A matter of snowboards and surveys (and judgment) | AspenTimes.com

A matter of snowboards and surveys (and judgment)

Will the Aspen Skiing Co. “free Ajax” some day in the not-too-distant future?

That possibility was raised by the announcement this week that the company will conduct a survey to help it decide whether to open Aspen Mountain to snowboarders. The plans for such a survey raise several interesting issues.

To begin with, it certainly undercuts the argument – long abandoned by the Skico, but still favored by many – that Aspen Mountain simply isn’t suited for snowboards. According to this argument, the mountain is too narrow, its trails too confining for the wide, swooping turns favored by most boarders. If this were the case, of course, there would be no point to a survey, because regardless of any survey results, the mountain’s terrain will not change. We do not, for example, need a survey on the question of whether pigs can fly. No matter how many people say “yes” to that query, we will not find pork in the treetops any morning soon.

On the other hand, a survey does fit with the Skico’s main current justification for a continued ban: that it’s really a matter of customer preference and satisfaction – a simple business decision, in other words.

On the basis of this argument, we have tended to favor keeping snowboards off Ajax.

Certainly, it is an incontrovertible fact that three of the Skico’s mountains are open to snowboarders. That’s close to 5,000 acres of some of the best skiing terrain in the world, terrain of every level of difficulty. Particularly at Snowmass and Highlands, a boarder can choose everything from a gentle, cruising run to ripping down the steep and deep.

Given that, it is hardly a serious deprivation for boarders to be barred from the one remaining mountain. Yes, there is a certain unfairness to it, but that is balanced by the fact that many skiers do not enjoy sharing the slopes with snowboarders – and, whether their objections are valid or not, they enjoy the “luxury” of having a mountain all to themselves. And that “luxury” is a rare one, one that Aspen can provide.

As it now stands, Aspen has something for everyone. Families can ski together – boarders and skiers alike – on all kinds of terrain at Snowmass. Those in search of radical rides can head to Highlands. Beginners of all kinds are perfectly served at Buttermilk. And the skiers-only crowd is happy at Aspen Mountain.

Of course, this could change.

Snowboarders, perhaps, might begin to demand a place of their own, so they wouldn’t have to worry about the slower skiing public getting in their way.

The Skico already has set aside some areas, called “snowboard parks,” but that may not be enough. It may be that if the sport continues to grow, the company should think about making certain slopes available to “snowboarders only.” Perhaps it should even go so far as to designate an entire mountain for boarders alone.

Then the skiers could start complaining that they were being discriminated against. Certainly, that would be an amusing state of affairs.

But, in any case, these are decisions that can be made on the basis of personal judgment or by reliance on surveys.

Which takes us to the final issue: How will the Skico conduct a fair and valid survey?

Ask snowboarders and they’ll likely say, “Open the mountain!” Ask skiers and they’ll mostly say, “Keep the boarders away!” What the Skico really needs to find out is how many people are not coming to Aspen because they cannot ride snowboards on Aspen Mountain – and how many people are coming to Aspen because boarders are banned from the mountain and how many of that last group would stop coming to Aspen if the mountain were opened to all.

Good luck.

Which brings us to a final point: the dangers for a business – as for a politician – of making decisions based on surveys and polls. After all, the ultimate “survey” – the one in which results are tallied at the cash register – might seem to send Aspen this message: Be more like Vail.

And we know we don’t want that.

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