While this season's news has been dominated by stories of economic woes, a message of healing old wounds, mending divides and bipartisanship has also grabbed center stage nationally with a new presidency, Congress, and an economic environment that has companies looking anywhere they can to generate new revenue. With this in mind we decided to reach out to the other side of the aisle and find out how things were going for the three remaining ski areas that take that designation to heart and only allow their two-planking pals to share the slopes with them.
After Taos broke ranks last year and lowered the wall to snowboarders, the three holdouts, Alta, Deer Valley, and Mad River Glen seem to have circled the wagons to keep boarders at bay. In the current economic environment, many companies are working overtime to recruit new customers, but the skier only designation is a marketing tool for these resorts. That said, none of them is saying never to an emancipation proclamation for shred.
Deer Valley, Utah
Each year Deer Valley, a high-end resort located just outside Park City, conducts a survey that includes questions about allowing snowboarders on the mountain. This year approximately 1,500 Deer Valley guests were asked to rate on a scale of one to ten "To what extent would a decision by Deer Valley to permit snowboarding on its mountain affect your desire to visit in the future?"
"It overwhelmingly comes back negative," says Deer Valley Director of Marketing Colleen Reardon. "We have this really strong niche. It seems like we get stronger in that positioning instead of weaker, which is why we keep asking the question. Ultimately we want to provide our guests what they're looking for." As a private company, Deer Valley won't release exact figures, but Reardon adds that approval of the ban is "in the 90 percent range. We don't see it changing any time soon."
The exclusion doesn't seem to be affecting Deer Valley's visits. "We just did a report last Monday and we're pacing with our 2007 numbers," says Reardon. "Nobody's immune to what's going on but it does seem like the ski industry is faring a bit better than other areas in the tourism sector. This was the year to have good snow."
Mad River Glen, Vermont
Back East, Mad River Glen is also posting strong visitor numbers as well as no signs on the horizon that it will allow snowboarders back on its slopes. Mad River was actually one of the first resorts in the country to allow snowboarding, but its owner pulled the plug for a number of reasons (For the full history, go HERE) in the early 90's. While the ski area doesn't conduct any formal surveys to get a barometer of its tolerance for riders, it's in a unique situation as the only cooperative, non-profit ski area in the U.S., and is owned by 2,300 skier members that can bring the matter to a vote at any time.
"There are board meetings every month," says Mad River Marketing and Shareholder Relations Director Eric Friedman. "The co-op has owned the ski area for fourteen years and it has never been voted on outside of the very first annual meeting fourteen years ago. We took a non-binding straw poll and 78 percent voted to maintain the snowboarding ban. Since then it has only been brought up at one meeting," continues Freidman who has been at every annual owner gathering. "This must have been 6-7 years ago. Some guy got up and says 'I don't want to get strung up or anything, but I think we should have the conversation about snowboarding. It's never been talked about.' The room went quiet and then another guy yelled "get the rope!"
In order to change the policy, the decision would have to be put to a vote at a board meeting and a full two-thirds of the owners would have to vote in favor of changing it. Shares in Mad River Glen are available for $2,000 to anyone regardless of their snow sliding preferences, making infiltration an open option if a couple hundred people were willing to pony up the cash, but it's not likely. Far more likely a change would come from changing the views of current owners. However, while the economy and Burton's Poachers contest were credited by some for helping change Taos Ski Valley's policies last season, both of these are being credited for helping Mad River stay staunch in its stance. "I've been here since the beginning and have little kids and one that snowboards even," explains Friedman. "[The policy] is a good PR thing for us, but it really felt like the attitude was changing recently. It wasn't discussed, but you could sense that it was changing, it was softening for sure, and then Burton pulled their stunt last year. And anyone that was on the fence, including myself as a shareholder, said f#$k that." While Friedman continues that the resort took a lighthearted approach to the Poachers, who were at the resort almost every day, and encouraged them to buy shares in the company, it did help create a united front.
Like Mad River, Alta offers serious terrain for serious skiers and prides itself on its alpine only lift policy. While the terrain is accessible from Snowbird, and riders are welcome to come down the slopes, Alta's Director of Marketing and PR Connie Marshall says it has no intention of changing its policy. Unlike Deer Valley they don't conduct guest surveys or any other barometer of guests' leanings.
"Having Alta remain a skier’s only resort is a business decision. Attitudes among our guests are very positive- it’s that preaching to the choir thing, you know. They are here because they love the experience."
Marshall says that this season's skier visits are "solid," and when asked her thoughts on how the policy affects these visits she poses her own question: "If we opened to snowboarding would our numbers increase- who knows?" But, "at this point we have no indication that Alta would alter its policy."