OK Gonz--fair enough! You've brought up some valid perceptual issues and concerns that may well be shared by others.
How did this thing evolve from a casual, low-key, informal get-together with instruction to the real "production" EpicSki Academy 2003 has truly become?
We did indeed set off to do this thing as simply and low-key and with as few complications as possible. But we quickly realized that Einstein's Rule--that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler"--was conceived especially for this Academy!
The reality is that instructors simply can't just go to a resort with a bunch of skiers--friends, family, or otherwise--and get paid to teach ski lessons. As I explained in my previous post, it is neither legal, nor ethical. That's what we'd like to do, but life, as we all know, is more complicated than that!
Yes, we could do it for free. And most of the instructors originally offered just this. But decades of exploitation of ski instructors' love for what they do has caused so many problems--not just relating to the dismal compensation instructors make these days, but also forming the root of the mediocrity of the typical ski school product across the country. If I was to have any involvement in this, one of the first considerations was that I would not allow the instructors to be exploited. They're professionals, and they deserve to be paid for their services. And they are well worth it! That meant that money had to change hands, which brought in the IRS, the accountants, and the legal profession.
Anyway, we still had to get the blessing of a host resort. That required some major footwork, and without exception, one of their first questions, naturally, was "what exactly are you guys doing?" So we had to come up with a descriptive agenda for the camps to show our intent in writing. And they wanted to know who "we" were--we needed an identity. We needed to become an entity capable of entering into agreements and contracts and such. You know about these things!
That's where Epic Snow Productions came into the picture. ESP was a pre-existing, fledgling organization, involving, among others, several of the Barking Bears. Other than the name (used by permission from EpicSki/AC long before the Academy came to be), and some of the players, ESP was and still is unrelated to EpicSki. One of its missions is to explore and promote new paradigms for ski instruction and coordinate "novel" ski education programs. EpicSki Academy fits that bill perfectly, so it became a natural partnership. That solved our problem of needing an official, legal "identity."
We convinced Solitude's ownership and management that our intentions were honorable, and Solitude extended its arms to welcome us--with certain restrictions that we've discussed. We had a home, and we were excited! It looked like a go. Now all we had to do was show up with everyone and teach some ski lessons, and see if we could cover some of the costs, right?
Well, not only are the ski instructors taking at least a RISK of losing money by teaching at EpicSki Academy, instead of teaching at home, but they are also taking an enormous personal and career risk. Here, they aren't covered by Workers' Compensation. They aren't protected by the legal umbrella of the resort. While we'd love to think that no one in the EpicSki family would ever pull some insidious stunt like a frivolous liability lawsuit, acting on that assumption would be more than naive! We had to take measures to protect all involved.
So it got bigger, more involved, with contracts and agreements, and liability waivers and budgets. We didn't WANT this, but it was necessary. So, with a LOT of selfless help and very late nights, we got these things done.
And we never raised the price from our original projection of $100 per day, which we hoped would be enough to cover the costs of running a high-quality program, with enough left over to pay the instructors something. The instructors' agreement states that they (we) will ONLY be paid from the receipts of the Academy tuition, and ONLY after all other bills are paid. To make something like this happen, we had to get instructors committed BEFORE we had any idea how many would be needed. And the number of instructors who eagerly agreed to do it, even without any guarantee of work or pay, exceeded the number of "interested" participants! So we needed to get more people involved to make this thing a success.
At a time when we had NO ONE committed, ZERO revenues for seed money, and only a handful of people stating their intent to come, we created a budget based on the initial cost projection ($100/day) and FIFTY participants to break even.
Maybe we'll get them. It will be a huge win for all involved. The instructors will get paid--still not close to what they would earn at home, but enough to make it worthwhile. We'll have meeting space for our evening presentations (still working on that--any help appreciated). We'll have a party, and maybe more. Groups will be small, cohesive, and focused. Solitude will earn some money for their generosity and concerns. And most of all, at least 50 people will have an extraordinary time. The more people who come the more EACH of them will benefit. If enough come, the "party" may become a banquet. The initial meeting on Monday may include breakfast.
We believe in this project, and we have gone WAY overboard to make it worthy of the name "Epic." We're excited about it. We want people to participate even more for their own benefit than for ours. (NO allowance has been made in the budget, by-the-way, for paying any of the organizers, EpicSki, or ESP, a dime beyond our actual costs--out-sourcing accounting and such. If revenues provide, we MIGHT be able to pay for some of the work that has gone into this thing, and make a donation to EpicSki. But we don't even know if we'll be able to recoup our out-of-pocket expenses.)
So that's the answer to your first question ("Why the need for "marketing" and making this thing bigger than the originally planned clinic?"
We are STILL making it "as simple as possible." But that has proven to be far less simple, perhaps, than some would have preferred. We are not trying to make money, but we wouldn't turn it down at this point either. The work that has gone into this, and the program that has resulted, is well worth it!
As to your second question ("What are the adjunct "novel ideas" that the Academy will be developing?"
, the Academy ITSELF is the "novel idea"! The Academy's philosophy--my mission--is to bring top instructors and avid students together in a well-conceived program where all can thrive as we pursue individual goals and explore universal fundamentals of great, contemporary skiing.
Worthy, perhaps, but not entirely a "novel" idea. We're unique only that I think we can actually ACCOMPLISH this mission! We have top instructors. We've developed a program that is distinctive mostly, perhaps, in that it is focused on the people in it and on great skiing--not on a proprietary teaching methodology, personality, or dogmatic approach to technique.
The EpicSki Academy is novel in that it breaks the stranglehold of the non-competitive American ski school environment. Until now, you had virtually no choice--if you wanted to take a lesson, you had to take it from the resort's own ski school. We aren't really "competing" with the resorts' inhouse programs, but we are certainly offering skiers a viable choice. We actually hope that our quality program will inspire people to take MORE lessons from their local ski schools, while also making them more discerning customers who will demand quality instruction. We believe that everyone wins.
The Academy is novel in that it arose entirely as a consequence of the Internet, originated at the demand of the EpicSki community, and shaped by the very people who will participate in it (as much as possible). Its timing, its location, its staff, and its content are as they are through the input of the EpicSki community. How "customer-oriented" can you get?
The Academy is novel in that the money you are paying for ski instruction goes largely to the ski instructors you are paying for! At the typical ski school, you pay VERY good money to take a lesson, and as little as 10% of what you pay actually goes to the instructor. The rest lines the pockets of the shareholders. Instructors--at least career instructors like those who will attend the Academy--are highly trained, capable, talented, experienced professionals, and like most top professionals, they are worth the price you pay for them. Unfortunately, they don't usually GET the price you pay for them. If this Academy succeeds, it could change that in the future. By eliminating the voracious pockets of the resort, you are finally going to get what you pay for. Yes, of course, there are administrative costs in running any business, be it a ski school, a law office, or a hardware store. A big chunk of what the customer pays cannot go to the instructor. But can you imagine trying to run a business, and pay your employees, when 60-70% of your revenues must be given to ANOTHER person or business? That's the reality of today's ski schools, and it's that reality that we may be able to help change.
Yes, we're excited about the possibilities for the future of the EpicSki Academy. Yes, we believe that, in the future, it may become a viable way for instructors to actually make some money, even as students get much greater value for their dollars (and resorts benefit not only from the income and exposure we generate for them, but from the swelling numbers of dedicated, passionate skiers that expect to inspire). This first Academy won't be that--at BEST the instructors will still sacrifice pay from their "regular" jobs, given the lack of benefits, Workers' Comp, FICA, and legal protection they normally enjoy. We recognize that the work we've had to do to make this camp work lays a solid foundation for future possibilities. And we intend to discuss that future in Utah, and after the Academy. We did not set out to lay this foundation, or to create a "test bed" for the future, but the more this thing develops, the more we realize that we may well have done just that. We'll see. Right now, we are totally focused on this one event.
No, we are NOT trying to test new proprietary theories or methodologies, or introduce new techniques in this Academy. The EpicSki Academy is NOT trying to develop "novel ideas," as you have perceived (and I can understand your concern based on that misperception)--the Academy itself is the novel idea--the first of its kind. The exploration of "novel ideas" that you have referred to is the mission not of the EpicSki Academy, but of Epic Snow Productions. And the Academy is one of those ideas, indeed!
In a sense, every experience adds to the foundation of the future, and we are all "guinea pigs for nascent ideas." But again, in this case, the Academy itself is the nascent idea, not its participants. The Academy represents merely an exciting new format for exploring time-tested ideas in the timeless sport of skiing. You need not worry!
I hope I've answered your questions, Gonz. While you have presented your arguments in your own inimitable contentious style--and put off a few people in the process--your questions are completely valid and reasonable. I hope I've addressed them, explained the costs of the Academy and the causes of its transformation from informal to "Epic." And I hope I've allayed your fears of being exposed like a guinea pig to untested "novel ideas."
So send in your money!
PS--I think I'll post this message as a start to a new thread, in the Academy Planning Room,
as well. For further discussion, please go there! (See the thread, "Evolution of the EpicSki Academy."
)[ November 01, 2002, 11:59 AM: Message edited by: Bob Barnes/Colorado ]