The Yellowstone Club coined the phrase “private powder” and sold multi-million dollar memberships to those willing and able to fork over the money. While Yellowstone wasn’t the first to provide exclusive membership for skiers, they have certainly been the flashiest. Private ski clubs have been around for ages. Sahalie ski club at Snoqualmie Pass is a small, private club consisting of a single rope tow and a small warming hut, open only to members.
Battle Mountain, in Colorado, hopes to be the next private ski area. 5280 Magazine of Denver recently broke a story about the plans there. It’s an interesting read. One that makes me scratch my head. The developer, Bobby Ginn, certainly has the deck stacked against him, what with cleaning up a Superfund site and all just in order to start building his planned resort, and the legacy of “Honk if Bobby Owes You” bumper stickers following him around like an unwanted stink.
But I want to ask a bigger question: is there really a place for private ski clubs? Skiing has always been a sport with a pretty tall barrier to entry. The gear is expensive, the lift tickets aren’t cheap and just getting to mountains high enough and cold enough to support the sport simply isn’t available to everyone. Skiers these days have to be either a) wealthy enough to dedicate large chunks of time and money to the sport, b) dirtbags willing to give up all else in pursuit of the sport or c) once-a-year types that search expedia for deals and keep their fingers crossed for good conditions when they can make it to the mountains.
Part of the fun of skiing is not just the thrill of shushing down the slopes or getting face shots in a private stash or even catching first chair early enough to beat the crowds. Skiing is fun because it is shared. I know, this might run counter to logic. The more skiers on a slope, the less soft and fluffy it becomes.
But I see it all the time.
Skiers (and riders of all types) like to share their experiences. Just sit on a chair lift and
listen to the conversations. Dude. That run was sick. I totally killed that lip/cornice/mogul field/jib. Or click onto YouTube where every guy or gal with a GoPro posts footage heralding their day on the slopes. People want not just to ski, but also to share their skiing. Like anything, the experience of skiing grows infinitely more valuable when recreated through conversation. Those perfect 20 turns through that creamy boot-top pow gets better and better the more we talk about it.
Private ski areas just don’t quite have it. I’ve been to the Yellowstone Club as a guest. I’ve had my coffee held by the concierge/lift operator while I took a lap through untracked corduroy at 11 am. I’ve skied with a guide on Pioneer Mountain, lapping powder touched only by our small group as we worked every line, couloir and glade all by ourselves. We termed it “conversational powder”, since you found yourself actually engaged in conversation while riding it. Such was the lack of crowd pressure.
But at the end of the day, there’s no one to share it with, other than ourselves. You don’t talk to the bartender while he pours you a draft, nodding to each other in that knowing way. How was your run off the King? I think I saw you hiking up there today? At the Yellowstone Club, if the bartender does ski, he certainly doesn’t talk to you about it. You aren’t supposed to have that shared experience.
And isn’t that what we all love so much about the sport? Even on a heli-ski trip, don’t you want to compare favorite runs of the day with others while relaxing with that rum and coke in the hot tub? What if it was just you in that hot tub, with a hired someone standing in the steamy corner with cucumber water, fresh towels and a blank stare. That doesn’t sound like all that much fun, actually. It sounds a bit lonely and boring.
I love the cross section of ski areas–dirtbags, everyday joe and janes, ski psychos with their pupil-circling vertical lap count, each one with their own enthusiasm for the sport. That’s what makes skiing real for me. Perhaps, since I’m a writer, I find that words, either spoken or written, make the experience. Maybe it’s just me.
You tell me. What’s the value of private ski areas? Should Battle Mountain move forward on it’s plan or simply leave one untouched slope in that already crowded valley?