Opinion » Alta States

Top of the food chain

Sustaining snowsport culture in the 21st century

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And therein lies the scary part. I think it was Edgar Allen Poe who wrote that ol' cautionary tale about a group of elites who shut themselves up in a chateau and party their brains out while the plague rages outside - only to discover in the final frame that there is no place to hide. Well, given the dire straits of North America's "breeder/feeder resorts" (you know, those mom & pop ski hills we all grew up on), it really begs the question: are Whistlerites ignoring the operational plague that is now decimating the ski resort business? And will it be too late when we all wake up and realize we too are covered in boils?

But enough metaphors already. What are we doing to grow the snowsport business?

Casting my eyes across the mountain resort landscape, I find it intriguing that Aspen's primary marketing message this winter is all about the "adventure" of skiing. Harkening back to the roots of the sport, their advertising for 2009-10 focuses on some of skiing's more soulful aspects - hiking for one's turns, stepping off the beaten path, getting in touch with the real mountains. From what I gather, their message isn't about "high performance" or "young is cool" or "look how many lifts we have" but rather about the transformational elements of the high-mountain environment.

What I find fascinating in this campaign is that the company's marketers are not selling Aspen directly. Rather, they're selling the joys of sliding on snow in wintertime. They're selling romance and dreams and getting away from the same-ol', same ol'. In other words, they're so confident in their place in the food chain that they can do yeomen's duty for the whole industry and promote the sport in general.

Yeah, I know. Poorly done, this could lead to some seriously cliché'd images. But I still believe Aspen is on to something here. As in: "It's not about the stuff, stupid. It's about the experience."

Closer to home, we have people like Brent Harley who actually work on the entrepreneurial front lines of the ski business. While Harley's mountain design firm, BHA, creates master plans for ski resorts throughout the world, he makes a point of dedicating time to work with emerging resorts trying to make a go of it in this difficult market. Pro bono work is a given there. "It's pretty straightforward," says Harley. "If the country's feeder/breeder resorts can't survive then we're all done for. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But the end is going to come no matter how much we want to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the obvious.

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