Friday, January 02, 2009

Should ski resorts limit the number of skiers?

Yes. In my humble opinion, ski resorts should consider safety and the overall enjoyment of visitors thus limiting the number of skiers to the number of open trails and when conditions warrant doing so. For example, this past Monday, I went with family to Waterville Valley in New Hampshire to enjoy a full day of skiing. We knew that trail conditions would not be optimum because the temps had warmed to the 60s the day before. Also, the New England region didn't get any snow for the last 3-4 days. But we were optimistic that the resort would groom the trails, make snow and limit the number of skiers on the trails. When we arrived at 8am, the resort posted the trail conditions as "Packed Powder, Loose Granular". We decided to make a go of it. On our first run, we noticed right away that the trail conditions were not what we consider packed powder nor loose granular. Instead, there were bare patches and continuous patches of ice. On that run, there were very few skiers so we were able to navigate the trail easily despite the conditions. Our second run down the same trail was a wholly different experience. The trail quickly became treacherous because of the overwhelming number of skiers and riders. Most of whom were discourteous. Not good when trail conditions are poor.

I'm what most would consider an intermediate skier. I didn't grow up on the slopes. In fact, I didn't even start skiing until a couple of years ago when Seth coaxed me into a lesson. Now I'm hooked. I love being out there - and I'm willing to ski in all conditions - even single digit temps. Usually it takes a couple of runs to get me warmed up and confident in my form. But, on this day, such confidence and form would allude me due to the sheer number of people. If I turned to the right, someone would be right there so I quickly had to correct myself so that we didn't collide. Notice it was I, the one with the right of way, who corrected versus the guy who kept on moving without slowing down, turning, or even apologizing. Then again, given the number of people I'm not even sure if the people who almost hit me had any choice. Even though it was a wide trail, there was nowhere else to go. Everyone in our group nearly got hit or almost hit someone else several times. Seth, a native New Englander, remarked that in all his 22 years of skiing in New England, that he had never seen that many skiers on one trail in such conditions and that the resort was selling more tickets than they should.

On our third run, we ventured on to a different lift that would take us higher into the mountains and hopefully away from everyone else. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea at the same time. As we entered the more difficult and narrower trails, we noticed right away that the trail conditions were even worse. There were large patches of ice followed by large patches of new snow. There wasn't as many people as the lower trails but still more than there should be considering the conditions. Somehow we made our way down without a collision. Others weren't so lucky. We saw ski patrol carrying someone who had gotten hit by another skier. That third run was the last straw for us. We had had enough. We decided to turn in our tickets for a refund due to the conditions. We weren't the only ones. As we left the resort, we noticed that they were still continuing to sell tickets and advertise that the trails were packed powder, loose granular. We couldn't believe it.

In conditions like I've outlined in this post, Waterville, like other area ski resorts (Sunapee, SugarBush) should reasonably restrict the number of skiers to the number of open trails especially when conditions are poor. This will ensure that everyone has a somewhat enjoyable, safe experience and that skiers will return to that resort in the future. Yes, it may mean a loss of short term sales but the resort will lose sales anyway from those skiers who had a terrible experience. Our group will most likely never return to that particular resort. True, I live in Austin so it's not much of a loss for them but there were also people who lived in the area or within driving distance who demanded a refund. I also think they should not have taught lessons on a day like that. If I had my first lesson in such poor conditions with people bombing down the green trails (where the beginners go), I never would have attempted skiing again.