Changing perceptions…

Someone I respect sent me an email saying he thought I was a bit off last week in my characterization of the (lack of) fun factor product at the north end of the valley. “I’m talking the whole enchilada, CBMR, Nordic, backcountry, Irwin, restaurants, nightlife, ‘other’ activities—is pretty damn good. Freaking killer good, really,” he wrote.
He’s not wrong. There are a whole lot of good things up here. It’s a reason we still live here. We love this place. But one of the points I was trying to make is that it’s obviously not “killer” enough to get people to want to come back. We can’t depend on just a list of good things. That list comprises the foundation of any resort, but has to have a spark from each element and that comes with perception. A good perception gets people to come back. A poor perception sends them somewhere else to look for the spark.
Someone else this week described the situation I wrote about as if those in charge keep trying to turn down the music at a party. He said the local leaders (not just the ski area management but community-wide) are spending time tidying it all up, focusing on the high-enders, trying to hide the blemishes, trying to be more professional than fun.
We need to turn the music back up. People need to perceive that there’s a good party not to be missed and they should come here and enjoy it on vacation.

So, it’s another typical Tuesday in the office. There are a half dozen dogs waiting to greet those who walk through the door. The writers are writing, the saleswomen are selling and I’m reading a Playboy. Really, I’m not looking at the pictures, I’m reading an article from the February, 1982 edition titled “Ultimate Skiing: a tale of fast times and high adventure in the best ski resorts North America has to offer.”
The story is an excerpt from two Playboy staffers who spent a season skiing and wrote a book about it. Good work if you can get it. The article starts off with their tale of Crested Butte. The two flew from Denver into Crested Butte with a young woman pilot. Twenty-four hours later, they were doing a line of coke after finishing dinner in a “world-class restaurant in the tiny Victorian gold-rush town.” After passing a plate of the illicit drugs around the table one of the writers comments, “I think I’ve died and gone to Hollywood.”
Further Crested Butte adventures included getting stuck on the chairlift and being fortunate enough to be surrounded by locals with weed—apparently including the “town sheriff” at the time.
As I’m reading this article, a guy who arrived in Crested Butte when nothing was paved called me to chat. I told him about the article and he said that back in that day, everyone thought Crested Butte was pretty much a drug-drenched town. It wasn’t as bad as the reputation, he said. Not every dinner ended with a plate of blow and not every chairlift ride was a smokefest.
In the March 1982 edition of Playboy, the magazine published a letter from the town officials saying the article wasn’t exactly a true characterization of the place. The town letter didn’t deny that there might have been a grain of truth in the reporting but they really didn’t like that sort of national press.

My friend and his family from Australia left that same Tuesday I was reading Playboy. They had spent a month in town. My buddy commented on how the visit was like coming to ski at a private ski resort. There were few lines over the MLK holiday and not many on the early-week powder days. There were none most days. During his time here, he commented on the state of the area and what might be done to get more people here and thus more energy in the place.
He pointed out the impact of social media in these modern times. Unlike an article in 1982 that would be out there for a month and either draw or repel potential visitors… in 2013 one negative review of Crested Butte could spread the word virally.
So after I put down the Playboy, I went online to see what the world wide web had to say about Crested Butte these days. The reviews, both the good and the bad, were pretty tame. Not a lot of passion either way. Many of the consumer reviews mentioned the lack of lift lines. Many described CBMR as “family-friendly.” There were kudos for the size of the resort (“tweener”—bigger than Monarch, smaller than Vail), the friendliness of the people, the beauty and the steep terrain. The “Victorian” town is mentioned quite a bit, as is the smallness of the mountain. I didn’t see many negatives except for how difficult it could be to get here, some complaints about lift ticket value and smoking on lifts.
So, we can assume that like the Playboy models pictured in the February 1982 issue of the magazine, things have changed. Less drugs and more family might be one of the main takeaways when comparing the two messages that were out there 30 years apart. But the thing to remember is that it is perception that counts. There were families here in 1982 and there are drugs here now.
It’s the message and what people see that counts. How are we different (and better) from other ski resorts? Whether it is a national publication like Playboy or blogs and review site on the Internet, how the world sees us is always a bit out of our control but the message reaches a lot of people. We can help shape that. Just like in 1982, there is a grain of truth to what’s out there now and more than anything, what we might want out there, is a bit more passion.
Now I need to get back to work. But first I better get the magazine back from Than.

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