Skiing is an Outdoor Sport
Presidents Day weekend and the ensuing week are important to the ski industry. The third week in February ranks with Christmas/New Year’s and spring vacation in volume of skiers, especially coming from afar.
It is axiomatic that skiing is not cheap. According to the former CEO of a major resort, only 10% of Americans has the wherewithal to ski. Of those, probably about half lack sufficient athletic skill to engage in the activity.
Experience tells us that there is a high correlation between the economic top 10% and Type A personalities. This seems especially so during Presidents Week, when plane loads of Wall Street executives (or others with similar levels of drive) accompanied by spouses who quite often also work in Type A jobs and some number of children in the process of learning to ski descend on needy but unsuspecting resorts.
One destination of choice is Salt Lake City because it is an easy nonstop flight from either coast, and the hotels in Alta, Snowbird, Park City and Deer Valley will send little buses to pick you up. Thence the pampering competes for importance with the snow conditions. Whichever is lacking is the one that is noticed.
As it happens, I am in Snowbird though that was not the original plan. The dedicated “Skihad-ist” (a name I coined several years ago for an epic 7000-mile automotive ski adventure that took 10 weeks) avoids Presidents Day because he is used to skiing up to a lift and getting right on. The pesky lines found at popular times disappear on weekdays and humdrum weekends.
Another axiom of the ski industry is that it is labor-intensive. This is not a good thing in a period of full employment, when more capable ski patrolmen, lift operators, ski instructors, mountain hosts and others who are mission-critical can likely find better jobs elsewhere.
To be sure, there have always been those who preferred a more mellow existence of bartering some number of hours per week for a season ski pass and a salary that covers beer and rent money. Their numbers have been propped up by the advent of snowboarding and a generally relaxed attitude about controlled substances.
Pause to imagine the encounters between: the Type A’s arriving from the coasts for a very expensive few days and with families to defend against foe of all variety; and those ski resort employees who will make their weeks possible.
One encounter was attention-getting. Snowbird and Alta are side by side about 30 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon from Salt Lake City. The two-lane road up the canyon is widely known by experienced skiers to be closed from time to time because of avalanches. Among the reasons for road closings, avalanches have to rank near the top in both importance and understandability.
“Open the damn road, I’ll risk it,” is not a phrase that is often heard.
On the Sunday evening before Presidents Day, there were two avalanches. One was down the road between the resorts in Salt Lake City (where the employees live) and the other actually passed through the village itself.
For skiers, avalanches are both good and bad news. They are good in that they are made up of snow, of which 18 inches fell during the night, promising a perfect day on Monday. They are bad in that the employees needed to groom runs, provide patrol services, teach small children and operate ski lifts can’t get to work because the road is closed.
If they can’t get to work, the mountain does not open, and all that lovely new powder sits there thumbing its nose at the eager but stranded skiers.
I witnessed an encounter between Mr. Type A, on day one of his short but expensive vacation, and a long-suffering resort hostess for the incompetence of not getting the lifts open at 9 AM for his and his family’s well-deserved enjoyment. She took this for a while, clearly recognizing that important customers such as Mr. Type A were indirect sources of her mortgage payments.
After he left (unsatisfied by her explanation of the road clearing efforts and the unpredictability of the opening time, and in quite a huff), I asked her if she thought he was aware of the fact that skiing is an outdoor sport. She restrained herself
I will not miss the end of this week as I continue in the west for four or five more, but I will miss my daughter, her husband and their eight-, six– and three—year-olds who are at various stages of learning this lovely sport, but who have long-ago been taught not to behave like Mr. Type A.