Resort Report: Alta demos, Crystal gondola, urban Maine & more

SNEWS investigates how one Alta retailer's demo program is still turning high-end ski demos into sales--with a sliding pay scale. + Crystal's new tram, Vermont's new snow and a terrain park in downtown Portland, Maine.

While the growing trend of ‘rent forever’ is replacing the old demo norm of ‘try before you buy,’ the Alta Ski Shop is doing it the old fashioned way -- with an unusual twist.

Launched a half-dozen years ago by industry veteran Tim Kohl as a way to stand out in a competitive market, the Alta operation doesn’t even offer traditional retail sales--but it is designed to sell every model in its demo fleet as quickly as possible. As an official resort rental provider at Alta, the shop begins the season with an inventory of 400 pairs of skis--including high-end Atomic, Fischer, Dynastar, Volkl and Blizzard models--that demo for about $37 a day. Employees actively work with customers to make a sale on every pair that is rented while keeping computer records of each ski’s usage, and then discounting, or depreciating, the sale price based on actual days skied.

The shop, for example, takes 25 percent off the retail price (generally hinged to MAP) after the demos have been out 10 days, with the sliding scale rising to a 50 percent reduction after 20 days. “We try to never go past 20 days,” Kohl said. The fact that the skis are mounted with demo bindings isn’t a hurdle, Kohl said, though he adds that the shop offers the customer the option of buying up to retail bindings.

The shop reorders and refills all the sold pairs to maintain its inventory, and by January and February, when the next season’s models are becoming available, it restocks with the latest and greatest. If those models don’t sell before the lifts close, they can carry over to the next season’s demo inventory.

Venerable Alta enjoys a unique, committed clientele with a relatively high disposable income. But Kohl believes the critical ingredient for the shop’s success is staff. “Having employees who can handle it [is the key]. I’ve got people who have been there six, seven, eight years. They are focused on selling from day one.” The shop will bring in 600-800 pairs of skis annually while operating in a 600-square-foot space, Kohl said.

“The Alta model would work almost anywhere, but you need the right people in place,” Kohl said, adding that in general he sees the trend toward more renting and less buying continuing to grow with the hassles of airline baggage fees and the variety of models available for different snow conditions.

SIA’s 2010 Rental Equipment Survey showed that about one-third of all skiers and riders on the mountain are on rental equipment, that 39 percent of rental operators see the high-end rental trend increasing, and that 37 percent plan to buy more high-end rentals.

Mt. Rainier Gondola just about ready to roll at Crystal Mountain

After breaking ground eight months ago, the Mt. Rainier Gondola is tentatively scheduled to open Dec. 22, 2010.

A gondola cabin made its first trip Monday, traveling 2500 ft from Crystal Mountain’s base area to the 6,856’ summit. The haul rope and cable were strung and spliced last week and the top and bottom terminals are near completion. 

All of the cabins will be attached within the next several days and crews will be fine tuning the gondola in preparation for the load test and final inspection on December 20, 2010. Buckets full of concrete, simulating the weight of people, will be carried in the cabins during the load test.

Vermont ski areas get blasted with a snowstorm of their own

It’s not just the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest getting all of the good early snowfall. Vermont also got blasted with its first major snowstorm of the season, with upwards of two feet in the Green Mountains and more snowfall continuing throughout the weekend of Dec. 11-12, 2010.

"This surprise snowstorm has really jump-started our trail counts and resort bookings for weekend trips and holidays," said Ski Vermont President Parker Riehle. "And, with more snow in the forecast and ideal winter conditions for snowmaking and grooming, we'll see more and more of Vermont's ski trails in top form for pre-holiday skiing." 

Urban terrain action hits downtown Portland’s Payson Park

Portland's Payson Park, a popular sliding hill in Maine, will see the addition of several new ski and snowboard "elements" that have been donated to Portland Recreation by Maine ski areas.

The new urban terrain park experience has been created in conjunction with the Ski Maine Association. And every Wednesday from 1:00 - 3:30 pm for seven weeks, Jan. 5 through Feb. 12, 2010, participating Maine ski areas will have skiers and riders at the park riding along with the kids. Local businesses are sponsoring snowmaking costs for the park this winter.

--Peter Kray

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the start of the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!