Brower: Why avalanches are good for our economy
March 12, 2019
It may at first seem counter-intuitive, but avalanches are good for our economy here in Grand County.
For starters, avalanches help convey the message to the world that we have snow, and lots of it. So much, in fact, that it slides and is dangerous.
Think about it. We could get a foot of snow up here in the high country and it would barely get a mention in regional and national media except for a hum-drum mention on the weather page.
But combine that snowfall with a few avalanches — maybe even avalanches that close a few roads or major highways — and the news about that abundant snowfall suddenly gets splashed all over front pages, social media posts, blogs and TV and radio shows. The subliminal message behind these near-breathless accounts of avalanches can be summed up in a simple phrase: There's lots of snow in the mountains! So much so that they are getting overwhelmed by it!
Usually, ski resorts and snowmobile destination towns and winter vacation meccas have to pay pretty good money to get that key message about abundant snowfall out there. They pay "social influencers," they pay TV stations and web pages, they boost their search engine metrics to say Snow! Snow! Snow!
But give us a few avalanches and that key message gets screamed all across the world for free.
Wise and cautious readers are probably now thinking that, in fact, avalanches are dangerous. People can get killed, which is of course true. But for the average skier, boarder or 'biler, the chances of actually getting caught in an avalanche are quite slim.
Besides which the hidden fear factor of braving the wild to ride or ski in spite of the avalanches — even if the skiing is on a bunny slope and the riding next to a county road — adds the imaginative edge that the activity is "exciting" in that it stares death in the face and tempts fate and the skier makes it all the way down Cranmer without getting buried in an avalanche! Thrilling.
I'll never forget the time an unsuspecting motorist from Boulder was driving in his little Subaru up Berthoud Pass on his way to the Winter Park Ski Area (That's what they called it then – a ski area .) Right when he got to that part on the pass that's in the slide path of the Stanley Slide, he became engulfed in a massive avalanche that pushed him inside his Subaru over the edge of the highway in a vortex of tumbling white stuff.
Miraculously his car ended up near the top of the slide debris and as responders and others started looking for him and other survivors he popped out of the snow, in good health and good spirits. In celebration of his survival, the Winter Park Ski Area bought the skier a season pass, a hotel room and more, all which was acclaimed in media across the country. He may have even gotten a new Subaru. The survivor was a hero, all in part for helping get the word out: Winter Park has snow. And in this case, a kind of benign snow. It was all good fun for good business.
And of course there's the other deep, dark secret that restaurateurs, lodge owners and vendors mutter about under their collective breaths when it comes to avalanches. I won't divulge the identities of the people who have said this to me for fear that their reputations might be sullied, but I've certainly heard gleeful comments when snowslides on a Sunday night on Berthoud Pass forced many of the Denver hordes usually heading home after skiing to spend the night in the Valley while also splurging on a meal or two and renting skis for an extra day. This is plus business, thanks to the avalanche!
That's a case of the good an avalanche can do when it keeps people in the county. But there's the reverse; that rare case when an avalanche strikes on the night before a true powder day and it keeps people out, leaving the slopes untrammeled and pristine for the powder hounds who happen to live here, even if they sleep in until 10 or 11 a.m.!
So it's possible to see that avalanches are good for us here in the high country.
Just don't get caught in one.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.