Rental suppliers tout workhorse products and see new opportunity for resorts in the higher-end demo market across alpine, snowbord, and Nordic.

Covid sinks down the list of ops concerns as wildfires, climate change, and other enduring worries rise.

Scenes from MSAA, New England Summit, and SANY-PSAA.


Mountain resorts are amazing places to go and enjoy nature. We invite people to come experience the outdoors (with amenities) in all its glory, and that glory typically includes wildlife. It is thrilling to encounter an animal in its natural habitat, but some animals we can meet—like bears—require extra caution. 

Etiquette exists to help people safely navigate animal encounters—bear encounters specifically—to prevent bad things from happening. Many ski areas understand this. Their websites often include tips for safe wildlife viewing and almost always offer recommendations for general hiking safety. For this call, staffers were a bit less reliable than the websites. Responses ranged from happy to help to horrified, and rarely married both safety and strategy. Nature newbies, rightfully excited to experience all of the outdoors, deserve our guidance and our enthusiasm.

FREE BEER! Not really. Just trying to get your attention. Send us questions for the Spy to ask to We’d beary much appreciate it.



First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question. 

Staff: We haven’t seen any bears on the hill today, but we do have taxidermy animals here. There is always a chance that you are going to see a bear too, but it is never a guarantee. 

SAM: Sure. Are there better trails to hike? What can I do to increase my odds?

Staff: I mean, if you go on the [name] trail, you get a view of the backside as well. So that would give you the whole 360 of the mountain to possibly see a bear. But, yeah, we haven’t seen one. I think there’s been a black bear this week, but that’s about all.

SAM: Alright.

Staff: Yeah, unfortunately, the bears were actually a lot more active when it was smoky out. Now that it’s not as smoky, I don’t know where they are.

SAM: Well, there you go.

Staff: Yeah.

SAM: OK. Well, nothing else we should bear in mind? (laughs) Sorry. 

Staff: (laughs) That was a good one. Um, no, I don’t think so. 

SAM: OK. Thanks for your help.

Staff: Yeah, no problem. OK, bye-bye.

SAM: Bye.

Rating: 5

Comment: Are you sure there’s nothing else? Because this resort has a whole web page dedicated to grizzly bear and wildlife viewing. She could have told me more about what the resort has to offer (or at least point me to the webpage) and offered some trail safety advice (i.e., if you do see a bear...). Still, she was pleasant and gave me an honest answer about my bear spotting odds (which were slim). 



Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose general inquiries. 

First contact: Another automated machine, with winter options this time! Chose reservations.

Second contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question. 

Staff: Umm, I don’t really have any tips. Bears kind of come out at night most of the time. It’s probably not a good idea to go looking for them. But, um, yeah, I don’t really know where you are going to see any bears. 

SAM: OK. Are there other animals—

Staff: (cuts me off) You can definitely hike. There are a lot of places to hike. But they are wild animals, so if you see them, you should definitely get away from them.

SAM: Right, I mean we don’t need to necessarily get close to them. But the kids are really hoping to see some animals while we are out. 

Staff: Oh, OK, yeah. Well, you can definitely come up and hike. There’s lots of hiking. Are you staying here in [resort] or just coming to the area?

SAM: We are coming for a day trip. 

Staff: Oh, OK. Well, something that might be fun for your kids is that we have the [name of lift]. You can take that and up at the top there’s some hikes you can do, nice views, a restaurant.

SAM: OK. Well, thank you for your help.

Staff: You’re welcome. I hope you have a great time. 

Rating: 4

Comment: So, she’s not wrong. It’s not a great idea to “go looking” for bears. But this could have been handled more diplomatically. I felt defensive after her initial response, and that made me less receptive to her other suggestions—which did not include directing me to the hiking pages on the website or suggesting (in a nice way) that I read up on bear encounter etiquette. 



Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose guest services.

First contact: Male.

SAM: Stated question. 

Staff: Sure, um, so the bears have been very active around the mountain this summer. My boss just shot us in the back echoing that (laughs). But, obviously, there is not really a way to ensure you will see them. I’m not sure really what tips to give you, but they are definitely out and about. And if you guys are out hiking, I might suggest maybe taking the [trail name] route up, which is a little less busy than other trails. It’s a little quieter, so you might be more likely to see some wildlife up there with it being a bit quieter. 

SAM: Good to know.

Staff: That’s really the only tip that comes to mind.

SAM: Is there anything else we should keep in mind? Like when, or…? We don’t have a lot of experience.

Staff: It’s all good. Um, I mean the bears, I don’t know what time of day they are most out, but other wildlife like the moose and deer and whatnot, they are most active around dawn and dusk. That’s definitely the best time to see them—from about an hour or so before sunset to an hour or so after sunset and sunrise. At least for those two creatures. But the bears are kind of out whenever they feel like it. Um, they are a bit more common around anywhere that has trash, unfortunately. They have learned how to dumpster dive and are very adept at doing that to get some goodies.

SAM: Oh no!

Staff: Last weekend, we had a big event here and opened up one of our parking lots to camping. The bears just gravitated toward that parking lot. They smelled all the food and trash that was down in that dumpster there and had quite the buffet on Sunday.

SAM: So, we should have been in the parking lot last weekend. 

Staff: (laughs) Yeah. They were quite happy down there. But that’s all been cleaned up, and they’ve dispersed from there.

SAM: OK. And you said the [name] trail? That quieter was better?

Staff: Yeah. It depends a little on your hiking ability and what not. (describes the trail’s difficulty level.)

SAM: OK. Good to know. Thank you so much.

Staff: Yeah. And when you guys do get here, stop by the guest services desk. We are open from [hours]. We have hiking maps and a bunch of stuff we can give you to guide you up the mountain. 

SAM: Oh, fantastic. Thank you.

Staff: Yeah, anytime. Have a safe travel up and enjoy your time up here. 

SAM: Thank you.

Rating: 6

Comment: A bit of an unvarnished approach to customer service, which isn’t a bad thing. Bears do love to dumpster dive, but let’s stick with hiking talk, shall we? That said, he offered lots of good advice, and his invitation to stop by the guest services desk when we arrived was spot on. Points docked for lack of cautionary advice (i.e., if you do see a bear...) and dumpster talk.



Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose operator.

First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question. 

Staff: (laughs) OK. The wildlife refuge here in [town] would be a great option for you. They have some bears that you can see up close (laughs).

SAM: Oh, OK. So, no advice in terms of, when we are out on the trail, seeing them in their natural habitat type of deal?

Staff: No. I mean, not necessarily any certain place or anything you could do to see them. It’s pretty hard to find them out in the wild. So, yeah, it is kind of a hit or miss thing to see them out there. Certainly, going on hikes you might see some sort of wildlife. It’s hard to tell, though, you know.

SAM: Sure. Well, OK.

Staff: Yup. So, I would recommend checking out that wildlife refuge here in [town]. It’s right off of [name] road, and there is just a donation to get into it. And they have animals that have been rescued that they are rehabilitating. It’s really cool. They have some wolves there, and they have two bears. They actually had one of the bears escape recently and it was recaptured (laughs). Um, so, that’s a great place to see the wildlife up close in addition to anything you might see out in the wild on hikes.

SAM: Thank you for the suggestion. Sounds like it’s a neat place. 

Staff: Yeah. For sure. Alright?


Staff: Have a great day.

SAM: Thank you. You too.

Rating: 7

Comment: This was good. She was warm and friendly, and the wildlife refuge she suggested and the information she provided about it was awesome. We still want to hike, though, so she could have shared information about the hiking (and other activities) on offer at the resort. 



Answering phone: Automated machine. Stayed on the line for general inquiries.

First contact: Female.

SAM: Stated question. 

Staff: Oh, gosh, no. I’ve never been hiking (laughs). Let me see if I can find someone who would be able to help you with that. (Transfers call.)


Second contact: Voicemail. 

thumbs downRating: 3 

Comment: Whomp, whomp. Dismissed, sent to voicemail. Ugh. She had the right idea, of course—she didn’t know the answer, so she tried to transfer me to someone who might. But instead of feeling like she was trying to help, I felt like she was getting rid of me. She could have asked for details about my trip and let me know to whom she was transferring me. First impressions matter. 



Answering phone: Automated machine. All winter options. Chose tickets.

First contact: Male.

SAM: Stated question. 

Staff: Tips? (laughs) Well, um, most people don’t go looking for the bears, nor should we. Um, there’s not many bears up here on the resort, I’ll tell you that. The best place to see bears in their natural habitat will be out in [neighboring national park, names specific area]. You will definitely want to be bear aware, knowing that you are in their territory, and they’re not in ours. So, keeping you distance, making lots of noise, carrying bear spray, that kind of thing will be best for your safety. 

SAM: Right. Thank you. We wouldn’t want to do anything stupid. So, on resort, are there any, uh, less hazardous animals we should keep an eye open for?

Staff: You know there is really not much that you would see up here besides birds and, you know, the occasional rabbits and stuff. It’s really not a place where you see a lot of wildlife. Even deer and elk and things like that, they’re not really on the mountain slopes. It’s kind of too steep for them. This time of the year, most of the wildlife is down closer to water sources, rivers, streams, that kind of thing. There’s not much of that up here on the resort. It’s kind of hiking trails with mountain biking and lifts. That’s not to say that there is nothing up there. I know for a fact that there are bears around, but they keep to themselves.

SAM: OK. Well, thank you for your advice. I appreciate it.

Staff: Yeah. Definitely. If you are looking to really see wildlife [nearby national park] will definitely be the best place for sure.

SAM: OK. I appreciate that. Thank you.

Staff: Not a problem.

thumbs upRating: 8

Comment: This was pretty dang good. He offered good safety advice, as well as advice about where to go to see wildlife (even though it was off resort), and he was scrupulously polite. The only missed opportunity here was to say something about what the resort does offer, which is quite a bit. Once he’d answered my initial question and tempered my expectations, sharing some of those resort highlights and an invitation to visit would have made this a 10. 

Identity Revealed: Whitefish Mountain Resort

With Covid-19 loosening its grip on the country, the outdoor recreation boom it spawned shows no sign of letter up.

Our dear friend, colleague, and sage Yoda, SAM editor Rick Kahl, is retiring after a four-decades-long journalism career. 

Put tech spending needs in terms leadership can understand.

"How can a poor college guy earn a free lift ticket?

THE QUESTION: “I’m a local college student, and I can’t afford a pass right now. Are there any opportunities for me to earn free lift tickets or a season pass? ”

This question aimed to see how staffers react to a poor college kid looking to EARN free skiing—not a poor college kid begging for a handout. A lot of the staffers seemed turned off right away rather than trying to help. Perhaps all they heard was “college student” and “free.”

At this point in the season (late January) it was surprising how many staff members still weren’t moved by the Spy following up with the idea of working there to earn a pass. Help on weekends and holidays? Yes, please. For many, though, preconceived notions about poor college kids seemed to prevail. Others, thankfully, welcomed the opportunity to help the Spy find a job so he could get a pass.

Mountain Spy needs to know what to ask next. Send questions to If we use your question, you are immune for that issue.


Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose ski. Then chose customer service.
First contact: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: I’m a, what? Sorry.
SAM: I’m a college student in the area. (Repeated question.)
Staff: The best thing to do is to go to our website. Click on the careers button and see what options are available there for employment. That would be your best bet, because as an employee, you do get a lift pass. So, if you can secure a job here, that’d be your best bet.
SAM: So, working is the best bet to earn, like, a free lift ticket or season pass?
Staff: That is the only way, unless you want to buy one.
SAM: OK. Thank you very much!
Staff: OK, cheers.

Score: 7
Comment: Tough start, but a pretty strong finish. He was straight to the point and directed me where to go for the only way to get a free pass.


Answering phone: Automated system. Chose guest services.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: We don’t. We do, like, discounts on our season passes for college students. Nothing for, like, lift tickets. That’s about it.
SAM: OK. Thanks.
Staff: Yeah, no problem.
SAM: Have a good one.

Score: 1
Comment: I’m looking for a way to EARN a free ticket/pass. Thanks for brushing me off.


Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose general.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: There is not. I mean, we did a promotional period for our early bird season passes. We had another offer in November for a deal with four lift tickets.
SAM: I’m looking for how to earn free lift tickets or a season pass. I’m available to work. That would probably be the best bet, for me. I am open weekends and holidays. I don’t know if you guys are hiring at all.
Staff: For that I would have to pass you over to human resources. I mean, when you’re an employee here at the resort, you get a free pass. But I can pass you over to human resources, and we will see if there’s any job openings for you, OK?
SAM: Is it OK if I call them directly?
Staff: Of course. The number is 000-000-0000.
SAM: Thanks! Gave a great day.
Staff: You, too!

Score: 8
Comment: She was very nice, but, once again, the term “earn” didn’t quite get through. After a prod, she did well, and made the right move to get me to HR.


Answering phone: Not sure. No greeting.
SAM: Hello? Is this (resort name)?
Staff: (female) Yeah.
SAM: Great. (Stated question.)
Staff: For? Hold for a little bit. I’m going to pass you to my supervisor.
SAM: OK, thank you. (holding)
Second contact: Male.
SAM: Hi. I’m a college student at X.
Staff: OK.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Just by working here.
SAM: Right on. That’s the only way?
Staff: Yup.
SAM: Are there any open positions right now?
Staff: You know what, go to ABC website. On the employment page, on the bottom of the homepage, there’s a link. I’m sure there’s positions open.
SAM: OK. Thanks very much.
Staff: You bet. Bye.

Score: 2
Comment: Maybe it was a technical error, but who picks up the phone without saying hello? Both staffers were a bit terse, too. Points for directing me to the website, but that’s about it.


Answering phone: Automated machine. Connects to customer service.
First contact: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Yes?
SAM: I was just curious if you guys had, like, any options for that. I really can’t afford to pay for these things.
Staff: No, we really don’t. There’s no scholarship, per se, if that’s what you’re wondering about.
SAM: Not looking for scholarships. Do you guys have employment opportunities?
Staff: Yes, if you go online to XYZ website, there is an area on the website in the upper right-hand corner for employment.
SAM: Alright.
Staff: You can go down through there. It actually says “jobs.”
Staff: You can take a look at that and go down through and it kind of guides you through what to do.
SAM: OK. Thank you very much.
Staff: All right. You’ve got it. Good luck.
SAM: Thanks. Have a good one.

Score: 7
Comment: Overall, he did really well. Slight misunderstanding at first, but then guided me to where I needed to go.


Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose customer service.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: So, you can work here part time and you get a season pass. Then the other option, I don't know much about it, there's this program called X. That is, like, skiing for people with disabilities and I know you can volunteer with them and I do believe you get a season pass if you commit to a certain amount of days in the season. So that's the two options I know about.
SAM: OK, cool.
Staff: Yup.
SAM: Alright. Thank you very much.
Staff: Yup. Thank you.

Rating: 5
Comment: So close! She was very polite, offered two options right away, and then…left me hanging. Where do I learn more about these opportunities?


Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose guest service agent.
First contact: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: No. Like, like, free? No, we don’t have any of that.
SAM: You guys don’t have any opportunities at all? Like, I’d be willing to work on weekends and holidays if staff get a pass.
Staff: We’re just not… we’re just not hiring right now.
Staff: So, no. Unfortunately, no.
SAM: OK. Thank you very much.
Staff: All right. Have a good day.

thumbs downScore: 0
Comment: This was pretty awful. A fully staffed resort? No. There were jobs listed on its website.


First contact: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Right. So (laughs), there’s two routes. I mean, I’ve only worked here for a couple months, but I do know of these two.
Staff: Number one is to work here. Get like a part-time job, you know, just maybe weekends or something. You get free skiing for the whole season as long as you’re working here still.
SAM: Oh, that’s kind of sweet.
Staff: Yeah, it’s a really nice value if you actually go skiing, unlike me (laughs).
SAM: (laughs)
Staff: The other thing, too, is, um, what’s your major?
SAM: I study marketing. It’s all online.
Staff: Oh, gotcha. Gotcha. I was going to say if it was like a medical major, we have the ski patrol. I don’t know exactly how much they require, if they require a degree or if they require some amount of experience, or if it’s just general first aid and stuff. But I think if you do six weekends or a certain number of weekends working for them, then they give you a free season pass. But that’s all volunteer work there, though. That’s the thing.
SAM: OK. Soooo, that’s the catch, it is all volunteer?
Staff: For the ski patrol, yeah. It’s interesting work, but there’s definitely other opportunities here. You know what? There might be somebody in the office. I’m gonna transfer you to payroll. See if, you know, there’s just some general office work to do or something.
SAM: Can you give me the number, and I’ll give them a call?
Staff: Sure thing. It’s 000-000-0000.
SAM: Great. Thanks! Have a good afternoon.
Staff: Yeah. You, too!

thumbs upScore: 9 (THUMBS UP)
Comment: I appreciate that he took the time to share some options, even if he wasn’t 100 percent on either of them. Super polite and relatable. Ultimately, he made the right move to get me to someone with direct knowledge of the job opportunities. Not quite a 10, but the best score of the lot.

Identity Revealed: Alpine Valley

Scenes from a busy fall trade show and events season.

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