Playing the Devil’s Advocate!

It was at around this time last season that we posted a story written by Dave Snow. To date, that has been the most talked about story in our eleven-plus years. I have been hounded numerous times, even as late as yesterday, asking if I were Dave Snow…or who Dave Snow was.

Let me now go on record for all to read, Dave Snow was actually seven people in one. I wrote the story with the input of six Beech Mountain residents, business people and fans of Beech Mountain.

The subject of the story was Ski Beech and since this particular story is not about Ski Beech, I’ll not elaborate on the story except to say that it created a landslide of feedback. Most of it came from readers who agreed with "Dave’s" assessments. A few came from some of the Beech family that jumped all over yours truly in an unprecedented manner.

In our eleven-plus years of posting daily stories on all of the Southeast and Mid Atlantic’s ski areas, we have had cause to occasionally draw attention to some of the more negative aspects of one resort or another and it never sits well with management and staffers at those resorts. Thankfully the responses have always been upbeat and not confrontation (except for that of Beech) but the point is that the resort management teams have a tough time being told that people aren’t happy with certain things.

THE SKI AREA OWNERS, MANAGERS AND MARKETING DEPARTMENTS CAN NOT WIN!

The ski resorts can’t win. Let me explain.

If conditions warrant snowmaking and a resort foscuses snow on open terrain during a ski session, then people complain that they should not make snow while people are skiing. If they don’t make snow, then people complain when their base is too thin…and that they should have made snow at every opportunity to insure good conditions.

If they groom some perfect corduroy, while most skiers and snowboarders will love it – they will no doubt hear complaints that "XYZ Resort" over-grooms the heck out of things. If they don’t groom, they hear complaints from those that find the inconsistency of ungroomed trails hard to ski on.

If a resort doesn’t close down a lift that is affected by windy conditions, they get complaints from visitors telling of harrowing rides up the mountain. If they close a lift in windy conditions, then they hear complaints from people saying the lift lines are bad and more lifts should be open.

If a resort chooses to operate financially "closer to the vest" and not perform a ton of capital improvements and thereby offer cheaper skiing, they hear complaints from some who say they should maybe charge a little more and fix up the place. When a resort charges what they need to per ticket to cover their budget for millions in capital improvements they are called "corporate resorts" and admonished for charging too much.

If a resort leaves things status quo too long they get complaints that they need to add some trails or build some chalets rentals on the side of their mountains. When they re-route an old trail and build a chalet or two, they are given a hard time by those who loved it the way it "used to be".

I could go on and on and on. Trust me, in nearly twelve years I HAVE HEARD IT ALL. …and so have the resort marketing departments and managers.

UNDER APPRECIATED EXCEPT IN RARE CASES…

Whether they like to hear it or not, the resorts owners and managers KNOW that not all resorts were created equal – nor are they today. While some flourish, others struggle. While some seem to have deep or bottomless pockets, others operate on a shoestring.

All have fans who for any number of reasons LOVE their favorite hill. Maybe it was because that was the first place they skied; maybe they met their significant other there; maybe they JUST feel at home there. Regardless of the reasons we LOVE our own favorite(s) and when we see a resort that isn’t one of our favorites doing better or having better conditions, surroundings, etc…it causes frustrations and/or complaints.

We then complain that we’d love for the bathrooms at Beech to be as nice as at Appalachian. We’d love the snow at Bryce to be as nice as a Snowshoe. We’d ALL love it if Sugar added a high speed quad! We’d all love it if every snowmaking plant at every resort was as powerful and as nice as those of Wisp and Wintergreen.

This may be a bit too much information for some, but if all of our resorts were given an approval rating card to fill out by every visitor, then my experience – based SOLELY on tens of thousands of emails over the last eleven years – is that only Appalachian Ski Mountain, Wintergreen Resort, Snowshoe and Wisp would get high "A’s".

Don’t shoot the messenger! I am only relaying the input that we get that is without question second to none. Tens of thousands of emails definately give you a perspective that you won’t get otherwise.

Most of the rest of the resorts would get lower A’s or high B’s based on your comments. Be sure to get that point; almost all would get high grades. There are a couple that WOULD GET C’s. Since this story is not about pointing fingers I won’t elaborate. But facts are facts, some ski areas simply operate better than others.

However it is important to note that NO ski area would pull a failing grade or even a below average grade. We ALL LOVE our favorite hill and the truth is that EVERY RESORT in our area does a pretty darn good job providing their fans with a product that leaves them happy and wanting for more.

That should be duly noted by every skier, snowboarder and manager of every resort.

CONSIDER THE ALTERNATIVES…

A few seasons ago Mill Ridge Ski area closed down and just a couple of years prior to that Hound Ears closed their hill. Sky Valley closed up for skiing never to open again. You can bet that those closings disappointed thousands of people who for one reason or another considered those their favorite. Those people would gladly take those resorts back JUST THE WAY THEY WERE, pitfalls, shortcomings and all.

Provided with the real alternative of seeing OUR favorite hill close up for good, we’d shut up, quit complaining and SIMPLY LOVE OUR FAVORITE.

THE ROOT OF RESORT COMPLAINTS STEMS FROM UNDER ACHIEVING…or at least we think!

The reason for this particular story comes after nearly a year of fielding phone calls, and thousands of emails fielding complaints MOSTLY about two or three resorts. The final impetus admittedly comes from more than 140 messageboard posts in just the last few days, read by more than 6,500 viewers – complaining about conditions or lack of them at one resort.

New messageboard members like a guy going by the name of "Jack Frost", and a woman calling herself "Ski Bunny" seem to be on a crusade for change at what they consider to be their favorite resort. They seem to have the average viewer in agreement with them.  Funny thing is that they seem to be reiterating that exact points that some of us began a year ago…all over again.

I guess the lesson to be learned here (if there is one to learn!) is that we ALL LOVE our favorite ski hill and we simply want the best for it. Maybe sometimes it takes a kick in the butt for some managers to start REALLY paying attention to their base of customers. However it should also be noted that NO ski area in this region simply sits on their hands. There are a lot of hard – HARD – working people at every resort. One year round employee that I was talking with yesterday told me that he personally slapped more than 130 gallons of paint on walls, lift poles, buildings etc this past summer. It has gone largely unnoticed and certainly under appreciated by visitors to that resort.

TWO RULES THAT WE WISHED ALL SKI RESORT STAFFERS OPERATED WITHIN

Rule #1: The customer is always right.

Rule #2: Refer to rule #1.

Unless you walk in the shoes of the people at our various resorts that are tasked with handling the incoming complaints, you simply can not imagine how difficult it is to operate within the rules that I just mentioned. There are some very difficult people walking on this planet.

That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try. I frankly think that they all do try…but some certainly seem to be better at it than others.

It would be tough for me to stop what I’m doing and go and visit other web design firms to see how they operate compared to my firm, but that probably wouldn’t be a bad idea from time to time. It is only when you can see what others are doing better than you, that you can clearly discern the direction your firm needs to take.

I think it would be wonderful if every resort GM did a little incognito visiting at their competition. Some do by the way. Most don’t. Many don’t have the time and some frankly don’t care to.

However, some resort’s lift operators are outgoing, always helpful, ALWAYS sweeping snow from chairs, ALWAYS putting a hand on a lift to aid it best for those seating. Some resort’s lift operators talk with you, greet you with a smile and NEVER, EVER talk trash or are rude. Some resort’s cafeteria workers are smiling, glad of their jobs, kind and helpful. Some resort’s put table cloths on their cafeteria tables. Some resorts put more effort into the best snow grooming. Others don’t.

We simply don’t appreciate it much when the ones that don’t HAPPEN to be OUR favorite.

The messageboard and my email INBOX seem to be filled with people hating on a few resorts. When I look at those emails from differing perspectives I realize that the vast majority of those emails aren’t really anti-xyz resort at all. They are simply frustrated.

It’s HARD to play the devil’s advocate too long!

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com, SkiNC.com and ResortCams.com. Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.