When did the top of Peak 7 take priority over the bottom?
If you’ve ever owned a business, it doesn’t take long to realize a few pithy truths: Cash in is always better than cash out; the customer is not always right or worth it; and it’s always easier to run the other guy’s business.When you own a business, you must spend time looking at the competition, trying to learn from what he or she is doing well, and from what they’re not doing or doing poorly.Typically, of course, while running the other guy’s business is easy and diverting, it calls to mind the Biblical metaphor about spotting the mote in another’s eye while ignoring the log in your own eye. As a business owner, if you make it, the final pithy truth you learn from running the other guy’s business is that it’s best to tend to your own knitting.No business comes in for more armchair quarterbacking than a ski area.
Everyone has an opinion on everything from the price of the food, the alignment of the runs, the conditions of the runs, the parking, the lift tickets, the price of the lift tickets, the hours of operation, the uniforms, the patrollers or lack thereof, even the advertising. So when the Breckenridge Ski Resort announced plans to install the Summit Lift to improve access to Peak 8, Peak 7 and the Lake Chutes, everyone voiced their opinion.On the one hand, many will be sad to see that area inundated by day-pass skiers on powder days. On the other hand, as long as the ski areas are fighting for market share and not new skiers, this sort of proposal is to be expected and, at least in Breckenridge, where dirt has more vested rights than the people who make up the community, expansion has taken on a certain inevitability. But amid all the hubbub, three issues really matter: safety, the need for expansion and the ski area’s interest in its agreement with the town of Breckenridge.The beauty of Peaks 7 and 8 and the Lake Chutes, of course, is rarely the windblown quality of the skiing, but the pleasure of the reward for the effort. If you can do the hike, you get to find the secret stashes of snow and satisfaction that come from doing it yourself.
Making those areas accessible to the unwashed, specifically to people who couldn’t do the hike and by extension probably can’t do the descent upright, has got to make patrollers and the Summit Rescue Group very, very nervous. While there is some marketing value to having the highest lift in North America, there’s no benefit if the arrogant and the large go a-missing on a late January afternoon. Surely the ski area has plans to substantially expand patrol staff and their efforts for those areas if the time comes.And has that time come? Does the ski area need to expand? Building the Summit Lift is nothing so melodramatic as part of a ski area arms race – the word is competition. Twenty years after the advent of snowboarding, which accounts for a full third of the mountain’s ridership, and 10 years after the introduction of the Buddy Passes which slashed the cost of skiing by two thirds, the number of skier visits hasn’t grown dramatically. The only option available to the ski areas is to add lifts, replace old lifts, open new runs, and yes, improve access to existing terrain, safe or not. And if you think armchair quarterbacking about ski area operations is limited to county residents, you haven’t spent any time talking to annual visitors from Texas and Florida who really think they know what the areas should be doing.
And in this country, where money talks, they are, after all, the ones spending the real money. County residents who’ve invested $249 don’t wield much influence on the business end of skiing compared to the thousands that the average Texan spends.But locals should expect some influence, not with dollars, but with their votes, with the county and the town, and the easiest way to forestall the Summit Lift is to make those entities ask the ski area, “What about the gondola?”At what point did accessing the top of Peak 7 take priority over accessing the base of Peak 7? So, if you have an opinion, and no doubt you do, send your comments by Dec. 28 to Breckenridge Ski Resort EA; c/o Joe Foreman, Dillon Ranger District; P.O. Box 620, Silverthorne, CO 80498; fax: (970) 468-7735; e-mail: email@example.com.; with a copy to the Breckenridge Town Council and the Summit Board of County Commissioners. Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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