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The waiting game

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” There are a lot of eyes on the sky these days, looking for big, gray snow-belching clouds.

Those clouds have been scarce so far this season, but that can happen.

“We just try to stay optimistic,” said Jim Cooper, owner of the Double Diamond Ski Shop in Lionshead. “We never try to push the panic button too early. Most years we have a pretty good season.”

The stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas is traditionally kind of slow. Snowpack on the slopes is still building, and Front Range skiers are often still golfing or biking well into the fall. But businesses still need to hire seasonal workers, whether tourists come or not.

Cooper’s staff swells from four in the summer to 30 or more for the ski season, so during the slow stretch toward Christmas, he works on training, and hopes employees understand if they don’t get as many hours on their paychecks for the first few weeks of the season.

At the Evergreen Lodge, manager Pam Stenmark said she also focuses on training. But, she added, she tries to keep the hotel busy by booking more groups during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a common practice among local lodges.

“This fall is not as unusual, or alarming as some people are making it out to be,” Stenmark said. “We know this is an uncertain time and we plan for it.”

For those who have been in business a while, the ebb and flow of the first couple of months of the ski season is nothing new.

“We know the first 15 days of December will be pretty slow, the second 15 days will be pretty busy,” said Ron Weinstein, owner of the Roxy stores in Vail and Beaver Creek.

During the slow times, employees will probably work fewer hours, but they’ll also be organizing the loads of merchandise the store gets in right after Thanksgiving.

While some businesses use the quiet times for training, Phil Long believes the best way to train people is when his place, the Red Lion, is full.

This year’s dry fall has been a bit of change for Long, who’s owned the Red Lion since 2000.

“We’ve had early snow every year since we’ve owned the place,” Long said. “This year’s a little different.”

While Long’s looking for snow, he said he believes Vail Resorts does a good job with what it has.

“I think what Vail’s famous for is the variety of terrain, the snow is usually good, and the snow management. And I think we in the entertainment and restaurant business do a better job with dining, catering to families and entertainment than anyone else. You can still have a great week in Vail even if the skiing’s not great.”

Stenmark said Vail’s snowmaking is a big help when nature’s reluctant to bring the natural stuff.

“That’s why they have it,” she said. “It’s good insurance.”

But more snow would be a good thing. Like a lot of people, Long and Cooper had both been scanning the National Weather Service’s Internet forecasts. They were excited that, as of midweek, there was snow predicted for the weekend.

“Snow makes the locals happy,” Cooper said. “It gives people a little extra smile.”


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