to do what they did at Crystal Mountain (WA): Offer shuttle buses from remote parking areas or incentives for those who car pool. This would go a long way in relieving stress on both visitors and locals, improve local traffic flow, and end the parking nightmares that are plaguing resorts.
• Provide more ticket options. The advent of cheap, multi-resort passes is pretty much ground zero for the massive crowds we’re facing this year. And though the answer could be as simple as increasing pass prices or getting rid of multi-resort passes, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Like others, I hate the idea of pricing people out of the sport. Instead, perhaps we need a greater variety of pass options. Maybe you’re given an allotment of points and you use more to ski on weekends or holidays. Maybe there’s the old standby — a weekday-only pass, or one that’s only good on weekends. There are a lot of creative options that could be used in this area, and they could help reduce crowds.
• Limit capacity. There’s a famous commercial from the 60’s in which Contadina Tomato Paste claimed they put “eight great tomatoes in an itty bitty can.” Sure, it’s possible, but I’m pretty sure it’d make an awful mess. That’s sort of what’s going on now. Overcapacity is stressing community infrastructure and leading to the massive lift lines we’ve all seen on social media. State fire marshalls limit capacity on buildings all the time, so maybe this is something that needs to happen at ski resorts, too. It could be as simple as reinstating the reservation system. But something needs to be done.
• Make lessons more affordable. Some of the women on TheSkiDiva point out — and rightly so — that the problem isn’t just crowding, it’s crowding plus out of control skiers. I have to agree. I’ve seen more out of control skiers this year than ever before, probably because low-cost tickets are bringing in people who’ve never skied before, or who have very limited experience. The problem is that lessons are expensive and difficult to arrange. The solution? Make lessons more affordable, and have enough instructors on hand to work with everyone who wants to learn. This means paying instructors like the professionals they are so resorts can attract and retain the best (see Value your employees below).
• Decentralize operations. This applies primarily to Vail Resorts. When Vail came in to my local hill, they fired a lot of the local managerial staff and began running things out of HQ in Colorado. What they failed to recognize is that there is no substitute for local knowledge, and experience,. Sure, maybe this saved them a few bucks. But things run better — and more smoothly — when there are people locally who can analyze what’s going on and react in a way that makes sense for the resort. Locally-based management also provides something you can’t get from remote operatives: an understanding of the culture of the resort, and the knowledge of what it takes to preserve it. This isn’t the case right now, and it’s having a negative effect on the customer experience.
• Value your employees. This is sort of a sub-set to the point above. What it involves is everything from structuring pay scales to attract dedicated, professional employees that’ll be with your resort season after season, to providing a living wage to everyone from lifties to kitchen staff. Treat your patrollers and instructors like the professionals they are and pay them accordingly. And offer affordable housing to employees who are priced out of the local market, because without local staff, the resorts won’t run.
• Don’t neglect the local communities. Don’t treat the local ski towns like a hallway leading to your resort. Ski community infrastructures are over-utilized and people are over-stressed from the increased number of visitors coming in. Remember: We provide support services for your guests, and we’re where your employees come from. Make us feel appreciated, and we’ll give you our all.
What will happen?
We’ll get an inkling in the weeks ahead, when the big ski companies begin announcing their 22/23 ticket options. Unfortunately, the only power we have is the power of our pocketbooks. If you’re unhappy with a particular company or resort, take your business elsewhere. There’s nothing that’ll wake companies up more than not receiving your money.
Here’s hoping that things change.