Originally Posted by qcanoe
Hey Beyond. I almost always like your posts because they reflect some careful thought and are generally clear, whether or not I agree with them. I'm waiting for Marie Antoinette to join this discussion and advise us to eat cake with our tea.
I have no experience at Squaw myself. I do have experience at crowded hills where I have struggled to find enough physical and mental breathing room to do any kind of skiing worthy of the name - as I conceive it, anyway. (Confession: I experience any group bigger than about six as a throng, as my long-suffering wife with a big extended family can attest.) I totally get the argument that we need ski areas to attract a large enough crowd to be sustainable and thus provide us with quality places to practice our passion. At the same time, I think there are different ways to accomplish this end that result in very different skier experiences. Not everyplace has to cater to the same common denominator, thank God. If you look at Mad River, Killington, and Stowe, for example, you can see three different approaches, each of which sustains (I think?) a going concern, but attracts a different clientele with a different aesthetic. If I had been skiing at MRG for years and they suddenly decided to go to the Killington model, I'd be pretty ticked. Not saying that this is what happened at Squaw; I'm just making the point that preferring a cut-above-Walmart tone at your home area does not necessarily mean that you are a thoughtless elitist with money to burn.
Point taken, qc. I was reacting more to the thrust and tone of Ske-bum's argument than assuming all folks who don't like Walmart-ton are rich elitists. In reality, I think it's more complicated than just price points. Accessibility is major. As long as Squaw is just off an interstate, and up the road from one of the nation's major summer/winter playgrounds, it's going to get hoards of people. That was Cushing's scheme, after all, when he was all tied up with the politics of the road and the Olympics. The niche the resort is aiming for, as you say, is also major, although I'm not sure it's so volitional as "hmmm, what should we be?" You become what the location allows.
IMO there's a foundational paradox with skiing. By its nature, skiing is a very expensive sport that's not available to most citizens because either they don't live near mountains or they don't have the discretionary income to pursue it unless they abandon other aspects of their lives. It's also dependent on variables that are difficult to predict. If the Northeast has another couple of winters like this last one, it may not much matter whether Killington and MRG have different marketing strategies.
So on the one hand, we have threads about wanting to grow - or save - the sport, about how to retain skiers, about small local mountains going under. On the other hand, we have posts - usually not whole threads - about how all the non-locals are screwing up the skiing for the locals. Or some variant of that, like how AT is screwing up the backcountry for serious backcountry types. Or how fat skis with rocker are screwing up powder. Blah blah blah. So how do we resolve this?
One thrust is that for our sport to thrive, it must be more inclusive. We have to share the commons, and somehow preserve its quality. Obviously I buy into this angle, and for more than just skiing. The problem, equally obviously, is how not to love skiing to death. Skiing's allure to many is all about an illusion of pristine nature, getting your head into a whole other ecosystem. The more people and cars you cram into this ecosystem, the less desirable it may become. IMO the answer may have more to do with issues of transportation and resort design/technology than how many skiers the resort handles. The day may be past when we can envision a ski resort as a place you drive to that has a bunch of parallel gouged out lines up a single ridge, with enough quads to make sure everyone's on the mountain at once.
Another thrust is to creating more places that are out of reach to all but the affluent or the locals who have structured their lives around skiing. Then have a few despoiled mega-"junk shows" for the masses. Obviously I don't buy into this angle. Disregarding the not-in-my-backyard problem or the innately anti-democratic smell, there are plenty of reports that already fill the out-of-reach bill, either by their isolation or their prices or both. That Ske-Bum didn't happen to end up in Bozeman or Anchorage or Jackson or Ketchum or Silverton or Crested Butte or Taos or fill-in-the-blank is a shame I guess, but I'm not convinced that's an argument for making Squaw more difficult to ski if you're from San Francisco or Sacramento. And frankly, there's so much great backcountry around Squaw that I have a hard time feeling sorry for people who complain about jammed up lifts down below. Get there early and get yourself out!
This may reflect the fact that while I grew up skiing in California, I now live in the Northeast. Where your characterization of Stowe vs. K-ton vs. MRG is a bit off base IMO. They're all ridiculously crowded, with too many lifts for too little real vertical. Stowe can market itself differently because it's too far up the road from NYC to draw, and has a little town with a nice white Congregational church, so it's going for the condo crowd and becoming a chic four-season resort. But whatever mountain you're at, if you're smart you either seek out days when the weather's so crappy most people stay home or you go hide in the trees. So all this whining about Squaw getting too crowded with hackers just sounds self-indulgent to me...