The future: Save skiing by shortening the mountains
December 7, 2007
I have new insight as to what the future holds for our local mountains after spending a couple of runs on Fanny Hill with a ski industry analyst I met in a lift line recently. His name is Regor Tloram and he hails from a country that I couldn’t decipher after asking him to pronounce it on three different occasions. Despite his thick accent and my dislike of most common varieties of schnitzel, Regor and I had spent an excellent afternoon carving the delicately sloped sheet of man-made ice that is Snowmass’ extreme beginner terrain.
Not being in the habit of skiing with pen and notepad in hand, I can’t say that the following interview is a verbatim transcription of our conversation. However, if I misquote Mr. Tloram, I sincerely apologize ahead of time and give the assurance that if it was intentional, it was done only to enhance the interest of the story and promulgate my point of view, which he and I share being one in the same person.
RM (me): What is the biggest change you see in the future of ski area operations?
RT (him): Vell, vat do you sink? Etz all abouts za vezer … [Author’s note: As you can see, Mr. Tloram’s accent vas … I mean was, very difficult to understand. So, I will take the liberty to begin again; writing his words the way I understood them and not the way he pronounced them.] … Well, what do you think?! It’s all about the weather!
RM: So, you’re joining the numbers who believe global warming is the biggest threat to skiing?
RT: I didn’t say that.
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RM: So you don’t think global warming is a threat to skiing?
RT: I didn’t say that either.
RM: Uh … what other choice is there?
RT: Ahck, Americans. … It is the threat of the threat that will change skiing!
RM: Well … I suppose skiers are going to have to be more patient for powder and learn to enjoy the man-made stuff in the meantime, huh?
RT: Nonsense, numbskull! How patient do you think a family is going to be if they have to pay the equivalent of 25,000 hugenflunks for a week in a resort in which they expect to be skiing, not scratching around the bunny hills on this man-made crap, especially if leaders in the industry are constantly telling them that the ski seasons are bound to be shorter in the future? Survival of the industry is not going to happen by customers adjusting their expectations.
RM: So, the survival of the industry is dependent on the resort operators figuring out ways to meet the customers’ expectations?
RT: No, that’s “old school,” as you with the dilapidated educational system say. It’s much easier than that. They will meet the customers’ expectations that they are able to manipulate.
RM: What the …?
RT: … The ski industry has created such a panic about dwindling wintertime that it will soon appear that they are left with only two alternatives: They must shorten the season in which they operate, or shorten the mountains on which they ski.
RM: I understand shortening the seasons. You could open at Christmas and close on St. Patrick’s day. But, I don’t get how lowering the mountains would help. Besides, it seems like you would have to move a lot of dirt to do it.
RT: Ahck! I didn’t say lower the mountains! I said shorten them. You do this by moving the town and ski lifts up to where the new shoulder-season snow lines supposedly will be.
RM: Which do you see as the more likely scenario? (Here, Regor smacked me over the head with his ski pole, leaving a noticeable bend in each.)
RT: You don’t make money by reducing the days in which you operate! This option will be presented only to make the other alternative appear more desirable, because you can make money by shortening the mountain.
RM: That doesn’t make sense. If you shorten the mountain, you have less skiing. Doesn’t less product to offer mean less profit?
RT: By shortening the mountain, ski-area operators actually have more product to sell.
RM: How so? Like I said, there’ll be less skiing …
RT: … But more real estate for building on. Skiing is no longer about snow. It’s about dirt! What now constitutes the lower slopes of the ski mountains can easily be contoured for homes, condominiums and timeshares, plus it’s close to the existing bars and shopping districts. Think about your local lower ski runs: Little Nell, Fanny Hill, Thunderbowl, all of Buttermilk. There is a lot of wide open land primed for development! Convince people that there won’t be any powder down low in the future, and they’ll hail you a savior for offering to relocate the lifts up the slopes to save the town’s livelihood!
RM: But a lot of that land is not owned by the ski area operators. It’s leased from the U.S. Forest Service …
RT: … Which is one of the most cash-strapped branches of a debt-ridden federal government. Your president sells oil and gas leases in wilderness areas. How much easier will it be to raise cash by selling land that will soon no longer be viable for skiing?
RM: So why haven’t ski areas begun the process of moving the lifts up the mountains already?
RT: They need to completely sell the public on global warming first. You can’t go forward with such an unconscionable plan to make unimaginable amounts of money off of public lands unless you appeal to the conscientiousness of the public, create a panic and basically scare the hell out of people first.
RM: So, you want me to believe that ski area operators are really now talking about gearing up to develop more real estate by promulgating fear about rising temperatures?
RT: The dumb ones are.
RM: What about the others?
RT: They’re lying about it.
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