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Mountain Spy :: November 2016

Written by Dave Meeker
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Arriving at a ski area for the first time can be intimidating for those who have never, ever even pulled into the parking lot of a ski area before and have no idea where to go, what to do, or what “rentals” and “lift tickets” are. How do resorts handle a call from such a guest?

 

THE QUESTION: I’D LIKE TO BRING MY FAMILY THERE, BUT WE’VE NEVER BEEN TO A SKI AREA BEFORE, AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. WHAT’S THE PROCESS WHEN WE GET THERE?

 

MOUNTAIN 1, MN

Answering Phone: Automated machine. Chose snowsports.
First Contact:Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: You’ll come to the first level of the chalet, and there’s a ticketing area and that’s where you pay for your lift tickets and your rentals. The rental shop is also on the first floor, and then you’ll go right out the back with your rentals and you’ll be right on the hill.
SAM: OK. By rentals, what do you mean?
Staff: Well, if you need to pay for rentals or if you’re bringing your own, I have no idea. I assume you need to purchase rentals?
SAM: Are you talking about skis?
Staff: Skis or snowboard, whatever, yup.
SAM: Gotcha. We’ve never done this before. So we can get skis there?
Staff: Yup. We also rent helmets. You can talk to us about, if anyone needs a lesson we can arrange that for you.
SAM: OK. Should we?
Staff: I would suggest that if no one has ever skied before.
SAM: Alrighty. So when we get there, we’ll know where to go?
Staff: Signage will be out there for you. Just remember to go to the first floor, and that’s where you pay for tickets at rentals. For your lesson, you can all take a lesson together, but it depends on how athletic the kids are, and how quickly they’ll pick up on it. They could also take a lesson separate from the adults.
SAM: Is there anything we need to bring?
Staff: Um, warm clothes, for sure. Bring a bag with extra mittens and maybe an extra sweatshirt or fleece in case the kids get cold. Layering is very important. You can store the bag in the seating area or rent a locker.
SAM: Cool, sounds good. Thanks!
Staff: Thanks for calling.

Rating: 4
Comment: Asking more questions got more useful info. Had I not asked, we would’ve been on snow, in jeans, with our “rentals.”


 MOUNTAIN 2, VT

Answering Phone: Automated machine.
First Contact: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Are you looking for passes and things like that, you mean?
SAM: I really don’t know. Our friends told us we need lift tickets. And we don’t have our own skis or anything like that. I just wanted to talk to someone there and get an idea of what to expect before we pull in there this winter.
Staff: Yeah, yeah. Well, we rent skis, we lease skis, you can do a season-long lease if you want. Or you can do the daily thing, so to speak. There’s a variety of lift tickets and passes, most of that stuff’s online. Weekend passes, midweek—all that kind of stuff. Depends on what you’re looking for.
SAM: OK. Well, I really don’t know what I’m looking for. Again, we’ve never experienced a ski area before. When I pull into the parking lot how will I know where to go? Is there signage?
Staff: Oh yeah. Well, it depends on the day of the week, but a lot of times there’s a parking guy kind of instructing you where to go, and such. That works pretty good. When you come up here—have you ever actually seen the location before?
SAM: Um, I haven’t. We’re all ski area rookies. Green. Never even been in the parking lot of one. Just trying to get an idea of what to expect.
Staff: Well, rentals doesn’t sell much clothing, so ... For lessons, we have a variety of groups or privates. Group ones tend to be a tad less expensive. But a private one would be nice for the first couple times, maybe. I’ll bet guest services will be able to help you more with that. Let me shoot you over to there. Hang on one sec.
SAM: Alr—(put on hold for about a minute, guest services answering machine picks up; shouldn’t a person answer? I hung up).

Rating: 3
Comment: He wasn’t in guest services, but that’s no excuse for not listening, or shooting me over to a phone where there’s no one to answer.


 MOUNTAIN 3, OR

First Contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: So basically, um, I’m assuming you’ll need rentals and are you looking at possibly doing lessons? Or possibly doing it on your own?
SAM: Should we take lessons?
Staff: I would definitely recommend it if you’ve never been skiing or snowboarding before, it’s a great place to start. I don’t have pricing yet, but we do have packages that include lift ticket, rental, and lesson all in one package.
SAM: What’s rental?
Staff: It would be your skis, boots, and poles if you’re skiing, or snowboard and boots if you’re snowboarding.
Staff: Cool. So we can get skis there, awesome.
SAM: Yeah, when you get here, I’d send you right to the rental shop and they’ll get you all geared up. Then you’ll head right over to the bunny hill and meet your instructor and you’ll have your lesson. The ticket will be good for the rest of the day, but your ticket is only good for the bunny hill. If you picked it up pretty quickly, you can always upgrade your ticket to ski the rest of the hill.
SAM: All right, um. Sounds pretty easy. Thanks.
Staff: You’re welcome. Bye.
 
Rating: 5
Comment: She was super nice, but what do I wear and how does it all work? Volunteer the info; beginners don’t know what they need to know.


 
 MOUNTAIN 4, QC

Answering Phone: Automated machine. Chose operator.
First Contact (after waiting nearly 2 minutes): Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Did you already book?
SAM: No. I haven’t booked anything. I’m interested in coming with my family for the day this winter, but haven’t made any plans yet.
Staff: OK, because we can tell you all the prices and what we have for packages, but the ski area isn’t open today.
SAM: Right. We’re just looking to come for the day this winter, and I’ve heard there’s a lot that we need to do.
Staff: Will you take a lesson? This is the first time you’ve skied?
SAM: First time at a ski area. I don’t even know where to go when we pull in.
Staff: We have a ski school. You would buy a package and someone would ski with you for the day. Would you like prices? I would need to transfer you to the ski school.
SAM: OK. They would be able to give me information about what to do when we get there, too?
Staff: Um, hold please (holding). OK, they closed just now, sorry.
SAM: All right.
Staff: (gave prices for ski school packages that she said the ski school could give me) Would you like to leave the ski school a message?
SAM: I can just call back.
Staff: OK, buh bye.

Rating: 2
Comment: Language barrier was not an issue, but not wanting to handle my question was.


 MOUNTAIN 5, ID

Answering Phone: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Are you coming from out of state?
SAM: We’re going to be in the area, and this seems like a cool thing to do.
Staff: It’s definitely a cool thing to do. So, I’m in the lodging department, so I may not be intimately familiar with the full scope of the process, but I have done plenty of skiing, so I think I can help. Are you staying locally?
SAM: Yes, we are.
Staff: OK, great. So, starting with the basics of just getting here, you have a couple of options. If you’ve never been to a ski area and you’re not super up for driving in the snow, you have the option of taking a free bus that runs every 30 minutes from the base of the mountain. So you’d park down there and hop on the bus and it brings you up to the village area. It stops running at around 5:30, and since the ski day ends around 4, you have about an hour to get back down on the bus after you’re done skiing. If not, you’re welcome to drive up the mountain. It is mountain driving and it’s a windy road, and particularly during the winter you could be driving in snow. There is parking up here, one lot is a paid parking lot, which is closer to the village, the other is free and it’s a five or six minute walk to the village. But if you choose to take the bus, it drops you right off at the entrance to the village area. Once you get there, we have options for renting your gear—I assume that’s an important factor? (Without asking, he explains pricing by age range, what’s included in the rental package, and recommends renting helmets, using himself as an example of an experienced person who wears a helmet all the time.) Having never done it before, if you’re interested in doing lessons, this is a little out of my range, but I’d recommend doing that (goes on to explain the lesson options, times, what they include, what the lesson would cover, and pricing). Let’s see, for other info you’d like to know…there’s plenty of places here for food (explains dining options), so you’ll be able to eat well during your ski day.
SAM: Awesome.
Staff: Any other particular questions I can help with?
SAM: Is it pretty self-explanatory for where we need to go when we get up there?
Staff: Definitely, there’s lots of signage pointing you in the right direction. By the way, are you familiar with all the clothing attire you need for when you’re here, like snow pants, parkas, and all that?
SAM: I think we have some, but I need to check.
Staff: You’ll definitely want to have as much waterproof gear as you can, especially pants, because when first starting out you spend a fair amount of time on the snow (laughs). Having the wrong gear can be a detractor for people’s first experience, so you’d be miles ahead if you’re prepared with proper clothing.
SAM: That’s great to know. What’s your name again?
Staff: My name’s Jeff.
SAM: This has been very helpful, Jeff. Thank you.
Staff: Well, we look forward to having you up here! Trying a new sport is always fun. (Jeff then went on to describe the learning hill, and then gave a simple explanation of how trail ratings work.)

Score: 10+
Comment: I didn’t have to pry one piece of information from Jeff; he volunteered every bit that I needed. If our scoring went to 11, he’d get it. Thanks, Jeff.
Identity Revealed: Schweitzer Mountain Resort

 

MOUNTAIN 6, MA

Answering Phone: Automated machine. Chose guest services.
First Contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Did you want to get passes, or just get some info on how to ski here for the day?
SAM: Ski there for the day. We’ve literally never pulled into a ski area before. Friends say we need lift tickets and we need to get skis? Is it pretty self-explanatory when we get there?
Staff: So when you get here, the first thing you’d do is go to customer service or the ticket window, and that’s where you get your lift ticket and pay for your rentals. By the sounds of things you guys are probably going to need rentals, so they’ll provide you with information about that and get you pointed in the right direction.
SAM: Rentals, as in, skis and stuff?
Staff: Yup. Skis, boots, and poles. If you have a snowboarder in the family, you get a snowboard and boots. We do have helmets that you can rent. We also have a retail shop where we sell things like goggles, snow pants, gloves, an extra sweatshirt, face warmers, and also things like hand and foot warmers—all things like that, if you don’t already have them. If you ever forget something when you’re traveling, we have it here usually, which is nice.
SAM: OK, great.
Staff: So when you’re at the customer service desk, they’ll get you your rental form and make sure to get you signed up for the equipment that you need. Then you’ll go to the rental shop and fill out the form. From there they’ll size everybody up, get your gear on. If you’re interested in lessons and stuff, we do have the beginner package that includes the ticket, rental, and lesson for a discount, which is what a lot of people do to kind of introduce you into the mountain. It works out pretty nicely. I’m not sure what the pricing is right now. Certainly you wouldn’t be the first person to come here who has never been before, so definitely don’t feel bad. There’s been a lot of people in your shoes.
SAM: I’m glad to hear it’s not uncharted territory.
Staff: No, certainly not. We can help you get through getting you ready and getting you out to where you need to be. We won’t just leave you high and dry, give you a ticket and send you on your way to figure it out. It can be overwhelming. When you get here, definitely let us know that it’s your very first time and we’ll make sure you’re all taken care of.
SAM: Thank you. That would be super helpful. It looks like a challenging thing to get into. Anything else I should know?
Staff: Well, before you travel, you should give us a call to see what the conditions are going to be like for that day. Some days are better than others to learn how to ski, for sure.
B: Good advice. Thanks for the help!
Staff: No problem. Hopefully we’ll see you this winter!

Score: 9.5
Comment: Sounds like the kind of place that knows how to welcome people to the sport. Well done!

 

MOUNTAIN 7, NH

Answering Phone: Automated machine. Chose general info.
First Contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: So you’re all beginners, ever skied before?
SAM: Never even pulled into the parking lot of a ski area before. We hear X is a good place to start.
Staff: It is an awesome place to start. So, you wanna make sure you have the proper gear: good coat, ski pants, socks, mittens, all of that kind of stuff. We have a good option for beginners that includes your lift ticket for the day, rental package, and a lesson.
SAM: Nice. What’s a rental package?
Staff: You can choose either skiing or snowboarding. Skiing would be skis, boots, and poles. Snowboarding is board and boots. We also rent helmets, which aren’t required, but I recommend them to everybody, not just beginners.
SAM: Sounds smart.
Staff: It’s cheaper to come midweek than it is weekends or holidays. How old are your kids?
SAM: They’re 7 and 10.
Staff: OK, the younger one would be in our X program. It’s not day care, we have them out on snow and take breaks when the kids need. It includes everything but rentals. But the ticket is included, so once she’s done with the program she can ski with you.
SAM: Cool. Where do I take care of all this? Will there be signs pointing us in the right direction?
Staff: Yes, there are. When you walk in the front door of the main building, there are the ticket windows and the main desk. I assume you guys want to take lessons?
SAM: I’d say so, right?
Staff: That’s what I would recommend. To get your lessons, go straight to the main desk and they’ll be able to take care of all that for you. They can do it for you at the ticket windows, but it’s easier to go to the desk because they’ll make sure you get exactly what you need.
SAM: Great. Anything else I should know?
Staff: You know, if you can come midweek we are slower than weekends. But anytime you come, it’s going to be a great experience. Check out our website, there’s a lot of information on there that will help.
SAM: All right, thanks for your help!
Staff: You’re welcome. See you this winter.

Score: 8
Comment: Nice job starting out with what to wear. Not intimidating and totally understanding.

 

MOUNTAIN 8, CT

Answering Phone: Automated machine. Chose customer service.
First Contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Are you interested in taking a lesson?
SAM: I don’t know. Should we?
Staff: Some people don’t (laughs), but it’s a good idea to take a lesson. How old are your children?
SAM: They’re 7 and 10.
Staff: OK, the little one could be in a children’s program. But our group lessons start at age 7, so you could all take a group lesson. We also have a private lesson option.
SAM: What’s the difference between a group lesson and a private lesson?
Staff:A group lesson is whoever shows up that day and buys a lesson at the window, and the instructors group people the best they can according to age and ability. Then they take the group out on the hill for a lesson. A private lesson could be just you or your wife with an instructor. I’m not sure if the kids would be able to go in the same private lesson if they’re beginners, but they can take up to four people.
SAM: OK, what do we need?
Staff: Our rental includes skis, boots, and poles for skiing; snowboard and boots for snowboarding. We don’t require helmets, only for our terrain park…but you won’t be going down there (laughs).
SAM: What is that?
Staff: It’s where we have different elements like rails and jumps and stuff.
SAM: Oh! Yeah, that won’t be for us.
Staff: Maybe for the kids after a few lessons, but not right away!
SAM: Is this all right there? Are there signs and stuff?
Staff: Yeah, we have two parking lots. As you enter onto the property you would go to the ticket window or the ski school desk, where they sell lessons on weekends and holidays. If you come any other time you would purchase them at the window.
SAM: And that’s pretty easy to find?
Staff: Yeah. And depending on what you decide to do, they’ll get you taken care of. You won’t be on your own.
SAM: Sounds good.
Staff: Definitely check out our website (spells it out the URL, which is helpful). There’s lots of info on there.
SAM: Great. Thanks for your help!
Staff: Sure thing. See you this winter!

Score: 7
Comment: Very pleasant, good info about lessons. But what do we wear?

 

MOUNTAIN 9, VA

Answering Phone: Automated machine. Chose general info.
First Contact: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: You mean as far as skiing goes, or lodging?
SAM: Skiing. Just a day trip.
Staff: Basically, we could outfit you with everything you need as far as ski gear, or snowboarding gear, which ever. But, there’s typically people in the ski office between the hours of X and X everyday, but if there’s no one there I might be able to answer some of your questions.
SAM: OK, yeah. I just want to know what to expect and what to do when we pull in the parking lot. Are there signs? Are there people there to point us in the right direction?
Staff: Yeah. You can park wherever. Come in, follow the signs to X and that’s where you’ll get your lift tickets. I’d recommend checking out our website. That will give you all the pricing and stuff, and if you have any questions after you’ve looked at it, just give us a call.
SAM: I’ve been on the site, and checked some stuff out, but what do we need? How does it work when we get there?
Staff: You know, I’m going to transfer you to the X office. I don’t know if anybody’s down there, but if there isn’t maybe you can just leave a message and hopefully someone will get back to you tomorrow. Does that work?
SAM: Sure. (holding)
Answering Phone (woo!): Male.
SAM: Restated question.
Staff: Are you guys just coming up for the day?
SAM: We are.
Staff: If you’re just coming up for the day and have never skied before, we do offer a package deal, which is probably the best option. It includes lift ticket, rental, and a lesson for one price. (Gave pricing and explained where to purchase everything.)
SAM: OK, thanks. Anything else I should know?
Staff: Keep an eye on the website or our Facebook page to keep up with when we’re opening. Mother Nature plays a huge role. Generally, our best conditions are middle of January to the end of February. It’s always good to learn when conditions are better. Also, you should have waterproof snow pants. You see people in jeans when they’re here, but when you’re first learning you tend to fall a lot, so having waterproof pants will help keep you dry.
SAM: Sounds good. Thanks for the info.
Staff: No problem. See you soon.

Score: 6
Comment: First guy was a little snippy, second guy came around with some good info.

 

MOUNTAIN 10, WI

Answering Phone: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: So you want to know about the ski stuff?
SAM: Yeah. Never been to a ski area. We have friends that ski and they said it can be a little intimidating for people who haven’t done it before.
Staff: So, you get your ski ticket, you put it on, and then you go down to rentals. There, you can choose if you want to ski or snowboard, and then you’ll go out to the lift and pick what slope you want to go down. For the little kids, we have the bunny hill. We have the black diamond, which is, like, for the… more for the expert kind of skill to go down. And we have medium slopes, we have a slope you can do tricks on—we have all the good stuff.
SAM: OK. Is there a building we go to first to take care of all this? We don’t have skis or anything.
Staff: Do you need skis?
SAM: Uh, I assume so, yeah. Can we get them there?
Staff: Yeah, so, you’ll come to the desk and that’s where you buy your lift tickets and you can buy your rentals there, too. You can also choose to do that in the rental area, as well. They are two different areas, and you have to get your ski tickets at the desk. Either way, we’ll hand you a rental form and you’ll go down to that area there to get your skis and snowboards and all that good stuff. From there, they’ll queue you out the door and you’ll see all the slopes.
SAM: Ok, umm—
Staff: It’s kind of an easy process. You kind of just have to walk a little bit to go to a different area to get your skis. There are signs. It’ll be super easy. I’ll help you when you get here.
SAM: So we just head right out there and just do it? A friend of ours said we should learn first. Is it easy enough for us to just go out there?
Staff: Um. I have trouble doing it, but I start on the very small hills and work my way up. We also have a ski school that you can sign up for, and they’ll go out there and train you. And there’s ski patrol out there as well, in case you get hurt they’re there to help out.
SAM: Oh. So we can get hurt?
Staff: That usually only happens if people go down slopes they’re not ready for.
SAM: Gotcha. OK. Thanks for the info.
Staff: See you this winter!

Score: 3
Comment: To her credit, she was very nice and meant well. Probably not the best idea to send never-evers straight to the snow, though.

 

MOUNTAIN 11, WA

Answering Phone: Automated machine. Chose general info.
First Contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: That all depends on what you want to do. Are you guys interested in lessons at all?
SAM: Would that be a good thing to do?
Staff: That would be a good place to start. If you’ve never done it before, we do recommend lessons. (Described a learn-to package they offer.) Or, you can just get your rental and a one-day lesson.
SAM: OK, what’s rental?
Staff: Oh, skis or snowboards. Ski rental includes skis, boots, and poles. Snowboard is board and boots.
SAM: Gotcha. Is it pretty self-explanatory where we go, or … ?
Staff: We recommend making reservations for lessons, depending on when you’re coming because they do fill up, so we’d hate to have you drive all the way here and not have any lessons available. Kids lesson reservations are required. You’ll get everything in the same place, so your tickets and rentals. And your lesson starts right outside there, too. If you just want rentals and don’t want to take a lesson, you can get tickets and rentals in the same spot. So…yeah.
SAM: How will we know what building to go to?
Staff: (Named the buildings we go to, recommended I look online at the resort map.) You’ll want to deal with the kids first if they are taking lessons.
SAM: OK. Anything we need to bring with us?
Staff: We recommend jackets and ski clothes. We don’t recommend jeans. We do have food, but you can bring a bag lunch. Umm. Get here early for a good parking spot, and to make sure you’re here in time to meet with the kids’ instructor, which the lessons start at 9:30.
SAM: All right, thanks for the info.
Staff: Great. Hope to see you this winter.

Score: 5.5
Comment: If I didn’t ask more questions, this conversation would’ve been over much quicker.

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