I guess it's time for me to chime in on this one. My apologies for the length!
To put prices in perspective, if I had the money, I wouldn't blink at the idea of spending, say, $2000 for a day skiing with Bode Miller or with Julia Mancuso--even if they weren't good teachers. I would soak them for knowledge, both through my questions and through watching them, and it would be the thrill of a life time. For most recreational skiers, people like Vail Snopro, Bob Barnes, Nolo, etc. are "their" Bode or Julia, with the added attraction that they can teach. Many, many people who come to AspenSnowmass or to Vail and Beaver Creek, have that kind of money and are willing to spend it because they perceive value. Do you perceive value in a Ferrari? A Ferrari has no particular value to me, but I'd buy another Beemer motorcycle in a heartbeat. Value is a personal thing, and these ski areas are trying to make a profit by creating value for their guests.
Now, I don't know what Vail is doing so I won’t explain it. I do know what I am doing here in AspenSnowmass and here is how it works:
Over the last twenty years, we've developed an interesting phenomenon--personal brands. Each is unique and attracts different types of users. The first was Tom Crum's Magic of Skiing (actually much older than 20 years). The idea was that Tom had a certain concept that he thought would appeal to a wider audience than he could serve himself, so we (his staff) became his extensions. From there, the lid came off, and we have had (or have) Breakthrough on Skis (with Lito), The Ski & Board Doctors (with Clendenin), Othello’s Rail Riders, Tache Racing, Bumps for Boomers, and specials such as Kim Reichhelm’s groups and the Divas. Some of these are quite different from each other, and even in conflict. What they have in common is that they appeal to our customers for one reason or another and that they provide work for our pros.
For the last several seasons, my colleagues and I have been developing a way to use theSports Diamond™ in the hands of great ski pros to create a product that would not only teach you to ski better but would also help you collaborate better with the pro, self-coach better, transfer the material to other sports, and be able to have a great (brilliant) day even when not at peak performance (in other words to have the learning itself be the peak performance).
We have finally come up with a product that I think works very well, but we’ve had a few bumps in the start up. A Diamond Session is an all day private lesson which includes my book, is taught be a pro who embodies the material in the Sports Diamond™, who can impart the awareness of the Sports Diamond™ as a tool, and who my steering committee and I have “vetted” and highly recommend.
A full 90% of the increase in price (which is only $40) goes to the pro in the form of a bonus. 10% goes to me—which means I’m selling the book for $4. (My accountant has taken to calling me a moron!)
In return for such a bonus, we are demanding a high level of commitment, training, and focus from these pros. So far they have been chosen because they already do that. As we progress, we will offer even more training with the intention of creating “master teachers”, and motivating others in the school to do the same.
The difference between this brand and others is that, because of the nature of the product, ANY Level 3 pro in our school can become a Diamond Session Pro, IF he or she goes through our selection process and maintains a sense of self-reinvention and leadership going forward. We have quite a long description of the criteria for selection and, after interviews and recommendations, our committee discusses the matter and either offers a place or offers coaching on what might need to be done to improve.
Ultimately, what this becomes is a “referral group” based on more specific criteria than many referrals, and it rewards really high motivation and performance.
Some problems so far:
Ø Many pros who are not Diamond Session Pros don’t like it because they feel above that this intends to put them down. I don’t agree with this, and the prediction that it would take business away from them just didn’t come to pass—nor will it. The way I look at it is that our school is full of Ferraris, and many of them have different features. Some are Level 2’s, some are trainers, some are long timers, some are hot-shoes youngsters, and some are master teachers. The guests choose the Ferrari they want. However, where we (in the brands) differ is that we are able to charge what we feel is fair for the product that we offer. (Think about it. Isn’t the idea that one price fits all a little weird?) In NO way does that denigrate what other pros offer, and in NO way do we either say or imply that it does. Nor does ski school desk does try to outsell to this program. Rather, we provide it when people ask for it. Many pros will not want to join, and will still be able to make a great business in our school. Our intention is that there will be a benefit for joining, but no consequence for not joining.
Ø Although I think our Diamond Session Pros are impeccable (and I take responsibility for their quality), we have not yet established the consistency of training, entrance criteria, exit criteria, and differentiation that we will eventually establish. (The idea of exit criteria is huge. There will be no tenure here, and no “badge polishing” clinics. We aim to maintain and develop a really high standard of development of leadership, teaching, service, and skiing skills.)
Ø There was some concern that guests would feel they weren’t getting a top product unless they had a Diamond Session. I don’t think this happened, nor will it. All our lessons are guaranteed fully with no questions asked, so if a guest feels that the lesson is inadequate, the school either re-teaches or refunds. I believe the great majority of our pros have put in an enormous amount of time and effort on developing the quality of their teaching and skiing. I’m really proud of what they do, and will match them on the whole against those of any school. The company supports and pays for the in-house and PSIA training, and the pros participate and use it. The guests are usually in very good hands.
So there you have it. Are we transparent or what?
On the Vail issue, I hope they succeed. I would like the Level 3 to mean something more, and if this succeeds, it could motivate instructors to step up and learn more and be better.
I hope also, that their evaluation will be such as to make sure that an L3 pro is teaching an L3 lesson. This is a harder problem throughout the industry. There are many L3 pros who are just wonderful, and there others who teach 1970’s lessons at 2007 prices. In my entire career, one of my main goals has been to try to continually hold our collective feet to the fire as regards staying current. I work hard at that in my own teaching and really respect others that do the same. I look at the Diamond Sessions as a really positive way of motivating that. It offers rewards to those who do without beating up those who don’t.
Again on the price issue, for those who don’t want to pay the top dollar, we and all other schools have lesson programs that are very fine and that cost much less. And if you really want high quality at a low price deal: SEE YOU NEXT SEASON AT ESA!!!!!