Taking one for the team
Vail could use some good news, and this past week we got some.Ski company officials announced they were moving up opening day by nearly a week to take advantage of record snow this fall.That takes the sting off several weeks of screaming headlines about layoffs, corporate downsizing, economic downturns, a foundering travel and leisure industry and impending war. At least the word “drought” has disappeared from the local lexicon.Anyone reading this in New York or Chicago is probably thinking, “Wait a minute, you guys don’t have any problems in paradise.” And they’d be partially right. Life here is still pretty good.But it hurts when friends and neighbors in a small town are the victims of a troubled national economy, when businesses go belly up and stores stand empty.One thing, though, that makes everything right in a ski town is snow, and we’ve been getting it: six feet since September, three feet in October, a 20-inch settled base at Mid-Vail (a record for Nov. 1), and more snow on the way for this weekend (Nov. 8-10).And while I’m ecstatic that Vail will now open on Nov. 16, I’m wondering if the resort could have capitalized even more on Mother Nature’s bounty.I know it sounds ungrateful, and I realize it’s expensive to crank up the lifts, but even one run open by this weekend would have been a big boost for struggling local businesses and a marketing bonanza for selling Thanksgiving and Christmas packages.The ski company has wisely been ramping up slowly the past couple of seasons because of sub-par snow and diminishing returns from the handfuls of Front Range skiers who make the trip for mid-November turns on Born Free.I hope staffing wasn’t the biggest hurdle this season, when clearly the mountain could have opened by Nov. 9, and that the deciding factor had more to do with finances. But even that argument rings hollow.Try this pretzel logic on for size. Pending final election results, Vail Resorts is donating a multi-million-dollar chunk of land in Lionshead to the town for the construction of a conference center designed to bring in off-season business and boost sagging sales taxes for the town.VR officials admit conference centers are at best break-even propositions, and many lose money. But the big picture is how much overall revenue conventioneers bring to town in the form of lodging nights and retail and restaurant sales.So if running a couple of lifts and getting a couple of runs ready for skiing by the first week of November for a few hundred diehard skiers is a net loss, the ski company should look at the same big picture they asked Vail voters to recognize in voting on the conference center.Last year’s Thanksgiving Day opening was a no-brainer: there was absolutely no snow until that day. But I have a picture of myself skiing knee-deep powder on Kangaroo Cornice Nov. 6, 1991, an epic season that started off with a bang.What better way to combat the off-season financial blues than to shorten the off-season by cranking up the lifts?