First Trax :: Daily News
You Learn a LOT When You're Willing to Let Go...
06.27.12 11:16 AMI've barely sat down and started typing this post to the website and I can already tell you that this might be a little lengthy. What's new, right? However, I've heard from hundreds of you out there in SkiNC and SkiSoutheast - land that you want MORE.
Several of you wrote me personally about my statement back in late May that I was "ready to move on" and looking to sell the websites. Several mentioned that we are anywhere from your first to third visit on the internet every morning to begin your day. Many wrote me that they've followed this website for three to fifteen years. Not sure where the "orginal visitors" are because nobody wrote to say they've followed the site for the full sixteen years. I know you're out there somewhere.
Since I made that announcement back on May 22nd I've spoken with a few ski area management peeps and a couple of owners and I have to admit that some of those conversations were pretty humbling and inspiring at the same time.
Communicating with you guys and gals over the years has grown to be sort of psychotherapeutic or cathartic for me at times. You see above all else - like many of you - I am passionate about all things snow. I truly LOVE every hill in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic that is covered in snow. Although I haven't visited every ski hill in the region when there ISN'T snow on them - I probably still love those same mountains when they are grass covered. You see - I love the mountains. Ever since I was about ten years old my family headed mostly north from our Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina homes for vacations. Most of the time those vacations were to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and areas close to the Smokies. We spent our summer vacations in Brevard, Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock, Cades Cove, Pigeon Forge, Devils Backbone, Luray Caverns and mostly wherever the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains would take us.
As I started my own family it was only natural that our vacations took me right back to those same special places. Those who know me know that I also love the beaches and I've definitely spent a lot of my vacation dollars along the Grand Strand and Florida beaches, but the mountains of the Southeast and Mid Atlantic just have always "felt like home".
The last hours and days of any mountain vacation always left me feeling as though I was leaving home - each time I'd point the car in the direction of ACTUALLY heading home to the city. In fact, the mountains finally "got me" in 1990 when I left South Carolina and moved first to Seven Devils, North Carolina. After a few years in the magazine publishing business around Boone and Banner Elk I started SkiNC and subsequently SkiSoutheast - again purely out of a simple love of the mountains.
For those who may not know, I also started HighCountryOutdoors.com, GolfNorthCarolina.com, HighCountryHiking.com, NCMountainVacations.com and many others that pretty much addressed "all things Western North Carolina". I found myself just wanting to tell anyone who would listen about our wonderful hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, waterfalls, golf, skiing - you name it.
It wasn't long before my little "BLOG-before-there-WERE-BLOGS" was being read by a couple of hundred people a day. Then tens of thousands. It's still mind boggling to me at times.
CARTHARTIC MEANS EMOTIONALLY PURGING (in case you didn't know)
Along the way, while I was simply attempting to inform you guys what the slopes and trails of the Southeast were really like I ticked a few people off. First Sugar, then Beech and occasionally Wolf and a few others. At some time or another I think I've heard from MOST of the ski areas about something that I reported on or said that wasn't "comfortable" for this or that ski area.
Sugar's Gunther Jochl has emailed or had attorneys write me to "cease and desist" writing about, aiming webcams at or even thinking about Sugar Mountain. In the early days of SkiNC, Appalachian's Brad Moretz called me to meet up about buying SkiNC from me for $1000. Turned out the NC Ski Areas only wanted the domain name. They weren't interested in working with me personally. They simply wanted me out of the way.
The first few years were simply me writing about the ski resorts and reporting on conditions to the few who knew what a search engine was. There was no Google back then. Those who Yahoo'd or knew what America Online or InfoSeek was found our little ski neighborhood and word kind of got out.
None of the ski areas were interested in a website really. Beech had one until a couple of young kids left them high and dry. Then Marketing Director, Shiela Fletcher was the second ski area to come to me for a small website as we rescued them to get a website back up and running as they'd lost their domain name due to those kids leaving town. They didn't have any money and I built those first few websites for them for nothing more than a season pass for skiing. I remember that same year Fred's Mercantile website was "hacked" and nude photos were posted on their ski rental pages. Those same kids were the designers and host. No wonder they left town.
Hawksnest Resort was the first ski area that contracted with me to build a website. Slowly we picked up the THEN NAMED Wolf Laurel ski area and a few other followed as clients. When I spoke with these and others about a central "Ski North Carolina" website there was some vague interest but no real participation.
During those first several years (years eight to ten) I did the reporting and posting on the site purely because I enjoyed doing them. Every time I'd butt heads in some fashion with one resort manager/owner or another I would vent my frustrations and share my thoughts with you guys. (Hence the "cathartic" statement. By simply writing what was on my mind, we created a fan base. Thousands began to write and send photos to support my claims that this or that resort's conditions were alternately great and pitiful. Around that same time a small Vermont ski site went up calling their efforts "NO Bull Ski Reports".
OUR LITTLE POND TURNED INTO A SMALL LAKE...
You'll never see me talking about our little ski network here in a way that ever sends out a signal that I or we think we're the end all be all website. We fully realize that we have a great following, but it more resembles a small lake of readers rather than some ocean of people out there. We're proud that our consolidated readership of 4.2 Million Visitors within the five months of last ski season (most of which are from the nine or ten southeast and Mid Atlantic states) compares very favorably with the supposed "ocean" of 12 million visitors to OnTheSnow.com's WORLDWIDE audience.
So I'll take our little "lake"...
However SkiNC.com and SkiSoutheast.com have always provided a "roller coaster" of emotions annually for me. At times I'd ride the emotional highs of hearing from new readers who met this or that fellow snow loving soul on the slopes. I'd hear from hundreds of you about great trips made due to following our weather and snow updates. ...and then I'd hear from a couple of grouches about us accurately reporting natural snows well under what this or that resort was reporting.
I'd always channel those frustrations into my morning BLOG without singling out the resort in question.
Okay a few years back I DID create a "Gunther Snow Ruler" that was only six inches long but marked for twelve inches. Okay I DID also drive up atop Sugar and take digital images of the deepest snows with a ruler stuck in them for proof that our reporting was accurate. Other than that and a little "blip on the radar" here and there like the "Dave Snow" story about Beech Mountain a few years back - we've had a real love-fest with most all of the resorts.
The point is that providing the content for these websites has been rewarding AND frustrating at the same time. Sometimes I'd ride emotional highs and lows on the same day such as the year we raised $8000 or so for Helena Jolly's Educational Fund - followed by an email hate-spew campaign from one resort when I reported that they were gratious enough to donate a couple of lift tickets and a group rate pricing instead of giving two away.
The cool byproduct that happened (whether they'd admit it or not) is that most all of the ski areas came around to our way of thinking. Our commentaries, prompted by and supported by our messageboard crew have made for an influential "pen". Resorts have become more accurate about reporting snowfall, etc - knowing that we're going to tell it like it is to the masses.
FAST FORWARD (OR REWIND) TO A COUPLE OF SEASONS AGO...
Two preseasons ago Tammy Brown from Cataloochee contacted me about the prospects of recommending that SkiSoutheast.com become the official website for the SSAA. I've always maintained that working together would be a win-win for everyone. Nowdays we have cooperation (and more) from 16 of the 17 ski areas anyway. So the prospects were promising. Their own website SoutheastSki.com attracts an outstanding visitor total of less than 100 visitors within ANY of the last twelve months - with the exception of January 2012 when 110 people found their website via Google. Hence the potential interest.
As it turned out, the vast majority of the owners and managers of the various resorts actually shared with me personally that they actually PREFERRED to keep SkiSoutheast.com independent. Most ski areas management and marketing peeps follow this website often in season. Chris Bates of Cataloochee recently shared that he's on the site every day.
I have to admit though that it got me to thinking that maybe it was time that I moved on to other things. My real job began dictating more and more of my time. I began feeling growingly frustrated over what the websites could and should be. A few years back we were giving away 15-20 ski vacations a year and hundreds of lift tickets, etc. All of the ski areas (except one) were and are still willing to provide those, but we just didn't have enough time and manpower to properly continue to manage and grow the site - EVEN THOUGH our visitorship continued to grow.
Last season I didn't even get an opportunity to reconnect with the advertisers to renew most of them. Thankfully enough people called us that we turned a nice bit of revenue last season. More about that in a moment.
The point is that I just began to grow tired of knowing how GREAT this website could be but also not having the time and resources to make that happen. My dream has always been to sell off AppNet at some point and simply operate our golf and ski websites as a means of staying busy doing what I love doing - skiing and playing golf.
MORE ABOUT 2011-2012 THROUGH TODAY...
We all know that the 2011-2012 ski season sucked. The truth is Ober Gatlinburg and Sapphire Valley probably could've saved money by not even opening last season. Heck, Snowshoe was never 100% open at any point last season with their higher-than-anyone snows annually. Beech Mountain never saw Oz open up and I don't think that Upper AND Lower White Lightning was ever open from top to bottom for even ONE DAY this past season. Wolf Ridge had their most frustrating season in decades.
However THE COOL thing about last season was the fact that MORE SKI AREAS called me to participate than within ANY previous season prior. I don't know if it was just that more and more of them realized that they wanted to support what we do and generate more traffic or what...but that was a cool thing to see.
I passed off more of the content and communicative aspects of what we do to others with little to no improvement in actually communicating with our ski area marketing peeps more often. I figured at least someone else with some dedicated focus on actually working the websites would lessen my own frustrations that we were indeed growing the interactive nature of the sites.
That was largely ineffective last season and thus I was ready move on.
I won't belabor the details of how, who, why and when - but I thought that I would shop the sites around to a couple of entities that I thought would be hugely interested in purchasing them. I targeted those that I felt were perfect marriages - who could truly grow the sites, etc. As I began that process with some hoped-for discretion, I found that someone had already made some contacts and the word had spread that "Doble was thinking of selling the sites".
Not exactly what I had hoped for in that the people I first spoke with had already heard the news. Kind of took the thunder out of my "pitch" ;-)
So I thought "what the heck" I'd put the "For Sale" notice on the sites. First came the expected:
"Wow, we're surprised. I'll give you two goats and a parka for it."
"Wow. Well Good Luck cause we know you've been thinking along those lines. Thanks for the memories and all the new friends we've met."
"You're kidding us, right? Hey, I'd love to be a part of the team to help make it better if you keep it."
I also DID receive a couple of VERY SLIGHT interests from a couple of people about purchasing the sites. Then I had the wild idea to contact a broker who does accurate valuations of websites. One such was based in Charlotte, NC and after a few conversations he told me that based on my rough estimate of what I THOUGHT we had generated in revenue last season AND combined with our traffic and rankings - he thought he could get a couple of buyers interested in paying me $200K for the sites.
I basically used his math and posted that on the front page - offering to sell both websites for $200K. WHAT AN IDIOT I AM!!!
Subsequent conversations prompted me to provide some financials to one broker and then a second one, which actually showed that we had generated more than TWICE what I had speculated that we sold in ad revenue on the site last season. A second broker immediately told me that he could easily sell the sites in 30 days for closer to $400K. That caught my interest.
Then came the first legit offer - $300K.
I considered it until I did some math. 20-30% Capital Gains Tax to the Feds and 10% to a broker would immediately eat up $120,000! Heck, I might as well KEEP the sites and just work them better. I could turn in ONE year what I'd profit from any sale!
A couple of offers came and I basically ignored them.
THEN CAME TUESDAY MORNING...(June 27th)
Over the last couple of weeks, I'd resolved myself to the fact that I was going to HAVE to go to work, keep the websites and assemble a staff to work them smarter and better. I've actually been in discussions for separate office space and began strategizing the money part of the deal, staff, computers, etc.
On Tuesday morning the words actually came out of my mouth, "Unless something stupid happens, I'm 99.9% certain that we'll keep the sites and setup a marketing team by August 1st to kick these things in the arse..." (I didn't say 'arse'.)
A couple of times during the day - I'd thought about going ahead and pulling the "For Sale" notice off the sites but didn't get around to it.
Then around 4:15pm or so on Tuesday I got a call from a three year long fan of the site who MAY BE that "something stupid" that I alluded to on Tuesday morning (and above). We spent three hours on the phone and left things with a strong "lean" towards closing a deal by August 1st or so.
So I left the office and overnight last night had all of these emotions and ideas about selling the site flowing again. I slept on it and here I am "emotionally purging" my thoughts (yet again) in writing to you guys - my friends. I THINK that I'm 99% certain that I will be keeping the sites because "unless something stupid happens" with this latest prospective buyer I can make more money in this coming season than I'd profit off of any sale even at the latest offer. The latest buyer shared on Tuesday afternoon, "I'll write you a check tomorrow."
Okay I HAVE TO ADMIT that I'd also had settled on making the websites better MYSELF so - again - unless something "stupid" happens you guys will be stuck with me this coming season.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU....
Thanks for allowing me to vent. I think over the years I now realize that I've kind of used you guys as an ear to simply "talk to". (I'd say "talk with" but you guys don't say too much back!) Thanks for putting up with me from time to time. If things go as planned, I'll be ramping up throughout July to make for a better, more interactive SkiSoutheast.com for the coming 2012-2013 season.
If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share those with me: email@example.com