Give ski bums a chance

We could call it the Betty White storm. It died at 99, just short of the 100-inch mark according the resort. It was also fun and surprising at times, lasted longer than expected and made a lot of people happy. 

It was a good one and now there is time to breathe and regroup…hopefully for the next one.

Of course the local street/bar talk this past week is primarily about CBMR, and among other things, its challenges to get the resort’s signature ski run, International, open more than six weeks into the season after a 100, I mean 99-inch, snowstorm. Going back to the future, paying customers are hiking up the hill to access the steeps of Big Chute and Headwall. Local opinions on that move appear split. Young locals love the old-school practice of hiking into the Headwall. It weeds out those without the physical or mental ability to throw the skis over the shoulder and walk up a mountain to get the good turns. The older one gets (no jokes here please), the less enthused one becomes with hiking to get the goods and honestly it’s not a great look for a ‘high-end’ ski experience. But the powder lasts longer and the fact Headwall was skiing before the turn of the year is pretty impressive. Kudos for that!

Social media is of course filled with angry, funny, smart and ‘interesting’ ideas on how to fix the situation brought about in many ways because of a lack of daily employees including lift operators. Thanks a lot COVID. Those working on the hill are doing the good work as best they can under the circumstances and I’ve heard nothing but appreciation for the workers. The Broomfield corporation types are taking it hard across the entire country. Here, I’ve seen management scanning tickets. The red information people are still cheery and instructors are still encouraging. The ski patrol got the Headwall open with the Glades and North Face in the queue and I for one am really appreciative of that. Getting to the Headwall takes a relatively easy hike – it’s easier than climbing out of Teo Bowl BTW — and it is the 2022 hand we’ve been dealt at the moment. Westwall, Horseshoe and Monument are all skiing well too if you want a steep shot without the uphill. 

But the perception is the resort is not fulfilling its potential or promise and that was the chance people here were giving to what was considered to be a mega-corporate, deep-pocketed, albeit buttoned-up ski organization that bought out the family resort. And honestly, as a resort skier, it’s obvious to me VR has put significant money into CBMR to make it safer, more skiable and consistent. That is appreciated.

We asked CBMR GM Tara Schoedinger about the situation and she basically said that like every business in the valley and around the globe, there are ongoing challenges with employees and a pandemic. A weirdly warm start to the winter didn’t make it any easier. Strategic decisions were made, some quickly, but all with the intent to get as much terrain open as safely as  possible. Fair. You can see her interview on page 11.

So I have a spitting against the wind idea: Given the global workforce challenges, perhaps the VR corporate heads in the wood-paneled Broomfield boardroom should reconsider some of its policies and try them out in Crested Butte. Perhaps Broomfield shouldn’t boast they are paying employees a minimum of $15 per hour in a town where that won’t even buy a retail hamburger at its on-mountain restaurant. I’d suggest those at the top of the corporate ladder take some of the $1.5 billion – yes, billion – that is in the corporate bank account and stop buying flatland ski areas and instead build comfortable places for employees who want to work a season as lift ops. And pay them what it takes to live in or near a resort town.

Given the small potato that CB is in the giant corporate portfolio, maybe use us as a test. I know I’m weirdly wishing against a profitable corporate mentality but I think given our culture of collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking, we could increase long-term profits while helping our community along the way. Win-win anyone?

The management here seems smart and given our size has the ability to quickly pivot with changing circumstances. That’s a big plus. Broomfield could invest some money here to see how it might work at scale with other VR resorts. Use Crested Butte to think beyond the next dividend allocation and see how feeding a ski town ethos can be good for the business…that is based in skiing. 

Seriously. Invest in the old ski bum culture where young people will work for a pass and the chance to hit the mountain 100 days a season. They need decent places to live and at least a little money in their pocket to buy PBRs and hamburgers. So, build real housing units either on your own or in direct financial partnership with the local governments that have hundreds of units in the near future pipeline. Pay real living wages, which on the bottom end is probably more than $20/hour in this valley for the most mindless of work. Money attracts workers and workers are making well over $30 or $50/hour shoveling or serving at other local places. Reward workers with bonuses and time to ski. Make the ski culture fun and functional again. See how that impacts the corporate business. I bet it impacts it positively. VR has the money. It is possible and would reward shareholders in the medium and long run. 

When VR chose to cut the cost of their Epic Pass last year they ended up selling a ton more than in 2020 before the first snowflake flew. Whether it snowed or not, the bank account was flush. What a deal for shareholders! And then it snowed. I know several CBMR employees who did the math and chose to purchase an Epic Pass and get better paying jobs rather than work on the hill. Oops.

It’s not just an issue here. Check out former Crested Buttian Jeremy Rubingh’s viral anti-Vail Resorts petition on – EpicVailFail. VR is a customer experience-based business and it just feels like the customers aren’t having a very good experience right now. If that doesn’t change, will they buy a pass next year? What would that do to the VR bank account valuation?

Look, if the boardroom chooses to do the right thing and really invest in their company which means investing in their employees, I’d bet those that own MTN stock wouldn’t even have to take a decrease in their 1% dividend payout. The financial Internet tells me MTN is in a bearish pattern with its stock price dropping early this week to about $308 a share. MTN’s 52 week high was more than $376. It seriously might be time to reinvest in the employees that make the machine turn – unlike the T-bars serving our Extreme Limits terrain. 

Give ski bums a chance. Seriously try a creative and functional experiment at our relatively small CBMR mountain that sits outside the norm of most of the VR resort portfolio given its size, double black diamond terrain and crusty local vibe. It feels like the local resort team could continue to be nimble and react to changing circumstances whether it is more pandemic or another 99-inch storm. They have worked their butts off this season already and Headwall opened in December! If it works here, take the template to the bigger resorts. I think Betty White would agree with me. Put the smile and joy back in the ski bum business.

—Mark Reaman

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