While making a buck in the ski industry has never been for the faint of heart, a new cut-the-line ticket announced last week has the wrong wax and a bad tune .
The company POWDR, which owns major ski resorts including Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, Utah’s Snowbird, Vermont’s Killington and Colorado’s Copper Mountain, issued a so-called “Fast Tracks” ticket that allows skiers to bypass the line at ski lifts. It announced it after it had already sold season’s passes.
Cut-the-line passes aren’t entirely new, but they were rare. This one has skiers in Bend, Oregon, fuming.
It generated a protest petition with more than 5,000 signatures. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to POWDR Chairman John Cumming asking him to stop the pass.
Wrote Wyden, “A two-tiered system of access to public lands based on financial ability is antithetical to equity in the outdoors, leaving those who cannot afford to pay for the pass being literally sent to the back of the line.”
Wyden pointed out that Mount Bachelor operates on public lands under a permit.
The Fast Tracks ticket isn’t a good look for a sport that is already relatively expensive. A pair of skis, boots and poles have always cost more than a pair of sneakers and a basketball. Unlike ski lifts, access to hoops is generally free in city parks—no demand-priced ticket required.
It’s not a good look for resorts that have always suffered from the perception that skiing is an entirely elitist sport.
It’s expensive to run a ski resort, with the snowmaking and grooming equipment, restaurants, lifts and specialized personnel that they require. Skiing today is not the sport once plagued by mogul-mottled runs covered with treacherous ice clumps and punctuated by the occasional tree stump.
Skiing once had an egalitarian feel about it. Returning World War II veterans of the 10th Mountain Division brought it to the U.S. They came home from the war and converted their hard-earned winter mountaineering skills into recreation and a job.
The ski industry was fueled by kids who grew up skiing at small areas. People good with a wrench stretched a fat rope around wheels on two truck axles, one at the top and the other at the bottom of a hill. A cranky gas engine powered the contraption they called a rope tow.
They got bored teenagers off the couch in the winter, put them on skis and showed them how to hold onto the rope for dear life every Saturday. Theirs was a virtuous endeavor, especially to the kids’ parents who sometimes helped out.
In 2021, mountain resort communities have become the ground zero of inequality in a nation in which the top 1% of Americans hold nearly 16 times more wealth than the bottom 50%. It’s impossible to miss the message of mansions in the mountains that now dominate nearly every once humble ski town where residents used to be mostly resort workers who simply loved the sport.
The Fast Tracks ticket was probably inevitable given the pandemic-fleeing crowds that showed up at resorts last winter and the economics of skiing. Even so, it’s something to mourn, not to celebrate.
“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to email@example.com.