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Is Pole-Stealing Justified?

A starving writer and a small-town resort battle over ski-pole amnesty.
posted: 02/17/2009

POINT: Pole Me

by Doug Schnitzspahn

Sure, I stole poles from my local ski hill. Technically. But I would like to think of my long-term borrowing of a cheap pair of Leki rentals—that would have a tough time fetching $5 at a garage sale—as an act of reciprocity rather than evil.

Here’s the story. I broke my poles. I always break my poles. It doesn’t matter if they’re made of high-end carbon fiber and were used on an expedition down Everest’s Hornbein Couloir. I will snap, bend, or shatter them by season’s end. And the more I pay for poles, the quicker they break.

So, I was skiing at my local hill with my poles, an expensive set of adjustable carbon-fiber beauties, when I snapped one in the trees. Day of skiing over? Nah. Right there at the lodge was a massive rack stocked with rows of poles. They were placed in a prominent, easy-to-grab spot for dedicated season-pass holders like me who find themselves in need. Or at least that’s what I told myself. So I grabbed a pair with bright orange handles and immediately got back to the woods.

I know I should have gone into the rental shop and paid $5 for the privilege of using those mass-produced sticks for the final hour the lifts were open—but come on. I already shell out huge money for my pass not to mention gear or the $10 grilled cheese sandwiches in the cafeteria.

Skiing is stupidly expensive, especially for the people who keep the sport alive—ski bums, working families, office slugs dreaming of powder. If local ski hills really want to survive, they need to start catering to the needs of their core clientele, including providing free loaner poles for skiers who need them. It would build loyalty and create a whole aura of good feeling. Loaner poles: Think about it, ski resorts.

My final confession: I’m never giving these poles back. They simply won’t break. I’ve taken them to three states, two countries, and far into the backcountry. They’re the best poles I have ever, um, borrowed. And to pay back my local resort, I’m giving a case of PBR to the underpaid folks who tune skis in the rental shop. You know, the same ones who never said a word when I walked off with their poles.

Doug Schnitzspahn, a Boulder, Colorado–based writer, wants to know if this story earns him a free season pass from the marketing department at his local hill, Eldora.

COUNTERPOINT: Let My Ski Poles Go

by Rob Linde

Hate to tell you this, Doug, but you’re now officially that guy. That guy who takes the last slice of pizza. That guy who always gets rides from his buddies and then won’t pony up for gas money. And that guy who steals ski poles.

I understand the “poles for every man, woman, and child” concept. But honestly, that’s not something that small hills like the one I work for (and you stole from) can afford. As much as you think local ski areas are rolling in cash and ski poles, we’re not. It’s a huge financial struggle to operate a resort. We work to keep the bullwheels turning amid ever-rising costs. Our profit margin is thinner than snow in July and every pole that goes missing is one we have to replace. Which means we have to charge more for season passes, lift tickets, and, yes, grilled cheese sandwiches.

We lose a lot of ski poles every year to “borrowing.” On a couple busy days last year, we ran out of poles and were unable to outfit paying rental customers. So you got your turns while someone else, unfortunately, did not.

For the avid skier, there are plenty of affordable lift-ticket offers out there. The amount you pay for a season pass at many ski areas is less than it was 10 years ago. And now you want ski-area operators to throw in a free pair of loaner poles? The word “entitlement” comes to my mind. And, possibly, “craziness.”

Skiing at local mountains remains a great value. Think about what you get for your dollar at a neighborhood hill: finding that perfect line through the trees, getting those face shots of fresh powder, and having a beer with your friends in an old-style base lodge at the end of the day. It’s a sensation you’ll never forget. Loaner poles or not, in the end, the skiing is always worth the price.

But we’re glad you like our poles. We do too. Let’s call a truce and we’ll give you ski-pole amnesty. Bring the long, pointy hostages back to us and we’ll call it even. Then others can use the poles you hold in such high regard. Oh, and you can also bring that case of PBR if you feel so inclined.

Rob Linde is the director of marketing at Eldora Mountain Resort, just west of Boulder. He’s choosing to ignore Doug’s request for a free pass.

- SKIING MAGAZINE, OCTOBER 2008

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