Why open beginner terrain first?
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JohnL
December 5, 2003
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
I've always wondered why Whitetail, Liberty, Roundtop (and Canaan Valley this year) start making snow initially on their beginner terrain. Never made sense to me. The hard-cores are the customers who will be skiing the first 1-2 weekends of the year, not beginning skiers. Why not concentrate snow making on a single intermediate trail instead of several beginner trails? In the past, Killington would concentrate early season snowmaking on Superstar, a moderate black diamond, knowing that the regulars would show up for it. (Not sure what Killington has been doing lately.)

At least Snowshoe and Seven Springs have a wider variety of terrain open the first weekend of the season - but they do have more total trails open.

Making snow on terrain parks/half pipes seems like an efficient way to open up trails that would attract numerous customers early in the season. Pretty much what Tenney Mtn. in New Hampshire does during the summer.

Scott - DCSki Editor
December 5, 2003
Member since 10/10/1999
1,096 posts
I think the reasons are straightforward: it takes a lot less snow to open a beginner trail (they're flatter -- holding snow better -- and usually shorter, so there's less to cover), and the number of visitors who can ski beginner terrain is larger than the number that can ski intermediate or expert terrain.

I'm an advanced skier, but I would consider bringing a friend who had never skied before to Liberty or Roundtop early in the season, knowing that prices would be cheaper, there would be less crowds, and I would have fun teaching them even on the beginner slopes.

Also, keep in mind that beginner skiers and snowboarders are the best catch for resorts. Regular skiers will continue to ski, but resorts are trying to expand the field and attract new people to the sport. For that reason, almost every resort in the Mid-Atlantic has been trying to become more beginner-friendly. (Just look at the "Get On Board" season pass at Wisp -- for $249 beginner skiers and boarders get three lessons, three rentals, and an unlimited season pass.) Most of the capital improvements I've seen in the past several years also seem focused at beginners -- adding ski carpets, expanding beginner terrain, etc.

JohnL
December 5, 2003
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
Have to disagree with you on this one Scott. How many beginners will be skiing the next two weekends? Not very many. I find it very unlikely that the newbies and never-evers will be inclined to try a sport on the shoulder season. This is prime Xmas shopping and holiday party season. The majority of the DC-area population is not concerned about skiing right now. The day after Xmas is a different story when people want to go out and play with new toys.

A single blue trail probably has as much surface area as 2-3 green trails. I think ski areas get too concerned with the number of trails opened. Along with snow base numbers and total number of trails on the entire mountain (divide a trail into an upper and a lower and you now have two trails!), the marketers love a number to market.

I'd be very hesitant to take a newbie skiing during the shoulder season. While you may have less crowds on the slopes, the ski conditions can be more difficult, resulting in a tougher learning experience.

Understand your core market and serve them. Business 101.

JohnL
December 5, 2003
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
I'm particularly talking about Whitetail where the beginner terrain is segregated from the rest of the mountain and serviced by separate lifts. Further, the intermediate terrain at Whitetail is accessible to a very wide range of skiers but is still fun for advanced skiers.

Not talking about opening black diamonds as the first trails, I'm talking about opening some blues before the greens.

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chuckie
December 5, 2003
Member since 12/29/1999
77 posts
I'm a veteran boarder who has found that the opening weeks ARE often a good time to get new riders introduced to the sport (low cost small crowds.. and usualy the coverage is quite good).

Scott said it all very well in his post below, but the point that makes the most sense is that andbody can ride beginner terrain, but only experienced skiers or boarders can ride expert terrain.

I've already been out this season (with a beginner in tow), and will be going again.

Frankly, I know that the more advanced terrain will be opened soon enough, and I'm just happy to be out there riding anything.

I am suprised when resorts put snowmaking rescources into terrain parks and halfpipes in the first few opening weeks, that seems somewhat counter productive.

PhysicsMan
December 5, 2003
Member since 11/20/2001
218 posts
Good question. I had a slightly different gripe about opening the never-ever terrain first which I vented over on Epic and which gives a couple other reasons why they might do this:

http://www.epicski.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=3;t=002184

"... I know that their announcement really should be taken as a "It's REALLY coming" notice, and I know that they have to start somewhere, but every one of the runs and chairs that were mentioned are never-ever and pure green territory, so its kinda hard to get all that excited about it.

I suspect they really are opening these runs first mostly for the sake of publicity, to shake out the bugs in all of their departments, systems, and new employees, to have low level territory available for all the rookie instructors to take their on-snow training, etc.

Personally, I wish they would act just a tiny bit more like Canaan V (or is it Timberline?) and build up a durable base of at least some depth before they let the hoards on it. OTOH, there never is all that much wear from traffic on greens, so maybe its no big deal."

Tom / PM

(Anonymous)
December 5, 2003
Personally, the first time out for the season I don't really care what is open - I just want to get my skis on snow and make some turns. I skied last Sat at Wisp on a first-timer slope, riding a Magic Carpet that really hadn't had the bugs worked out of it yet......but I didn't care 'cause it just felt so good to be on snow......

just my .02 worth.....

JohnL
December 5, 2003
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
Until Whitetail (or any local area) opens up a least one blue, they never get any of my hard-earned coin. Not worth the trip up; too many other things to be doing. Not asking for much, just a single run with adequate pitch and length to get the timing back.
Scott - DCSki Editor
December 5, 2003
Member since 10/10/1999
1,096 posts
Another point to keep in mind at least with respect to Whitetail: I believe they started making snow on Upper Angel Drop and Homerun exactly the same time they started making snow on Velvet. (Upper Angel Drop to Homerun makes one top-to-bottom run from the top of the Whitetail Express, and it's all intermediate terrain.) So they're opening intermediates as soon as they can. It just takes a lot less time to open the beginner runs.

You might argue that Whitetail might have been able to open Angel Drop and Homerun earlier if snowmaking resources hadn't been diverted to beginner terrain. I don't think that's the case; there are only so many guns/hoses/towers on the trails, and Whitetail can have them all running on Angel Drop and Homerun even with the beginner slopes at full capacity -- they've got a powerful snowmaking system. The limiting factor is the number of outlets on the slope, not the amount of water that can be pumped. I suppose Whitetail could have run guns on another intermediate, such as Limelight, if water wasn't being sent to the beginners, but I can't see any resort completely ignoring beginner terrain to focus on intermediate terrain at the beginning of the season.

Different resorts have different philosophies about when to open. Snowshoe usually waits until it can open at least a dozen trails with solid cover and good conditions. Other resorts will open as soon as one beginner trail is ready to go. I don't see problems with either strategy; since Snowshoe is a destination resort, it makes sense that people would hold off visiting until there's enough trails open to make it worthwhile, whereas someone can swing by Whitetail after work to spend some time on the beginner runs if they choose to.

I think all of us on this message forum are probably upper-level skiers, and anxious to hit "real" slopes as early in the season as possible. I no longer make a trip when only a bunny slope is open. We make up an important customer segment for resorts, but obviously not the only one. Mid-Atlantic resorts have years of experience and data to go by in determining how to approach early-season snowmaking. Whitetail is usually the first resort I visit each winter (it's the closest to me), but I won't visit until the Whitetail Express is running. I know the guns are running on Angel Drop and Homerun and would rather that they wait until they have solid cover to open them then jumping the gun.

But to go back to your initial question, I think it's more a question of them deciding when they're ready to open. Most resorts do start snowmaking on beginners and intermediates at the same time, but the beginners are ready to open sooner if they choose to. (Another example is Wisp: they opened with one bunny slope, but had been making snow on several intermediates all along -- the intermediates just weren't ready to open.)

Jim
December 5, 2003
Member since 11/22/1999
317 posts
From a semi-inside view, the reason for opening of beginner trails first often boils down to three reasons:

1. New skiers/boarders (cash)
2. Group sales (cash)
3. Access (layout)

Yes, most advanced skiers and boarders will not go to a resort until the "real" trails are open. But believe it or not, you guys/gals aren't the customers ski areas target. Advanced skiers/boarders are already a given. You're hooked. You'll ski/ride and pay your money. A few days here or there on either end won't make a difference to the finances of the area.

Like many industries, skiing and boarding will only grow with the infux of new customers. LOTS of new customers. Some industry stats demonstrate that only a very small percentage of first time skiers/boarders become regulars (think single digit percentages). So you need a lot of new skiers/boarders to keep you industry alive and growing as the die hards grow old and retire. But in order to sell the sport, it has to be accessible more often and cheaply. Hence the first reason for beginner terrain - new skiers/boarders. By opening the beginner terrain early, ski areas (including our local ones) can charge a whole lot less and get more volume. Don't believe me? Then why the super cheap prices with only beginner terrain open?

Secondly, believe it or not, the ski industry is hard at work selling packages through the prior season and even in the off season. Group sales are huge because they represent cash flow during otherwise slow periods. Beginner groups (for all the reasons stated above) are the targets. So getting those beginner slopes open early helps to make room for more beginner groups. Groups are already scheduled for visits to local areas for possibly this weekend and definitely next.

Finally, many ski areas are laid out to ensure at least one easy (green) trail from the top to the bottom. Liberty has Dispy Doodle. Blue trails and blacks run off of Dipsy. If it ain't open, forget about getting to the other trails.

So believe it or not, the ski areas have very legitimate business reasons for opening beginner terrain first. Your early season dollars are not nearly as missed (nor as valuable) as the chance to get a new skier or boarder into the system. Ski areas know you'll be by as the season progresses.

(Anonymous)
December 6, 2003
Here's another way to look at this: Some resorts open beginner terrain first simply because they have to due to the layout of the mountain. It wouldn't do much good to open the Drop or Lightning at Timberline first and then have to walk passed the beginner terrain to make it back to the lift.
Scott - DCSki Editor
December 6, 2003
Member since 10/10/1999
1,096 posts
Whitetail announced today (Saturday) that Upper and Lower Angel Drop will open tomorrow, serviced by the Whitetail Express high-speed quad. Northern Lights and Almost Home will also open. So on the second day of the season, almost all the beginner terrain and a couple of intermediates will be open. Guess a well-timed natural snowstorm doesn't hurt!

Unfortunately, I have the flu.. So I can only daydream about a trip to Whitetail. Sigh.

Roger Z
December 6, 2003
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
Scott in addition, Whitetail announced they'd keep their ticket at $15 even after they get Angel Drop and Almost Home open... it's not a lot of terrain but if the crowds stay down that's a real cheap way to get your legs off to an early burn! If they can get one more trail open off the summit (Limelight maybe?), or maybe if not, I might play hookie on Mon or Tues and enjoy the big sun, fresh snow, cheap tickets, and no lines.

I've been checking out the websites today and am impressed by the number of runs open at the local hills. Liberty has seven runs open; Wintergreen is talking about getting the Highlands open soon; Whitetail top to bottom tomorrow; Wisp has nine trails going; Seven Springs 12 (including the North Face!) with more on the way; etc. etc. The ski season may only be two days old but it's an awesome, awesome first two days. And the X-C skiing here at home (Anne Arundel County) is pretty good for the sixth of December, too!

Rain forecast later in the week... might need to get these turns while we still can...

Roger Z
December 6, 2003
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
ps- Liberty has opened Blue Streak, which I think makes them the first local ski area to have advanced skiing open this year. On their first day of operations, they have eight runs for all abilities going; VERY impressive! Avalanche at Seven Springs is open, too, but is two and a half hours further away.
JohnL
December 7, 2003
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
Drat, off by one day for Whitetail. I was free on Saturday but can't make it today. Oh well, there's always next weekend...

Roger,
Given the way local areas subdivide their trails, I wouldn't get too excited about a trail count. But who would have thought a little over a week ago (Thanksgiving) that the local areas would be open this weekend?

Even if conditions remain solid, I wouldn't worry about weekend crowds at Whitetail until after Xmas. Last December had even better conditions and there were surprisingly few people on the mountain the two Saturdays before Xmas. Wise move to drastically reduce the early season price.

Roger Z
December 7, 2003
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
JohnL- I hear ya about the way resorts subdivide trails and agree that you can't get too excited. But normally most ski areas here really do open with only two or three subdivided runs, instead of seven or eight or nine like this year.

Another day I find pretty uncrowded is New Years Eve. When the conditions are good (as this year's may be) I go up to Roundtop and can knock off 35 runs by three thirty. Thanks for the info on Whitetail pre Christmas.

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