Record crowds no reason to crow
I am not a ski area mountain manager. Nor do I play one on TV. The closest I ever came was as a parking lot attendant at Winter Park one season.But in the interests of furthering my next career as a highly paid consultant, allow me to offer the following advice (which I’m sure Vail Resorts will heed without question):Open less terrain earlier and ease into the season in a phased rollout. Do not, repeat DO NOT, go for the opening day grand slam.Sure, it was nice that Vail opened six days early (even though it could have opened at least one “white ribbon of death” two weeks early) and that it was able to boast the most skiable terrain in the nation, but in the long run, who cares?The hype and the buildup led to an opening day record of about 11,000 skiers at Vail Nov. 16, which is the population of a small Midwestern city.I’ve talked to several people (I wasn’t actually there, but was instead lounging on an extremely uncrowded beach in Florida) who told me they waited in an hour-plus line at the Vista Bahn, followed by another hour-plus wait at Chair 5.Let’s see, two hours, one run. I think the beach was the right call.I can’t imagine all those people were raring to jump back in the car the following weekend after that nightmare, and the marketing message may have actually backfired.Instead of “Yeah, I went to Vail on opening day and it was totally awesome,” a lot of word-of-mouth marketing probably sounded more like this: “Yeah, I went to Vail on opening day, and, man, what a cluster “Had Vail opened Born Free on Nov. 9, as I previously suggested in this space, and gradually added a run here and run there that week, Nov. 16 may have seen a more manageable crowd of, say, 5,000 people, who undoubtedly would have had a much better experience.I talked to several Lionshead merchants before Nov. 16 who praised Vail Resorts’ big-bang opening concept and said a “white-ribbon of death” open a week earlier would not have meant much more business. The cash registers don’t really start ringing until the big crowds arrive, they said.Well, I talked to a few merchants after Nov. 16 who said the hordes of Colorado Pass-toting Front Rangers on opening day sprinted right past their shops like they had blinders on.Probably because they were obsessed with getting into line, frantically skiing their two or three runs, then hopping back on the freeway to beat the mad rush back to Denver.David O. Williams is managing editor of The Vail Trail and has been an editor and writer in the Vail Valley for more than 10 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.