Walmart-ization of Skiing

Whenever I find myself skiing alone, or trying to save some time by using the singles lift line, I always try to get on the lift with a patroller if possible. They are most often the ones with the best skiing tales, be it hilarious anecdotes about beginners losing skis on the lift (sometimes with the boot attached), the increasingly rare southeast powder days, or the history of a particular ski resort. In addition to interesting stories, they are almost always the ones on the mountain, outside of management, that know what trails might be opening soon and when you might get a chance at some elusive first tracks.

I was having a conversation with a ski patroller at Snowshoe last week when I brought up the fact that I do a majority of my skiing at Winterplace, given that it is the closest resort to both Blacksburg, where I go to school, and my hometown of Princeton, WV. As soon as I mentioned it, he chuckled and we began to talk about the large crowds of beginners that tend to travel there. He mentioned that he had worked there years ago, and then used an analogy that may be the best description for Winterplace I have ever heard: The Walmart of Skiing.

Later that day, as I thought about that particular comparison, I wondered, is that really such a bad thing?? Is it bad that Winterplace is the Walmart of skiing? I say no. We need places like Winterplace. When you really think about it, what does Walmart do for us? It provides a retailer where we can get the essentials relatively quickly and at a wholesale cost. We need the Walmarts of the world just as much as we need the Macy’s or the Nordstroms; we need the low-end to balance out the high-end, and I feel like this comparison can be made with ski resorts as well: for every Snowshoe or Killington or Stowe we need a Winterplace.

Winterplace provides a place for groups of beginners to learn in a friendly environment, where there aren’t many, if any, truly good daytime skiers (the locals come out at night) and a majority of the people on the mountain are on a beginner level. They offer group discounts and deals for lift tickets and lessons, and do a good job encouraging groups to come learn to ski on the mountain. They often have a massive lineup of instructors waiting for these groups, and they just drastically expanded their learning area. Even the resort itself says on their website, “Teaching first-timers is a proud tradition at Winterplace”.

Now I’m not saying that places like Snowshoe, Timberline, or the other VA/WV/NC resorts aren’t good places to learn. I’m just saying that in my experience, Winterplace is the place where majority of skiers are brand new to the sport, and the ability level of the skiers on the slopes reflects that. I remember talking to a fellow last year that organizes groups out of North Carolina to come up to Winterplace to ski, and that sometimes he brings thousands of people up on any given weekend. Now for the more experienced skiers, this can be a huge pain, and often elicits groans and curses from me when the slopes are packed with people falling down. But I, and others, need to remember that at some point we were beginners too.

Places like Winterplace are introducing thousands of people to the sport of skiing every year, a sport that many of us truly love. Before we could tackle the big boys of the ski world, we all started out wedging on the bunny slopes, and for me, those first ski trips have evolved into skiing being my biggest outdoor passion. So what if Winterplace is the Walmart of the ski world? After all, we’ve all roamed the aisles of Walmart at some point in our lives, and we were all wedging our first turns at some point in our skiing past. So the next time you are at Winterplace or another beginners resort and getting fed up with people falling all over the slopes, take a look at the face of someone who is experiencing the joy of skiing for the first time and remember that we all had to start somewhere, and for many that somewhere is the Walmart of Skiing.

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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.