Don't be fooled by the title of the post in to thinking this is about the actual act of skiing free riding. No, I'm discussing the act of benefiting from the actions of others without incurring any of the cost of achieving those benefits.
In today's episode, destination resorts, and how they have been free riding on the backs of community ski areas for as long as there has been such a thing as a "destination resort"
My beef with major destination resorts started not from having to shell out to ride their slopes, but rather, learning of the horrible way in which one resort in particular treated a number of ski instructors that had come there to take their PSIA level III exams. This particular resort, in an about face from the other resorts in the area, declined to help offset the cost of lodging for these instructors, did not pay for travel costs, and, to the chagrin of the group, even refused to comp the day passes for the instructors when they were taking their exams. Here are people who are the foundation of your business. Without these instructors, there would be no skiers, and you would have no business. Treating them like second class citizens and "vacationers" at your fancy little resort when they clearly are not making much money (hello, they are SKI INSTRUCTORS), is an absolute disgrace. Which brings me to the title of my post and my conclusion about destination ski resorts.
Destination ski resorts are free riding off of the backs of community ski hills. How? Because the vast majority of skiers never learn to ski at places like Vail or Sun Valley. They learn to ski at local, cheap hills, like Loveland, or Bogus, or Mt. Hood Ski Bowl. Sure, there are a few people that learn at those big hills, and lots of people (kids especially) take lessons there because it can help them hone their skills (or get rid of the kids for a couple of hours), but the fact remains that most people are not going to opt to learn from the most expensive place. It doesn't make financial sense. If you are only going to use one or two green runs, why pay for all the frills. That, and you need a lot of time on the hill to practice as well. Local resorts fill this need. Much of their business is done educating. This is the corner of the market that these hills have been able to secure, in part because they are relatively less expensive than their destination competition. After all the hard work of teaching has been done, then all of these newly minted skiers are free to open their wallets and select from any manner of destination resorts to spend their time. Now the destination resorts can charge the premium to use their slopes since all the hard work is out of the way and you've been hooked on the sport.
Put simply, local hills offer the right combination of affordability and access that actually entices people to get in to the sport. If skiing was as expensive everywhere as it is in Aspen, the sport would be limited to only the very rich. However, local hills provide basic essentials to first get people up to the hill, and then to get them feeling comfortable sliding on the snow. Destination resorts in turn profit tremendously from all of the families and new skiers that enter the sport that would have never been able to do it under a strictly destination style watch. Middle class families have been able to climb the ladder in to the glory of skiing, and only with the help and support of the inexpensive and overworked local hill can they bask in brief glory of the dinosaur holdouts of the expensive and glamorous old school of skiing, the skiing reserved for tycoons and celebrities.