As Skiers Fret Over Unknowns, Smugglers' Notch Seeks Input on Gondola Proposal
"We need help in identifying those connector relationship options and deal conditions that can preserve the 'vibe.'" - Smugglers' Notch owner Bill Stritzler
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“How can we retain the Smuggs vibe and experience and at the same time gain investment funds to remain competitive?”
First, the 447-word memo, distributed by Smugglers’ Notch to various constituencies last week, and shared with The Storm Skiing Journal:
To: Employee, Owners, Pass & Badge holders
Subject Line: Your interconnect survey results
Thank you to the many who devoted time to express your opinion on the Smuggs proposed interconnect between Spruce and Sterling mountains.
This issue raises passions and Smuggs is fortunate to have so many who passionately enjoy our Mountains and Village. We have six distinct Smuggs loyal constituent groups.
Local skiers & riders
Club or Timeshare Owners
Full, or year round, Owners, who either rent their homes or use them only for personal use
Equishare (½ year), Familyshare (1/3 year), & Wintershare Owners (½ winter); who mostly rent their ownership option
Regular and repeat renting guests who vacation at Smuggs
Together, an estimated 20,000 individuals, with often different objectives among them, plus differences of opinion within each group.
The repeated comments on our survey that expressed a concern were, in summary, as follows:
“We love the Smuggs culture, and the gondola will destroy the culture”
“We love the back bowls and the gondola will destroy the back bowl experience”
“Your secrecy has destroyed our trust”
“You will destroy the fragile ecology of the Notch”
“Vail will buy Smuggs and turn Jeffersonville into Stowe”
“We don’t want Stowe parking and lift line experience”
“Bill belongs in a Nursing Home” (Only suggested once)
The repeated positive comments, in summary:
“Thank you for protecting Smuggs future”
“It’s about time”
“It will be a wonderful new experience for my family”
“All change is difficult, but this is necessary.”
“Love the idea of easy access to two iconic mountains.”
“I love the interconnect idea because my knees can longer use the trail over and back”
“Smuggs needs to invest in the future and this makes sense”
It is only fair to mention that my impression is the more local the skier the more passionate you are about Smuggs independence. It should be obvious from my behavior over the last 30 years that I feel the same. However, I am more passionate about assuring a sustainable future for Smuggs and all of our constituents.
I ask you: How can we retain the Smuggs vibe and experience and at the same time gain investment funds to remain competitive?
I think our reasonable options are few. We believe the connector will generate funds for investment. We need help in identifying those connector relationship options and deal conditions that can preserve the “vibe”. All ideas welcome, keeping in mind they must work for all parties including investors.
Please go to www.smuggs.com/connect to read the various published articles and to give me your comments and suggestions. Again, I appreciate all of the thoughtful input so far.
In summary: love or hate the gondola idea, we are pursuing the project. So give us constructive ideas for how to do it without sacrificing Smuggs’ distinctive atmosphere, or get out of the way.
That may have been a more apt subject line. The proposed Smuggs-Stowe interconnect, first reported earlier this month by The Morrisville News & Citizen, is more than a rope bridge between competing ski resorts. It is a test case in the ongoing war between ski area operators trying to create viable businesses and the sport’s self-proclaimed cultural defenders determined to halt change through any available means. The former knows that skiing must reformulate itself as a weather-resilient, big-tent activity that meets its customers on their technological plain. The latter, obsessed with some nebulous notion of “soul,” want skiing to stay small, niche, weather-dependent, and hard to access, even as they mask these wishes in benevolent notions of affordability, simplicity, and unpretentiousness.
Which may seem like castigating the Girl Scouts for capitalist brainwashing vis-à-vis their annual cookie-peddling machinations. But let’s analyze each anti-gondola comment to see if its earnest orientation syncs with reality:
Con: “We love the Smuggs culture, and the gondola will destroy the culture”
How, exactly? This argument makes two bad assumptions: 1) that connecting two ski areas cross-contaminates their cultures, and, 2) that the Stowe skier is somehow fundamentally different from - and a menace to - the Smuggs skier.
I addressed the first argument earlier this month, and it’s worth repeating in full here:
The histories of the handful of interconnected American ski areas suggest that two mountains with different owners and different cultures can in fact create a unified ski experience without compromising their essence.
The most dramatic of these is the union of Alta and Snowbird. Alta does not allow snowboarding. Snowbird does. The best terrain at Alta requires a bootpack. Snowbird’s best lines lay right off the tram. Both are on the Ikon and Mountain Collective passes, but Alta is independently owned, while Snowbird is part of the sprawling Powdr Corp. stable.
Since 2001, the two have shared an official connection. It didn’t even require a lift – just a handful of gates along the border. The two share a lot in common: vast kingdoms of mostly ungroomed terrain, mostly modern lifts, and that light and endless Wasatch pow. But they remain, even after two-plus decades of border-sharing, as distinct as any two mountains in America. Crossing from one to the next, you feel this.
Next door, Brighton and Solitude also share a connection but not a culture. In California, last year’s long-planned Alpine Meadows-to-Palisades gondola did little to dim the Zen experience at Alpine or the rowdy ziplining at Palisades. And while this is not quite the same, the Slide Brook Express connected the two very different sides of Sugarbush, Vermont, nearly 30 years ago. Once two separate ski areas, the Mt. Ellen and Lincoln Peak sides of the resort have long felt and acted different – distinctions that the world’s longest chairlift have done nothing to dilute.
So, would a Smuggs-Stowe gondola be a cultural atom bomb, smashing the character of one or the other mountain? Precedent suggests that the answer would be no. There is more to a mountain’s culture than can be stripped away by a lift connection with a neighbor.
The second argument - that Stowe skiers would be some sort of invasive species - is a little bit gross, and is freighted with the residue of U.S. America’s cultural battles. There’s an “us” and a “them” and “they” are a tribe we must fight. The “us,” in this case, is the solemn, lunchpail-toting, (smug) Smuggs skier, duct-taped and yearning for bell-to-bell turns off Madonna. The feared “them” is the supposedly smarmy, Epic Pass-equipped Stowe skier, who won’t let their thousand-dollar outfit get in the way of their two-hour lunchbreak and conference calls with New York. Lost in this idiotic narrative is the fact that both showed up to the bump piloting $45,000 Subarus and rocking $900 sticks. The biggest difference between these two groups of leisure-class athletes is the Smuggs loyalists’ tolerance for slow-moving chairlifts.
Below the paid subscriber jump: the fate of the civilized world will be decided by this gondola, apparently; ski lifts as an engine of equality; when can we just say no to Just Say No Bro; an industry legend passes suddenly; and much more.
Con: “We love the back bowls and the gondola will destroy the back bowl experience”
Huh? “Destroy” has become ski watchdog hyperbole for “make it easier for more than four people to know about something.”