WILL MINIMUM WAGE RULE HIT RESORTS?
The Department of Labor (DOL) released the Final Minimum Wage Rule for Federal Contractors in early October. Like all too many government regulations, this Executive Order from President Obama raises many questions. Whether it applies to winter resorts, for instance, is a murky issue. One that NSAA is seeking to clarify as fast as possible.
While DOL says that ski area permits fall within the scope of the Executive Order, it also acknowledges that ski areas may be exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). That is, if areas are not also subject to the Service Contract Act (SCA), which could supercede the FLSA. The Forest Service has never held ski areas to the prevailing wage rules governed by the SCA, though, and NSAA is emphasizing this point with DOL and USFS.
Assuming the FLSA exemptions are intact, ski areas may be deemed exempt as seasonal businesses under either the Act’s “7 month test” or “receipts” test. If a recreational establishment “does not operate for more than seven months in a calendar year,” the business is not subject to the federal minimum wage. The second exemption, the receipts test, applies if a ski area’s average “receipts” in the lowest six months of the year are one-third of the receipts from the highest six months. Those exemptions apply to many resorts.
A final question involves how the “new contract” provision will be applied to ski area permits. Under the final DOL rule, the wage hikes only apply to “new contracts.” NSAA is arguing that only a permit renewal upon expiration, or a permit issued in connection with a sale of a ski area should be considered “new” under the rule. Any changes “within the scope of the permit,” such as a new Master Development or the addition of summer activities, doesn’t qualify as “new,” NSAA is arguing. It hopes to resolve these questions as quickly as possible.
CRESTED BUTTE A BUD TOWN? “WHATEVER”
There was no small amount of angst and anger in Crested Butte, Colo., when locals discovered the town council had sold, or at least rented, its soul to Bud Light for the brewer’s “Whatever, USA” promotion and commercial shoot in late summer. Seems the town council had kept the local merchants apprised of the plan, but forgot to clue in the townsfolk until two weeks before the big event. But it all turned out pretty well in the end. Bud imported 1,300 revelers to light up the night, and literally painted the town (or at least three blocks along the main drag, Elk Avenue) Bud blue. A Mariachi band, KC and the Sunshine Band, DJ Stellar and others entertained, and a good time was had by almost all. Plus, locals miffed that their vibe had a price on it moved Bud to double its fee, from $250,000 to $500,000. Not a bad tip for a Bacchanalian weekend.
Terrain Park Notebook: latest Signs
After a years-long effort to revise the NSAA Terrain Park Notebook, NSAA has … updated its freestyle terrain signage. Two new signs, one for park entrance/access and another informational/park practices sign “intended for use in places where park users gather,” are available. There will also be a poster for the coming season that includes the new Park Smart signage. The new signs have been provided to NSAA suppliers, and can be downloaded at NSAA.org. Resorts have two years to phase in use of the new signs; existing signage remains valid, but NSAA is asking resorts to remove the old as they install the new.
Word is, once again, that the Notebook itself has been delayed.
All sorts of human interchange happens on chairlifts. Boy meets girl, boy kisses girl, boy marries girl. Now, thanks to Fresh Tracks Capital, an investment firm based in Burlington, Vermont, comes boy (or girl) meets money.
Through an event called Peak Pitch, held every spring at Sugarbush (with a sister event at Hunter Mountain), Fresh Tracks seeks to match people with good ideas andeople with good money. Entrepreneurs seeking to sell a new invention or to launch a new business have a single lift ride (about five minutes on Sugarbush’s Gate House quad) to pitch an idea to a potential investor. The entrepreneur can repeat the process with other investors throughout the morning.
About 120 investors and entrepreneurs came together at Sugarbush last spring, four times the number that participated in the inaugural event nine years ago at Bolton Valley. At last year’s event, six ideas were deemed worthy of a capital infusion. Cross says the average investment was about $250,000.
What’s in it for the ski area? Perhaps a little midweek revenue and a chance to “build a relationship with potential new clientele,” says Cross. And perhaps a chance to get in on the ground floor on the next big thing: among the investors doing laps at Sugarbush is area owner and CEO Win Smith. -- Peter Oliver
UTAH RAISES THE ANTE
In the past four or five months, the status quo in Utah has been shattered. While the PCMR/Talisker/Vail Resorts saga was playing out, Ian Cumming--the money behind Powdr Resorts--purchased Snowbird from longtime pal Dick Bass. And after Vail Resorts purchased PCMR, Deer Valley snapped up Solitude.
Those moves inject some serious marketing and promotional horsepower into the state’s ski destinations. VR has already added PCMR to its Epic Pass offerings and is sure to ramp up marketing in the future. Cumming has the resources to build Snowbird’s visits, and ties to Alta that could raise the duo’s joint efforts. Deer Valley will bring benefits to Solitude as well.
These moves, and others in the future, could propel Utah beyond the four-million visit level where it has been for the past several years. “We need to cooperate at a higher level than we had to 20 to 30 years ago, when all the independent mountain people started up the resorts,” Bob Wheaton, president and GM of Deer Valley, told SnoCountry.com.
Then there’s the muscle that Visit Salt Lake brings to the dance. Its new $1.8 million Ski City USA campaign, in conjunction with Snowbird, Alta, Solitude and Brighton, has drawn a trademark infringement suit from “Ski Town USA,” Steamboat. However that plays out, Utah resorts and Salt Lake itself are set to raise the state’s visibility--and market share.
SKIING AND RIDING IN THE OZONE
Ah, Colorado. Powder days and blue skies. Fresh air and freshies. That’s the image, anyway. But researchers have been surprised to discover that a lot of ozone and ozone-causing chemicals are wafting into the Front Range mountains from the urban corridor stretching from Denver to Fort Collins, and in some cases rising all the way to the Continental Divide. Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and NASA have found mountain ozone levels can be similar to levels out on the Plains, and even greater on occasion. It’s more difficult to escape the impact of all that urban and I-70 traffic than simply heading to the hills.
NEW RESEARCH: THE MORE THINGS CHANGE …
Snowsports Industries America’s Downhill Consumer Intelligence Project (DCIP) has catalogued the past 30 years of industry research, which shows that winter sports participation has been both remarkably stable and highly resistant to growth initiatives. “No program or marketing campaign designed to grow the participant base moved the needle enough to show up in the data,” says the executive summary for the first phase of the project.
Not coincidentally, the report adds, “We found past snow sports research efforts, and the findings and recommendations stemming from those efforts, to be remarkably … similar over the past 35 years.” Isn’t that close to the definition of insanity? “Future efforts to grow snow sports “must break old paradigms in order to have significant impacts,” the report wisely notes.
To that end, this winter the DCIP will “explore why past efforts apparently failed, and explore different methods to grow the participant base and sales based on the consumer trends we uncover.” We can only hope this current effort will be more successful than past attempts.
It hasn’t been all bad, the DCIP notes. Most barriers to participation--lack of access due to cost or proximity to resorts; lack of knowledge about how to get started, having nobody to ski or snowboard with--have been addressed by past promotional programs, with some limited success. And compared to golf, cycling, backpacking and even soccer, “the lack of significant decline is a very positive sign.”
These other sports are looking at non-traditional approaches like foot golf, pickleball, and obstacle course racing to grow their participant bases. Similarly, snowsports may be wise to turn to non-traditional activities, or even traditional activities like sledding, to address the access and intimidation barriers. In its next phases, the DCIP will explore some novel approaches, including local or mobile terrain parks and learning centers, and seek out new, as-yet-unimagined ideas.