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Vail’s Underground Instructors 12 January 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
Tags: , ,

No Sunday post. Or Monday post. Our chili cook-off intervened, both on the night of and the morning after, but you should have expected that, right? At any rate, I’d put off discussing Vail’s response to underground instructors for too long, and now I’m probably the last one to the party that started almost a week ago when the Denver Post reported on Vail’s crackdown on “coaches” and “guides” who were accepting pay in return for something that looked like instruction.

But not only did Vail get involved, issuing a lifetime ban to the violators, the Forest Service jumped into the mix as well, smoking out the fake instructors in a wild west sting operation. Really. Whether they rounded up the offenders and dumped them at the feet of the local sheriff, I’m not sure, but what’s certain is that the whole affair has much of the ski-news reading public up in arms about something or other. Probably this quote from Forest Service range Don Dressler:

Our big message that we try to get across is that this is for public safety. We permit people who are licensed and insured and properly trained. I can understand the economics of the situation, and we sympathize, but we need to protect the public.

No one believes that. Protect the public from what? These “coaches” aren’t out wearing orange or blue jackets purporting to be fully-certified instructors, and I doubt that anyone purchases their services with that misconception. Clients see an alternative to the $575 they might otherwise pay for a private lesson, and while they may not realize that certified instructors come with the insurance backing of Vail, the very fact that Vail is now taking on these coaches and guides indicates that enough customers have seen them as a more attractive option.

In any event, licensing (as in “fully-certified and licensed”) seems more a barrier to entry than a true protection for the public. Instruction is instruction, valued on its quality, not the process that produced it. Slapping on certifications and saying they’re about public safety glosses over the anti-competitiveness of the system.

On the other hand, Vail’s swift response makes sense. The company alone holds the permit to operate (and to make money) on on those 5000+ acres of national forest, and in debates online, the freeriding instructors have variously been likened to solicitors in Wal-Mart and rogue hot-dog salesmen in a ballpark. In both cases, the impostor attempts to sell his merchandise on someone else’s property. But this is Vail’s house. It is the Vail name that lends their efforts credence, the Vail mountain operations that move skiers around the resort, and it is precisely Vail’s enormous draw that offers this black market for instruction the chance to exist. Try imagining a similar problem at any ski bump in the Midwest.

And as for the Forest Service’s involvement… well, yes, it was necessary. The government owns the land after all, and any monetary gain made off it, as poor Ranger Dressler pointed out, must occur with a permit from the Forest Service. Vail’s own agreement with the government relays a non-trivial percentage of its income over to Uncle Sam, and operating outside those agreements stiffs a notoriously stingy government.

So while it’s tempting to point the finger at Vail for cracking down on folks just out there to make a buck… erm, actually, I’d guess that adequately describes the situation. But the larger issues at stake: rule of law, protection of property rights, and the integrity of licensure (fwiw), don’t hold to the corporate-titan-vs-everyman narrative either. In the end, I suppose it’s just not as comforting to know that when The Man got his way, he could at least make a pretty good argument for it as well.


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