Warren Miller 

All skiers might not be created equal

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Somewhere, sometime someone said, "All men are created equal." Unfortunately, they did not say, "All skiers are created equal."

Yes, perhaps all men are created equal when it comes to parking at the ski area. Just try convincing the parking lot attendant, who is only earning $6 an hour while standing in the sleet, that you should be allowed to park closer to the base lodge. I have watched these attendants gleefully tell people driving $55,000 Mercedes station wagons where to park and that if they don’t like it, they can just make laps around the parking lot until they do.

I would like to say that all skiers are created equal even after they have navigated the trials and tribulations of the parking lot, but it just isn’t true. Even in the lift line, all skiers are not equal because there are those who can afford to dole out $400 a day for a private instructor, which enables them to get to the front of the lift line.

I guess the great equalizer occurs at the top of the hill. This is where the only limitation is the amount of adrenaline a person produces. Adrenaline and skill will determine how well a skier or snowboarder can get down the hill. Economics plays no role whatsoever once you have parked your car, purchased your lift ticket and ridden to the summit.

However, in today’s world, economics does play a big part in who has the financial wherewithal to even go to the resort in the first place. With the current dot com bust, the stock market slide, and the rip-offs by CEOs of some major companies, the demographics of the lift lines might be a bit skewed this season.

Take for example, the former boss of Tyco, Dennis Kozlowski. He is the proud owner of a 17-room chalet in Beaver Creek, Colorado. He has also been charged with stealing up to $600 million from his former company. (Yes, $600 million.) Interestingly, the presiding judge in his case has ruled that since Mr. Kozlowski has posted $1 million in bail, he should not be deprived of spending a month at his chalet during the Christmas holidays. He should be with his family and not miss some of the best early season snow in the history of Colorado.

One of the charges against Mr. Kozlowski is that he took out $242 million in loans from the employees program that was designed to help the same employees buy shares in Tyco, shares that are now virtually worthless. It seems to me that there will be some Tyco employees, as well as a lot of other people who bought stock in Tyco, that will be missing powder snow days in Colorado this Christmas. There is also a good chance that Mr. Kozlowski, the celebrity, will hire a private instructor so that he and his family won’t have to wait in line with the rest of us regular people this holiday season.

In the very old Hollywood celebrity days in Sun Valley in the 1940s, we really enjoyed sitting in the Roundhouse at lunch and watching celebrities, such as Gary Cooper, Groucho Marx and Ernest Hemingway. Those celebrities had an aura of accomplishment for what they had already done with their lives. Dishonesty was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind in those days. Then, when you saw these celebrities on a pair of skis, it felt kind of good that you could ski as well as they could or in some cases, even a little bit better. The mere thought of as much money as a $1,000 vacant lot in Ketchum or Sun Valley was so far from reality that it never entered our minds and I still can’t visualize $600 million. A person could buy half of the destination ski resorts in America for that kind of money.

Write down the number $600 million and try to visualize how many people the theft of that money has impacted. I wonder how Mr. Kozlowski will be waited upon and catered to by anyone at the resort who knows that he is under indictment for stealing that much money.

I should rephrase that: he has been accused of stealing that much money. He really is innocent until proven guilty. By contrast, a young man I know who works two jobs all summer so that he can ride most of the winter happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was riding in the car with two pals who were delivering drugs. I know this young man and he is as innocent as I would be. Yet, he is in the slammer right now until he can raise the $50,000 bail and then somehow prove that he is innocent.

Is there a moral here? Maybe. If you can somehow afford a private instructor, hire one so that you won’t have to stand in line and watch this man who is accused of stealing $600 million ski right by you and then get first tracks in that stash of powder snow you had your eye on.

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