Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Resort Culture

There seems to be some grumblings about skiers these days being over pampered.  This recent article on ESPN.com puts the argument forward.  It centers on the new, heated seats for a bubbled quad at The Canyons, but the article goes even further in its critiques.  Money quote:
But now, resorts coddle skiers so much, it's like a padded-room version of the mountains, a relaxing, spa-like space in which you can observe the mountains, but not really be in them. Snowbasin, Utah, for example, has elegant bathrooms that look like they belong in Trump Tower. Beaver Creek, Colorado, has escalators that deliver you to the chair lift. California's Northstar-at-Tahoe has a new village with more wine bars than ski shops. Deer Valley, Utah, has a seafood buffet that costs $62 per person. The newest hotel at Snowmass comes with ski valet, in-room milk frothers and poolside cabanas.  
Ummmm . . . Yeah.  The experienced skier would say "No shit. This has been going on for a long time, where have you been?"  Of course things are getting more "guest centered."  High speed lifts, meticulous grooming, and terrain parks all developed because resorts are focused on giving the people what they want.  In fact, I actually had the seafood buffet at Deer Valley (inside tip: if you go for lunch, it's half price), and it was delicious.  The real question is, are we looking at the development of the "new" ski resort?  Is the old school Alta/Mad River Glen/Jay Peak model dying?

At Gore, we live through the old vs. new debate every day.  I think we all realize that change is inevitable.  We just hope that the good parts (new lifts, trails, glades, etc.) outweigh the bad (congestion, faux-euro village, etc.).  But even if everybody's worst fears come to fruition, will Gore cease to be a great time?  I think this is where the article gets off track:
"Okay. But admittedly, this is pretty plush, no?" I asked her. "I'm assuming this kind of thing helps you attract upscale clientele."
"We attract the core skier who is interested in steeps and bumps but we also have a strong destination skier market," Dowd explained. "For people who take a ski vacation and only ski one week a season this chair will be a memorable experience. Why not pamper guests and make their vacation stand out?"
Here's what I wished I'd answered: Ski vacations should stand out because people challenge themselves and learn something -- about the mountains, about themselves. That is what should make a ski trip memorable. Not some heated orange box that gives you a view of the mountains, but never really lets you experience them first hand.

What has happened to our sport?
Does a heated seat on a lower mountain chairlift prevent you from challenging yourself?  Does it prevent you from exploring the mountains?  Does it somehow sour your mountain experience? While it sounds like cheesy corporate spin, the woman from the Canyons is exactly right.  For some people, a ski vacation isn't great unless they're pushing the limits of what's possible on skis: dropping cliffs, ripping trees, and launching insane tricks in the park.  For other people, a ski vacation is great because of the buffet, the wine bar, and the poolside cabana.  And really, there's no reason that the two can't coexist.  The day before I enjoyed the Deer Valley buffet, Ace and I enjoyed untouched tree shots and prime slackcountry in the Daly Chutes, completely alone on a mountain populated by people who prefer to stick to the groomers.  And I'm sure that the many of those people didn't even care that a 10 minute hike could yield steep, powdery chutes.  They were too busy thinking about the buffet.

But whether you're talking about the shrimp scampi or the tree-choked pillow lines, the only thing that makes a ski vacation "stand out" is the smile on the face of the individual skier.  And nobody should have to tell you the "right" way to get that smile.


  1. There's a disconnect between the quote:

    "...resorts coddle skiers so much, it's like a padded-room version of the mountains, a relaxing, spa-like space in which you can observe the mountains ..."

    And the Wiki DEFINITION of the word RESORT:

    "...a place used for relaxation or recreation, attracting visitors for holidays or vacations."

    Resorts are businesses catering to people on vacation. The companies that provide value for the money - however that is perceived - will thrive. Geez the guides on Everest try to pamper customers.

    Not tooo much chance we're being over pampered at Gore. I guess it's all relative. There was a time when I considered riding lifts pretty plush.

  2. Exactly. One of the great things about skiing is that you can have whatever experience you want to have. If you want to be totally alone in the backcountry, you can. If you want to be coddled in 1000 thread count sheets after 2 hours of corduroy, you can do that too. Whatever floats your skis.

  3. Excellent post. What was old is new again. Bubble chairs have already been done before. And gondolas are standards at higher end resorts. Resorts have pampered guests long before alpine skiing debuted in New England and attached itself to enhancing tourism in the mountain regions. The pampering has been upgraded but it has always and will always exist. A bubble chair is not a reflection on the skiing activity but a reintroduction of a chairlift technology already tried that caters to guests' demands, to find warmth on a cold day's lift ride.