As great a sport as skiing is, it’s not immune to complaints.
First, skiing isn’t cheap. Start with lift tickets approaching, or exceeding, triple figures, and then add the cost of equipment, clothing, travel, instruction, and lodging, and a weekend in snow country can cost a pretty penny. At the very least, you want to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. So when things go sideways, it leads to gripes. That’s only natural.
Second, whenever you’ve got hundreds, if not thousands, of skiers and snowboarders of every ability coming together, mishaps can happen. That can lead to even more gripes. Again, that’s natural.
Criticisms often come fast and furious if ski areas, and the skiers and snowboarders themselves, don’t hold themselves to a high standard. So we reached out to skiers, boarders, industry insiders and resort officials to get a cross-section of their “favorite gripes” on the hill.
“I realize most people skiing are enjoying a break or time out of the office, home, school, etcetera,” said Vaughn Harring, a regular at Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire. “But it’s also a fun sport and activity for many, and efficiency in the lift lines and on the trail allows everyone to get more skiing in. That means more enjoyment.”
BEFORE YOU GO
Exaggerated, or disingenuous, ski reports are particularly galling. They insult our intelligence. If we get to the slopes, we’ll know whether you lied to us. For many skiers, it will be the last mistake a resort makes.
“Overly optimistic snow reports drive me nuts,” said an anonymous friend who has skied around the world. “Just tell it like it is.”
On the flip side, don’t hold a resort accountable for the vagaries of Mother Nature. Acknowledge that planning a ski vacation is a leap of faith.
“We went out and bought a Magic 8-Ball as a joke once, but we were the only ones who thought it was funny,” said a ski area marketing director I know. “No one at the resort knows how many trails and lifts will be open in April when you call to plan your spring-skiing vacation in December. We don’t know what the base depth will be during Martin Luther King weekend, and we don’t know what the weather will be like the weekend you booked your accommodations.”
Remember, resorts offer discounts for those who book early, so there’s a shared risk. If you get a weekend, or a week, of fresh powder, the resort probably could have sold that package for twice what you paid months in advance. That’s the risk/reward reality of ski vacations.
I love Park City, Utah. But the parking lot near the base lodge is tiny (and it’s typically packed solid by 8:30 in the morning). That’s a serious design flaw. As a result, the resort runs shuttle buses from the local high school. That’s hardly ideal for a high-end resort. Same holds for poorly plowed parking areas. You’re a ski resort; make sure you offer enough parking, relatively close to the base lodge.
I am a big fan of shuttles if I’m not staying slopeside, provided they’re as reliable as the resort promises. For example, Waterville Valley in New Hampshire does a great job getting guests at the Village Square up to the mountain and back. But spotty, undermanned shuttle service is just brutal (especially if the weather turns nasty).
The parking lot or lodge area can be dangerous places, due to some knuckleheads. “Helicopter” is the term I give to skiers who hold their skis on their shoulders, parallel to the ground, and then spin around without any idea that their skis quickly are transformed into weapons. Be aware of your surroundings, whether you’re on the slopes or carrying your gear.
IN THE LIFT LINE
Long lift lines
I remember one bright day, years ago, standing in a long lift line at a New Hampshire resort that boasted limited lift ticket sales. My younger brother Matty announced to anyone willing to listen: “What’s the limit? 50,000?” His frustration was clear – if you’re going to advertise limited ticket sales, the message is that you’re offering shorter lift lines.
High-speed, detachable lifts have helped reduce lift line waits (while putting more people on the slopes). But there are still going to be times when resorts have more skiers than they can handle efficiently.
“No church was built for Easter Sunday, and no ski resort was built for Christmas week,” said a friend who works for an East Coast resort. “You’re never going to be able to share the slopes with 10,000 others and not experience lift lines and service pinch points.
“Leave your work-a-day stress at the state line,” she said, encouraging patience. “Your anxiety isn’t going to do anyone any good regardless of when you visit a resort.”
One of the more disturbing trends in ski country is cutting back on the number of lift attendants. A smooth lift-line operation requires manpower. Shawn Stinson of Salt Lake City’s “Ski City” marketing department said he’s annoyed by the “self-regulating lift-line mazes to eliminate the need of additional lifties.”
“These may work for older double- and triple-chairs, but definitely not for 6-packs, especially if groups aren’t skiing in a group of six or if there is a child or timid skier on the outside trying to merge,” he said. “Many chairs go up with three or four skiers due to the fact no one is controlling the line or pairing up smaller groups or singles.”
Similarly, fewer lift attendants mean fewer people policing aggressive jerks who simply fail to merge politely (much like Massachusetts drivers).
This, frankly, is one of my biggest peeves while skiing. Too many skiers or boarders either don’t have the requisite skill to control where they’re going, or they just don’t care. If you run over my boards, leaving a nice gouge as a reminder, expect to hear a few choice words in return.
Don’t be a butthead
No, you don’t have a right to “share” your secondhand smoke, whether tobacco or other leafy substances.
“Don’t smoke butts” on the lifts, said Moira McCarthy, travel editor at the Boston Herald. “Just don’t.”
No, you don’t have the right to grab a larger lift just for yourself and your pals.
“You see this with kids all the time– they have to ride up with the ‘right’ group or friends often at the expense of a full chair,” said Harring. “It might be understandable for a long chairlift ride, but when you’re on the chair for a short lift, keep the line moving and double-up.”
ON THE HILL
At the top of the lift
Clear the lift area. Period. As a longtime snowboarder, I can honestly say that riders are the prime culprits (though hardly the sole culprits). Slide to a spot you think is OK to buckle up, and then go another 15 feet before taking a seat. Please.
Know your limits
In an earlier post, I talked about après ski participants knowing their limits. This caveat is just as legitimate on the hill.
“As a former instructor, it kills me to see someone on a trail who is way over their head,” said Lafe Low, a regular at Killington, Vermont. “It’s not only unsafe for them, but everyone around them. I’ve talked a few people down through a tough stretch when I’ve seen them struggling or about to do something even worse, like take off their gear and walk.”
Similarly, Dana Kilroy Sullivan, a first-year instructor at Northstar in California, said her new job has been an eye-opening experience.
“I have a whole new view into the world,” she said. “My gripe is that more beginners don’t take lessons. The lack of awareness – about equipment, etiquette, terrain, safety – is mind-blowing. But I like to think it’s just because they don’t know what they don’t know.”
Skier Responsibility Code
Few rules in skiing (and snowboarding) are as well established as the “Skier’s Responsibility Code.” Learn them. Abide by them. The closest I ever got to brawling on the slopes was two decades at Sunday River in Maine. I was on my snowboard, making casual turns, when a skier blew by me, grazing my shoulder. When I caught up to him, I told him: “That was a little too close.” His reply? “You were in my line.” I almost lost my mind (and starting unbuckling my binders before my wife talked me off the cliff).
I couldn’t believe that a good skier was so clueless. He either didn’t know that the uphill skier needs to avoid the downhill skiers (and riders), or he didn’t care. Neither was acceptable.
Other major points of the Skier’s Responsibility Code include skiing in control, stopping in safe places (while visible to uphill skiers), looking uphill before starting again, and observing posted signs and warnings. These rules are meant to make for a safe outing for everyone. Don’t be selfish.
Poor trail management
This is a tricky one. Skiers and boarders are chiefly responsible for weaving through thorny trail junctures, but too many resorts don’t do enough to design and flag those intersections. I’d love to see ski patrollers pull more tickets. It’s a Draconian tactic, but it’ll get the message across. Make those skiers report to customer service to get their lift tickets back, and hand them a copy of the Skier’s Responsibility Code.
AT THE LODGE
Respect your gear
Rack up your boards, skis and poles.
“Down by the lodge, in the confluence of humanity, it’s hard to navigate the spaces around the lodge when people just leave their skis and poles lying in the snow,” said Low. “The ski racks are there for a reason. Skis are expensive. They’re your friends. Treat them with respect.”
While many ski areas have improved their on-mountain food selections, recognizing this is a key way to improve the customer experience, not every resort got the memo when it comes to pricing.
“Charging extravagant prices for mediocre on-mountain food simply because skiers are a ‘captive audience’ or a ‘chef’ has designed the menu” is a big gripe, said Stinson. “I understand the logistics of moving food to on-mountain restaurants can be difficult, but a 2-patty burger and fries, with no drink, should not cost $24.50.”
I’ve always been annoyed by needing to rent a locker or pay for a bag check in order to have some peace of mind that my bag would still be at the lodge when we returned for lunch. Last winter, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Killington had adopted a complimentary bag check. Even if that price is folded into the lift ticket price, it was a real nice perk.
Ski bag pile-ups
One fall-out of storage fees is having folks cramming their extra bags and other gear into every nook and cranny in the lodge.
“Some people just can’t stop themselves from stuffing their ski bags and coolers under the tables, regardless of the number of lockers, cubbies, and shelves available,” said Ken Beaulieu, a skiing pal from Massachusetts. “Nothing like being uncomfortable while eating a $30 ‘lunch special.'”
Clueless/too cool rental shop employees
My brother Matt, mentioned earlier, broke both his legs as a 6-year-old beginner because his bindings didn’t release. Today, equipment is much better, and ski areas do a much better job ensuring that their rental shop employees take their responsibilities seriously. So when I meet an employee who doesn’t, he or she stands out like a sore thumb. Don’t be that employee.
Now, all that said, there is good news. Resort officials, especially those in areas where the weather has been less than predictable in the past decade, recognize that customer service is crucial. And that goes well beyond good trail conditions, and efficient lifts.
“I’ve worked at a couple resorts and have been very fortunate to ski at many in North America,” said Stinson. “I know there are plenty of complaints, but I also appreciate the good things resorts do, especially when they address the issue or complaint and work to solve it or explain why that is their policy – sometimes making sense, sometimes not. But at least they address it.”