Purgatory’s ‘pro ski bum’ exec fights against climate change and industry shifts
February 18, 2017
DURANGO, Colo. — Greg Ralph would have become a surfer had surfers been a little nicer.
"Surfers aren't the friendliest, most encouraging people toward beginners," said Ralph, who grew up in Southern California. "It's sort of that 'my wave' mentality, and I always seemed to be jumping on the wrong wave in front of the wrong guy, so I didn't get the warmest welcome from the surf crowd."
Instead, he took up skiing, and has been "masquerading as a professional ski bum" for 40 years.
Ralph, 60, was hired three years ago as Purgatory Resort's vice president of sales and marketing. He comes at a pivotal moment in the ski resort's 52-year history, reported The Durango Herald.
James Coleman, who purchased the resort in 2015, is making notable improvements to amenities, and has added Purgatory to a family of four other ski areas in the Southwest — Arizona Snowbowl, Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort in New Mexico, Pajarito Mountain in New Mexico, and, most recently, Hesperus Ski Area, 11 miles west of Durango.
The ski industry experienced record skier visits last year, but it's fighting for millennials, who have more options than ever when it comes to entertainment.
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Global warming threatens to reduce ski days, which means less income for resorts.
Ralph, who averages 80 ski days a year (36 so far this year), has skied at nearly all resorts in six states: Colorado, California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and New Mexico, as well as major resorts in Canada.
"Pretty much everywhere in the West, I've got a visit," he said.
He has worked in various capacities of marketing, including as a private consultant. In doing so, he has made it a priority to learn every facet of the industry, including parking cars, checking tickets, flipping burgers, loading lifts, making snow and helping in rental shops.
"I feel it's important to understand all areas of the operation, not only to know it for marketing and promoting it, but also to understand what my fellow employees are going through and what they're up against," Ralph said.
Ralph made his first turns in 1976 during his sophomore year in college when a roommate found a four-day trip that included skiing, lodging and a bus ride from Southern California to Utah – all for $99. He skied at Alta, Snowbird and Park City during that trip.
It took him 3½ to 4 hours to make it down his first run, he said, but what stood out was how friendly skiers were compared to surfers.
"When you flail across the run to the other side, fall, gather up your equipment and put it back on, other people are asking you if you're OK and if you needed help," he said. "That helpful culture was totally foreign to the surf culture I experienced in Malibu."
Ralph packed up his Pinto station wagon and enrolled at the University of Colorado.
"I drove into Boulder just as the sun was setting, and it was gorgeous, and I fell in love with Colorado," he said.
He averaged about 25 ski days during his junior and senior years at CU.
Upon graduation, he returned to Los Angeles to work for an ad agency. Soon after, he took a marketing job with the U.S. Ski Association, which gave him the chance to travel to ski resorts across the West.
After two years, he embraced the "ski bum" lifestyle by moving to the San Bernardino Mountains to work for Snow Summit (14 years) and Bear Mountain ski resort (four years).
He helped conceptualize events for the first Winter X Games, held in 1997 at Snow Summit in Southern California, where he was vice president of marketing and sales. In the mid-1980s, Snow Summit was quick to embrace the new sport, which, in part, is why the first games were held there, he said.
"But the Colorado thing was always calling," Ralph said. "Colorado is home of the ski industry. Twenty percent of the skier visits in the nation are done in Colorado. Colorado is by far the biggest market for skiers, by far the most innovative place."
Ralph moved to Denver in 2000 and started his own consulting firm. His clients included Telluride, Mountain Travel Symposium and a public-relations firm out of Vail. His consulting work took him to more ski areas across the West.
He then worked at Monarch Mountain for nine years and helped increase skier visits by 30 percent. From Monarch, he joined Purgatory Resort.
Purgatory is 'user friendly'
Having visited nearly every ski area in the West, a few things stand out about Purgatory Resort – all of them having to do with how "user friendly" it is, Ralph said.
Read on for the complete article from The Durango Herald.