Vail Valley Voices: Why merge ski resorts?
Vail, CO Colorado
I was busy producing a promotional film for Keystone in 1978. I had done some work for them in the previous years when the hotel was still under construction. The windows were still covered with visquine, and I had to wait until the wind stopped blowing so that the windows would stop flapping and almost look real.
They had some problems with available land so the hotel was built a long way from the ski hill. In those days, the skiing at Keystone was, in my opinion, not very good. More than 30 years later, it is very good. The bottom of the hill was so steep they had to cut a trail around it because it was always full of big bumps and as the report used to say, “Hard packed granular.” A snow condition that anyone knows is only available on a warm afternoon; most experienced people would call it icy. Despite plastic-covered windows, the hotel itself was four- or five-star deluxe.
One day that was too cloudy for filming, Bob Craig took me for a side trip to nearby Arapahoe Basin. It is a resort that is very famous for late spring skiing as well as being usually the first resort in America to start up their ski lifts.
I was expecting the worst ski experience based on the entire bad dialog about what a terrible place The Basin was that I had heard from Keystone management – “The lifts are worn out, the lodge is falling down and the sewage treatment plant puts the drinking water into question in the spring.” The long ski season is due primarily to its high altitude.
During my first day of skiing there, I found that the lifts were very old and had not been well maintained, but they did get me up the hill. The lodge needed a few million dollars in upgrades. However, the whole resort was for sale. We skied every run at the high altitude resort, and when it was time to go back to Keystone, Bob Craig said, “Let’s go down the back of the mountain, and we can ski right to the chairlift at Keystone.”
What a great concept! Interconnecting ski resorts as the French had been doing since the end of World War II, starting as early as 1946/47.
This would be a real bargain for a couple of my very financially successful friends who had me on the lookout for a ski resort for them to buy. By the time Bob Craig and I got back to the hotel in Keystone, I was very excited about the potential of the interconnect possibilities and the comparison of ski terrain at the two resorts was without a question the biggest selling feature of the merger.
I stopped by the Keystone president’s office to check in and give him an update on the film I was making for him. I asked him if I could shut the door.
I sat down and told him that I knew that A-Basin was for sale and if he, Keystone, did not buy it by Friday I would buy it by Monday! His reply was normal. “Miller, if around the world tickets were a dollar you couldn’t get to Denver.”
“I know that, but I have a couple of friends who want me to locate a ski resort that they can buy with some of the money they are making in their land development deals!”
Remember this is in 1978.
He then asked, “Why should Keystone buy it?”
I said very simply, “Because most of your waitresses are ugly.”
I thought it best to clarify my word ugly but it sure got his attention. “All of the pretty ladies who want to work at a ski resort work where the guys like to ski…where the skiing is good and yours at this stage of development is very boring.”
As fate would have it, the chairman of the board of Ralston Purina, which owned Keystone at the time, was coming out to Keystone on Wednesday for a board of directors meeting. I added a caveat to my resort merger idea. “If you pull this bargain sale off, how about an acre of land somewhere here at Keystone for me in the deal?”
Apparently the interconnect idea made some sense because the meeting was held with the then current owner, Joe Jankowski, and the structure of a deal was agreed to and Arapahoe unofficially became part of the Keystone complex within three days of me suggesting it. Upgrading of the lifts started that summer at Arapahoe. At the same time, Keystone started developing better terrain within the boundaries of their Forest Service permit.
The following winter, Keystone had no trouble attracting a bevy of beautiful women to be their waitresses, bus drivers and service employees. At the same time, the appearances of all of the employees improved because of the good skiing available and also the fact that Keystone management had created good employee accommodations.
The movie I created for their marketing department worked for what it was intended for and unfortunately I never did get my one acre of land as part of the merger designed to attract prettier waitresses!
For more info about Warren’s wanderings, go to warrenmiller.net or visit him on his Facebook page at facebook.com/warrenmiller. To learn about the works of his foundation, visit the Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, http://www.warrenmiller.org.
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