Roger Marolt: It was the most expensive of times, it was the worst of times
January 4, 2018
I wonder if we are going to pay for this. We certainly can't control the weather, but I think we can adjust the cost of enjoying it or the lack of it, as the case may be.
Will the fact that we mostly didn't discount the cost of visiting Aspen for the driest holiday season anyone except those older than the dust covering our scant layer of icy snow on the slopes can remember come back to grind our edge in claiming to be the world's premier ski resort?
A visitor who skidded across my column in the paper last week shot an email to me explaining that he and his family knew full well how bad the snow conditions were in Aspen before they arrived to spend the holidays. No, they aren't fools, he told me. And, yes, they are real skiers who care about what terrain is open and skiable. The problem, he continued, is that they had already paid for their condominium rental in full and nobody offered to refund the not-inconsequential sum they had dropped on it.
The good news is that his family had a wonderful time despite the lack of skiing and ruining their skis in the process of trying to discover the nonexistent part of our slopes that were in good enough shape to ski without worry. He found respite from the rocks and ice in the G-zones at Highland Bowl, but then complained that he had to ski down the face of Highlands, which was a "frightful experience." All in all, they made the best of things.
The bad news is that he said they probably wouldn't be coming back for the holidays anytime soon. His remarks about this were not as bitter as they were pragmatic — Aspen is just too expensive to take a chance on early winter conditions that might be awesome, but seem to be getting less so in recent years. A trip later in the winter, February or early March possibly, sounds great, but that wasn't going to happen until his kids were at least out of high school and probably more likely, college. I got a smiley-face symbol at the end of the sentence as he wondered if he and his wife would even still be skiing then.
The thing is, while the cost of skiing and the quality of skiing are not really all that important to people who come to Aspen for Christmas weekend, that doesn't mean that these things don't matter. They matter a lot.
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As statistically untrue as it is, most people believe that they are smarter than average, and none more so than people who visit Aspen at Christmas time. Of course, I have no proof for this, but let's just roll with this supposition based on circumstantial evidence. We are all smarter than average, so proving something we already know is a waste of time.
So, what happens when our visitors go home and compare ski trip notes with their friends who went to Jackson Hole or China, for that matter? The skiing was better everywhere else than it was here. On the other hand, I doubt a week of skiing over the holidays at any other resort in the world was more expensive than it was here. When our visitors put two and two together, they are going to realize they only got three. We ripped our customers off this year! We did it politely while smiling, but that might only make it worse. They feel stupid.
Skiing in conditions like we had over the holidays is not like taking a trip to the beach and experiencing cloudy weather. It was like going to the beach and discovering that there was no ocean this year. It was like getting home from the grocery store and finding out that all your eggs are broken and the tomatoes are rotten. It was like going to a great restaurant and ordering their best steak and being served a pork chop. It's like getting a new Tesla for Christmas and finding out the battery is not included.
In a world where skiing in Aspen was reliably going to be the best nine out of 10 times in December, we could afford to have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude with our guests. The climate is changing. You know the old saying about guests being like fish. Now we, the host, are the fish. When what we have to offer starts smelling, we better get used to the idea of discounts and refunds.
Roger Marolt wishes the snow was as deep as the metal filings beneath his ski tuning bench. Email at email@example.com.