Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mt. Bachelor – A Slippery Slope for our Local Economy

Update: 2/6/08 KOHD News story
2/6/08 The Bulletin article (access may require online subscription)

As an avid skier with 36 Mt. Bachelor seasons of experience informing my many strong opinions about the mountain, its prices, practices and policies, I was doing hand springs when my client David Rosell asked me to quickly proofread and copy edit his article (below) the morning he submitted it to the Bend Chamber of Commerce newsletter (a couple of Comments have pointed out edits that another set of eyes and another round of proofing would have caught - we're flying fast and at ground level here).

It's about time the local business community spoke up about the impacts the resort's mismanagement has on our economy. I was recently handed a stack of "Bachelor Is Broken" bumper stickers — someone printed them at their own expense and is giving them away to anyone who wants one. Meanwhile, our tax dollars are being spent to attract winter visitors. Sometimes bad press is just that, and word-of-mouth is indeed the most powerful form of marketing.

Remember when Bachelor used to host every sixth grader in the Bend-LaPine schools for a couple days of free skiing/boarding, equipment rental and lessons . . . ? (Always seemed like the most cost-effective marketing to me.) Remember when a local working family could actually afford - with a little saving and scrimping - to buy season passes . . . ? (Hasn't the industry-wide trend of the last decade been to lower season pass prices to attract a broader base and raise more capital at the beginning of the season?) Remember when Bachelor was nationally known for the quality of its lift service . . . ? (Not for mechanical breakdowns, chaotic lift lines and unattentive employees with nothing personally invested in the resort's success.)

But now I'm just ranting - read on for David's more diplomatic assessment.


from the Bend Chamber Feb. 2008 newsletter

Mt. Bachelor – A Slippery Slope for our Local Economy

By David Rosell

It is a passion for recreation that brings so many people to Bend, Oregon.

My wife and I are no exception. We were lured, as most people are, by the exquisite landscape and nature of Central Oregon. We were amazed that such a place could also have such a vibrant economy. Having met at a ski resort and sharing our passion for skiing, a priority for us was a ski mountain nearby. When we experienced beautiful Mt. Bachelor the deal was sealed. We were coming to Bend!

Unfortunately over the past few years many of us have witnessed the dissatisfaction with Mt. Bachelor from both locals and visitors who frequent our ski area. This has lead to considerable comments, actions and negative press regarding Mt. Bachelor. My intent is not to add to the criticisms and upheaval but to look at the effects of Mt. Bachelor’s possible steep decline on our economy. All one needs to do is get on a Bachelor blog site, a Craigslist “Rants” posting or read the cover story in the lastest issue of the Bend Business Review to scrutinize the specifics.

I am writing this to express true concern for both the mountain my family and I love so much as well as for our local economy, which we at the Bend Chamber are so dedicated to enhancing. Over the recent holiday season I witnessed inexcusable mayhem and confusion at the ski area. I observed the anger expressed by countless tourists visiting Central Oregon with their families. During that week while driving back to Bend I saw a bumper sticker that stated “Mt. Bachelor- America’s 1 st Third World Ski Resort”. It was then that I realized that the impact is greater than just angry skiers and snowboarders. This is going to have a negative economic impact on Central Oregon! [writer's own emphasis]

Mt. Bachelor is a recreational haven for so many that it has an enormous impact on our local economy. Mt. Bachelor is the most heavily visited ski resort in Oregon, drawing on average more than a half-million skiers and snowboarders per year. Mt. Bachelor plays a key role in Central Oregon's $498 million tourism industry, drawing visitors to the region in winter and spring, helping make the area a year-round destination. Skiers and snowboarders are like surfers who tell their friends where to find big waves or what reef to avoid. A fundamental concern is the ripple effect of negative word-of-mouth marketing- visitors telling friends and family back home about their unpleasant experiences here at Mt. Bachelor.

How will this effect a family considering moving their family or business to Bend? What impact will this have on our real estate industry? If fewer tourists visit, this will have a critical effect on local restaurants, hotels that bring in significant room taxes, ski and snowboard, retail and coffee shops. Suddenly, this becomes more than just a solemn challenge for the ski area. A troubled Mt. Bachelor will have a detrimental impact on Bend and the businesses that depend on the people that tourism brings. If Mt. Bachelor declines, the community declines. Many have lived in Bend when it was a declining community, and if anyone thought growth was challenging, the other direction is significantly more so.

In 2005-06, Mt. Bachelor had its second-best season ever with 590,000 visitors. The 2006-07 season resulted in about a 10 percent drop in visitor numbers through the end of April. The reality is that we do not have a well diversified economy and Mt. Bachelor, as our major attraction, has a disproportionate impact on the economy. It will not only be Bend that feels these effects but the entire region including Sunriver, Eagle Crest and other resorts in Central Oregon who cater to skiers and snowboarders.

The Central Oregon Visitors Association and Mt. Bachelor have joined forces as part of their $250,000 cooperative marketing campaign, "Real Winter," which is funded equally by the region's largest tourism promoter and its largest winter attraction. Can Mt. Bachelor actually deliver a viable service after enticing visitors here?A long time Bendite recently shared this story with me: “I remember when Bill Healy hired me to work at Mt. Bachelor when I was 14 years old. He told me after he hired me ‘if you remember only one thing it is that your job is to take care of the customers of this mountain’. In fact he reemphasized this at every one of our crew meetings before we went to our assigned tasks. I am afraid visitors will stop coming with the lack of focus on the customer and it will have a very big impact on our local economy.”

Because of my love for skiing and concern for our economy, I implore Mt. Bachelor to work to restore its former image and high quality services. Many of us can remember the days when Mt. Bachelor was a high class ski destination. I can only hope that with the recent return of the highly regarded new president of the ski area that he can make this a reality.

David Rosell
Rosell Financial Group
(541) 385-8831


Bend Economy Man said...

Proofreading-wise, I would have eliminated one instance of "family" in the sentence How will this effect a family considering moving their family...

Bill Healy was a local hero and a highly ethical person. He cared deeply about this community.

However, Bachelor's decline was caused partly because of early overinvestment in the Healy era.

Back in the late '80s, when the town was reeling from mill closures and the disappearance of the wood products industry, prominent local business interests (who, you have to admit, had foresight) decided that Bend's best chance to bring money in was to attract the tourism and recreation dollar and to develop vacation properties for out-of-area people.

You started to see in The Bulletin stories about how Bachelor had the potential to attract destination travelers from beyond its traditional regional visitor base. There was talk of a nationwide ad campaign. Millions were spent to upgrade Bachelor's lifts and facilities.

Of course, Bachelor never took off as a national destination resort, and it never will. It has no slopeside accommodations, no night skiing, no apres-ski village and is too far from the airport, and there are too many resorts in America that have all those.

The debt taken on to improve Bachelor eventually forced the Healy family to sell it. The reason the Bachelor investment made sense for Powdr Corp was because they thought they could run a "leaner" operation. They brought in foreign students as seasonal workers. They raised food prices and deferred maintenance. They suspended long-term expansion plans.

It's true that Bachelor has suffered for not being owned by a local who loves this area. But there were no illusions about Bachelor's financial position when it was sold, and there were no illusions about Bachelor's prospects: rather than being run like a potential national resort, Powdr started running Bachelor like a resort with a mid-sized regional draw.

w4s said...

Proofreading wise I would also have used the verb "...affect a family..." Effect is a noun. :-)

I agree Bachelor will always be a local place. But if it can be a GREAT local place, it will garner national recognition.

Steve Duin in the Oregonian recently commented on Starbucks's transition from quality to profit orientation as a source of their demise. It seems the same thing has happened at Mt Bach.

Early into Model T production, Henry Ford faced strikes by workers on the assembly line over strict work rules. On an assembly-line the output of one worker affects the output of all, so rules are required. Ford's response was to double wages. Suddenly everyone was a stakeholder.

Perhaps a few more employees at Mt Bach who feel they are long term stakeholders in the success of the place would make the difference.