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My Scrap With Squaw

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BY ERIK HURST

In late January, I wrote a direct and incisive letter to Andy Wirth, describing my perceptions and convictions about his leadership skills, honesty, and comportment as CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. I had had an emotional reaction to news of an email he sent to a local business man and snowboarder, in which he insulted and threatened him (economically), while directing his compatriots to bring their grievances directly to him. I found this to be my last straw.

It was a letter of dissent — a well thought argument for my point of view — sent as an email on the Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows website, I felt compelled to share my opinion. Andy Wirth had issued a challenge, I chose to accept. After some consideration, I posted the letter to my personal Facebook page. This would be public, no hiding the truth of the altercation. This was on a Sunday night.

The letter began, “I have been a staunch adherent to my first impression of your ability to run this mountain from our primary encounter at the bottom of KT during your first year in charge. In the intervening years you have not managed to provide a single act to dissuade me from that impression.”

The answer came Wednesday morning as I was sliding up to Summit Chair; my pass had been hot-listed. Returning home, I found an email revoking my season pass privileges for the indefinite future. “We are sorry you feel that way. Your pass has been fully refunded,” it said.

“Moving forward you will not be allowed to purchase a season pass with Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows. Your email has also been removed from our mailing list and you can no longer email us and we will cease to communicate with you.”

On Thursday, Squaw posted an “open letter to our small corner of the internet …” — a Facebook post initiating a break-up policy. “When you choose to visit our home, you don’t have to agree with everything you see and you can choose how you interact with it, but if you rant, spew hatred or bully our family and friends in our home, we will break up with you. This behavior will no longer be tolerated,” the letter read.

Now scrubbed clean, liberated from trolls, bereft of haters, we give you the “stoke express.” Another public forum, for the dissemination of opinion, positive and negative, has been neutered.

I know we are never going to be able to choose our corporate overlords, but we can attempt to hold them accountable for their words and actions. This is my home. I have an opinion.

I am not a hater by nature, I am not a troll. I speak up when thresholds are crossed. I hope that what I’ve had to say strikes a cord for you as well. This is our home, our community our lives.

We need to regain control of the dialogue. Apathy can be contagious. Among a large group, many voices may overcome the one. We are the group, KSL the one.

Many thoughts and all my support to the daily operations crews at Squaw and Alpine, especially ski patrol. A tragedy was overshadowed by a public spat. I am truly at a loss for words.

Editors Note: See Hurst's original email to Squaw Valley below.

~ Erik Hurst has been a Tahoe City resident since 1990. He worked for Squaw 1990 to 1998 full
time then part time (holidays) sporadically until 2005/2006.

 


 
From: Erik Hurst
Sent: Sunday, January 22, 2017 9:47 PM
To: Squaw | Alpine General Guest Inquiry
Subject: The poorest excuse for everything

To whom ever screens these, Please forward this directly to Mr. Wirthless, sorry Wirth.

I have been a staunch adherent to my first impression of your ability to run this mountain from our primary encounter at the bottom of KT during your first year in charge. In the intervening years you have not managed to provide a single act to dissuade me from that impression. You lied to me with a smile on your face when I asked you two direct questions, to which I already knew the answers, and you showed no concern for the truth or who you might be talking to. It was a great first impression.

A year later you made the decision not to open Silverado in the middle of March as you felt it was unnecessary being so close to the end of the season. After a backlash of gargantuan proportion you relented and apologized for the oversight. You felt it was a great thing to be an Under cover boss as it would be a great advertisement for the Corp., though in reality it’s an ego trip filled with lies and bullshit that should not be part of any well run company.

You have pushed this new development at the base area as a wonderful, job creating, community benefitting, non-environmentally damaging, godsend, that is in fact fiscally and environmentally irresponsible. You can’t even fill the beds you now have available. You don’t have the demographics to fill new ones and yet you tout this as a can’t miss, and Must have. You have ingratiated yourself into the community in outreaches, supporting Organizations like the High Fives, in an effort to win approval for this non-sense. Your unstated goal, to increase the eventual sale value of the resort, not to become a part of this community for the long haul.

The on mountain experience, the "soul of skiing” as you’ve marketed it and paraded around is hypocrisy walking. You think that selling 70,000 season passes, then opening as little terrain as possible, is providing any soul at all? We’ve lived through budget closures long before you ran this mountain, and no amount of obfuscation will change the truths we find self evident. Now I find that you have a new committee for safety that makes the decisions on whether or not to run lifts, whether to cover an injured worker or release him/her form their position after an accident, and who knows what else.

You have shown such poor judgement, inflamed by a headstrong attitude of self inflated importance in so many of your interactions with both the public and with the employees, I am amazed that you have retained your position. Your diatribe to Ryland Bell being the latest and most egregious example of poor corporate leadership I have yet witnessed. We, as pass holders, have the right to hold you accountable for your decisions as they affect our enjoyment of the mountain we have payed to access. Your responsibility is provide that mountain in a way consistent with the conditions, safety and weather. Those considerations come form the front line people who actually have experience and knowledge of those, ski patrol, lift maintenance, the mountain manager, etc. not form a bean counting bunch of executives sitting the tram building offices, or wherever those offices are now.

I went skiing today in the afternoon, wind was calm, snow was falling. KT had not even been on the schedule as it was deemed a “hazard” to open by your committee, Red Dog was running at 60% speed in no wind, Far East at about 75%, I was afraid to even go down to Squaw Creek as the ride out would have caused my legs to die in the interminable time the chair ride would have taken.

I have been a Squaw employee, I am friends with many people still working there, though I fear for their longevity, I am and have been a pass holder for years, I have skied at ski areas all over the world. I have watched the disintegration of a once proud heritage, an Olympic host, fall so far from it’s auspices, I am saddened deeply by the loss. Change is supposed to be for the better, but you have wrought change only for the sake of Change. You have invested not in the enjoyment of the mountain experience, but in the depth of your pocketbook. It is truly a shame that so many people new to the experience of skiing will only know this farcical, wanna-be disney land you are trying to create, so soon to be sold to the highest bidder. I hope you sleep very well at night. For Karma when it comes is truly a bitch!

I would be interested to hear your rebuttal of these comments, in a rational exposition, not the rage filled rant you threw out at Ryland and Jeremy Jones. You want to be a “leader” of the largest employer in the area, lets hear something substantive and truthful. If not, I would suggest going back to golf course management and leave the ski business behind.

Sincerely, Erik Hurst

 
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Reader comments so far...

Bubbleossa | Tahoe City
At last someone has the cajones to say it like it is. Corporate ski areas, including Squaw, Alpine, Northstar and Heavenly are not about the skiing experience-they have all turned into giant real estate businesses with no consideration or involvement in the community where they "set up shop." Andy Wirth is just a puppet head to a much larger "business plan." Squaw Valley residents are only temporary fodder for him and his minions. If Squaw cared about the community, they wouldn't bring in J-1's every year to fill jobs much needed to sustain a healthy surrounding community. Recind someone's pass for open criticism. That seems to be the new "normal" for big shots........

Eastern Sierra Skier | Galena
Today on Squaws FB page they were asked about the pulling of people seasons passes. They denied it of course. I screen shoted it. The following is a copy and paste. Eric Messier I heard Squaw is pulling people's passes for talking down on the Squaw Facebook page. Is this true?? Like · Reply · 4 · 4 hrs Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows That's the craziest rumor we have heard yet! That's completely inaccurate. Like · Reply · 2 hrs I will gladly send the screen shot if needed. I expect Squaw to delete the post as it exposes their level of dishonesty. Not good busines to lie to your customers.

tom.brokaw | Manhattan, NY
While I agree that the response by Andy was both unnecessary and incredibly unprofessional (anyone working management at Squaw/Alpine the past couple years can attest that Wirth will occasionally send company-wide mailouts whenever he thinks he won some petty argument), I cannot consider any letter that is peppered throughout with ad hominems and expletives as "a well thought argument". The handful of good points that you make are overshadowed by the childish presentation. Were I in Andy's shoes, the letter would have promptly found its way into the nearest trash can.

Erik Hurst | Tahoe City
Tom, The point of the letter was the ad Hominems, But the expletives you mention are quite lost on me. There are none. It was intended as a scathing critique of his management of the ski area and his interactions within the community. The opening may not be the most Mature, but it is a direct response to an insult from Andy directed at we locals. If this is indeed the real you, we should talk privately some time, as you know my Brother-in-law from The Patagonia foundation. I think you would be interested to hear more in a non open setting, them decide what you think from there. With respect, Erik Hurst

Cherisugal | Tahoe City
Everyone is upset at Squaw, of course. Nothing is working between KSL and the community of people using the mountain.. But you start your letter calling Andy Wirth, Andy "Wirthless". What did you think would happen? You guys have all been acting like silverbacks puffing your chests in any way you can. The continued personal attacks against any employees of KSL need to end if the dialogue between Squaw and the community are going to improve. In it's place we need this community to come together with thoughtful solutions to the on going problems with Squaw.

EKIHD | Truckee
I appreciate your resolve and courage to approach Andy Wirth ceo of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. I too saw his personal rant at the professional snowboarder which was completely inappropriate and included incredible and vulgar language that in no way reflected the original critism from snowboarder. A person of his executive position in no way whatsoever should ever threaten or use foul language towards and customer such as he did. It should be nioted as well to Mr Wirth's higher ups at KSL equity partners that this person is not psycologically fit for the job. Anither example of Andy Wirth lack of integrity is the fact that he was caught having an affair on a so called business trip a couple of autmns ago while currently married. A person who behaves with such overriding ego and lack of concern for others not only shouldnt be in a position as him, but should also be held accountable for all his deception and on honest behaviir both professionally and on a personal level as the two are not seperate whatsoever. Thank you Erik for posting up. It is people like you and others who act with integrity that make this community what it is we all love.

Anomyous | Alamo
In defense of Squaw this years lift operations or lack there of are largely a result of the obvious prevailing weather. There seems to be exceptions however like not running Olympic Lady when KT East is all that the weather would allow Squaw to run and it was a busy weekend. However if the patrol says it i s not safe to let skiers on a run you better believe there is real and present danger; it is not a money hold. We pass-holders are quick to point out glaring deficiencies in how Squaw/Alpine is managed but in spite of the new and mostly informative "operation blogs" there are decisions that do not make since. However we are not privi to all the rational behind decisions. We look at the closure of Sibo when there seems to be little wind but truth be known it is wind from the Northeast which the lifts were not built to withstand rather a southwest storm wind... It does seem however that Andy seems to have an anger management problem spooned by a narcissistic personality (sound familiar?) and that does not serve him or us well. It is his ball and his whistle however.

Local Observer | Truckee
A well written argument doesn't start with insults. For good examples on how to write a well written argument listen to the supreme court justices write their approvals and dissents. This is just a letter from an arrogant local calling an arrogant business man names. That's hypocritical. This is not politics. You are writing a letter to a business. You can speak your dissatisfaction in an intelligent and appropriate manner. The insults come across as juvenile. I am the owner and CFO of a company and the owner and CEO of another I started. I too would ignore a letter like this after reading the intro. The best way to influence a company besides writing a thoughtful and mature letter, is to not spend money with them. There are 18 ski resorts around the lake and plenty of other options to spend your money. Private companies must produce a product in demand and do it well enough for enough people to make a profit. If there were enough people who felt like you and stopped buying passes they would have to change. That is how business works, this is not politics where you can just vote out a business leader you don't like, and name calling will get you nowhere. Target for example said anyone could use any restroom. Then customers stopped shopping and closed their credit accounts, and they changed their policy back. That is how you influence a business. Not publicly flogging. You may be upset because not enough people care to stop buying passes and to redirect the companies actions. There's really nothing you can do about that other than to speak to others about your thoughts. But people like me don't listen when you yourself come across as arrogant and childish. I agree with many of your points, but you turned me off the first sentence...

Erik Hurst | Tahoe City
A critic of this nature begs you to state your name. It is more childish than anything I wrote. I was not insulting, I was giving my honest and heartfelt opinion. The fact is, even with the intro, a rebuttal of an Insult Andy used toward local skiers and borders, he did't just ignore it and throw it in the trash, did he? I also did't write a letter to a business, I wrote a letter to a man, taking him to task for his actions and words, just as you have done with me. So please, if you want to preach from high on the pulpit, do so with the dignity to sign your name.

tahoeskier61 | Verdi, CA
I would like Mr. Hurst to know he's NOT alone! I received the same reaction (Season Pass cancelled and told not to return) when trying to vent my frustration and constructive criticism to Squaw -- here is the content of the emails I have sent and the reply from Squaw: >>>>>>> From: Sent: Saturday, January 07, 2017 10:05 AM To: Squaw | Alpine General Guest Inquiry Subject: Again - your operations leave a lot to be desired I’ve never written or contacted you before – even though I’ve been a season pass holder there for over a decade, and have skied there since the 70’s. I just have to say that my biggest frustration with the mountain is – and always has been, your inability to get the mountain open!!!! Wind Hold, Mechanical Hold, Patrol Holds galore – when all the Vail properties are 100% open!!! Just really frustrating! The mountain has all the snobbishness and arrogance of a true “apres ski” mountain (really sickening because the facilities suck and can’t hold a candle to real “snobbish” mountains like Vail, Beaver Creek, The Canyons, and Deer Valley), but fails to deliver to the true die hard loyal skiers who patronize the mountain for the terrain and the terrain only! Getting slammed with fresh snow – but keeping most of the mountain closed is just sickening. Look at Northstar or Sugar Bowl – they’re 100% open when you close 50% of our mountain! I could go on about the lack of snow making and such, but will stop here. I need to vent and am seriously considering taking my patronage elsewhere in the future – even though that would kill me because I truly love the MOUNTAIN !!! Tell Andy Wirth to get his out and try to remember what it was like to be a real skier!!! I don’t even want to talk about the future development plans which will obliterate an already terrible parking situation. Really – get a clue! Again- I understand safety as paramount – but really, can’t we get closer to how European mountains are opened and managed? I’ve skied the Alp’s (Zermatt and St. Moritz) in far worse conditions and with similar snowfall amounts and never experienced the consistent closures like Squaw has. It’s practically a bluebird day and the mountain is CLOSED? How is that possible? I admit I’ve only experienced mountains as the “end user” – so I would appreciate seeing and understanding operations from the other side. Thanks again – and apologies in advance. Signed, A really frustrated local loyal season pass holder, >>>>>>>>>> Mr. X, We are sorry you feel that way. We strive to open up as much of our mountain as we can safely and have the utmost respect for our mountain operations team. Vail and Beaver Creek and The Canyons do not get 139 mph winds like we have had today or 10’+' snowfalls either. Also note that we are unique in our location on the Sierra Crest. Please consider the comparison of weather data sierra/ rockies/ wasatch for wind and snowfall quantity. Noaa.gov /mountaintop weather is good real time. We would never even consider asking our patrol to board a lift when its blowing 140. Given your email I will move forward with refunding your season pass! Thank you~

EKIHD | Olympic Valley
Anyone in their right minds that thinks Wirth and others are delivering a good not even superior, product are fools. If Wirth thinks he is delivering a quality product and it is ok to lash out vehemently at others due to his own failings as an executive responsible for operating a ski area he is just proving to us all thatvhe is a total and complete clown, charlatan and failure. Compared to other ski areas in the nation, Squaw these days ranks worst amonh skiers for poor ops, excuses, excuses,excuses as evidenced in Wirth's recent email to passholders say they are trying, things could be improved, yet in the same diatribe claiming how they are doing a good job. Laughable where does reality begin for this clown. #andyworthisacompletejoke

Bendskier | Bend
We had the same situation here at mt bachelor. We had a bully of a mountain manager, and his employees below him just had to follow his unprofessional lead.But guess what? The corporation had to listen to the community, as they constantly complained. They let him go! Now the mountain has a better feel all the way around. Disrespecting locals over and over again, and they are not silent about it, eventually someone at the top starts to listen! Be patient, hopefully it will happen at your resort as well. Don't let them silence your dissatisfaction! Pulling season passes for stating a differing opinion should not be allowed!:/

garne2t | Bay Area
Normally I would agree with some of the others here that name calling is not a good way to get your point across. However, after exhausting other more civil attempts over the last 5+ years to improve the operation of the mountain we love, I completely understand it. I am also a longtime Squaw skier (over 35 years) and fully agree that mountain operations are absolutely horrible. I've heard many use the term Wirthless and have to admit I have used it many times myself--although I haven't been brave enough to use it to his face. Erik's anger is fully warranted and I hope it may have some positive effect. As for taking our business elsewhere, all expert skiers know that there is no mountain in Tahoe that comes close to the diversity of expert terrain that Squaw offers--when it is open. Unfortunately, they effectively have a monopoly on the only mountain in the area that experts love. If you are not an expert skier, I fully understand how you think the rest of us are whiners. Today, 2/22/17, intermediate terrain on the upper mountain is scheduled. None of the expert terrain is even scheduled for the upper mountain. Lift lines are massive! Olympic Lady is not running. Skies are sunny and I realize there was a 2' dump over the last 24 hours but in the past, much more terrain would be opening. So, the question remains, how can we get something to happen? It seems clear that repeated attempts to complain to Squaw and their management have had little, if any, effect. Is there someone at KSL we can write to that might be able to make an impact?
Anonymous Huckster's picture

Anonymous Huckster | Olympic Valley
Since the beginning, KSL has been a bad fit for Squaw. Whether in good faith or not, executives such as Andy Wirth and Chevis Hosea have frustrated and angered locals with their management of all aspects of the resort -- mountain operations, real estate development, the Squaw brand, etc. It's not easy running a top-tier mountain. You are at the mercy of weather, macroeconomics, local politics, the list goes on. But these challenges were handled by the Cushings (and many others around the world) with grace, while those at the top of KSL seem personally and professionally overwhelmed by the challenges. Over the past ten years there has been an exodus of Squaw's elite, both in terms of employees and riders, due in part to the drought and in part to the management. Now, with the return of epic conditions, those who remain don't seem capable of providing a world-class experience, primarily due to failures of mountain operations -- the resort's most important job. Over-sale of season passes have compounded their problems and caused tempers to flare. In what should be a season for the ages, full of stoke and positive buzz, they have seen their pass holder base become increasingly (and understandably) hostile. Life is long and resentments take a long time to heal. Rather than taking out their frustration on erstwhile customers like Erik, costing themselves revenue and further alienating locals, they should take criticism on the chin and work to improve their operation. As a skier community we need to hold them accountable, hope for management changeover, and oppose their agenda's potentially lasting damage to the environment in whatever ways we can. Sincerely, Anonymous Huckster stopKSL.com

Erik Hurst | Tahoe City
Hello All, After giving you some time to comment, I have taken the time to read and now rebut those that have taken me to task for some of my choices in what I wrote. The largest of your criticisms is my use of Wirthless as the introduction to my letter. This of course was not a minor thing, and in fact was a very well considered aspect of what I was attempting to do. In the offensive E-mail to Jeremy Jones that set me on this path, Andy stated that "if any of your douchebag friends have a issue, they should bring it directly to me." This was related to me, I did not actaully see it myself as Jeremy and I are not actually "friends", but we do have some in common. I felt that this derisive comment directed at the general group of local skiers and borders need a sharp opening response. You can say I was childish, angry, infantile, whatever, but calling someone by what would otherwise be a nickname among friends, doesn't seem too far beyond the pale for me. I have been called so many names, by so many people in my life, both from friends and enemies, that Wirthless, to me is a toss in the bucket. It did get his attention though, don't you think? Am I angry? Yes I am, but more so tired and frustrated. This frustration with Andy's management of the mountain had come to eclipse my enjoyment. His continued disdain for the community and our concerns over the new development, the gloating over "victories in the Incorporation and Supervisors votes, and finally the expletive laden rants and threats to Ryland Bell and Jeremy Jones became more than I was willing to bear. I chose to act. I wrote what I feel and believe, and I signed my name to it, made it public, and now bear the fruits of that decision. I am as resolute now, as I was then, if not more so, that this was a path I needed to walk. Those of you who have found fault with me, my actions, or words, are certainly entitled to your opinion, but if you must criticize me, I challenge you to do it with your name attached, and not hiding behind a nom de plum.

Erik Hurst | Tahoe City
Now to the Positive! A deep and heartfelt THANKYOU! to all who have come to me with support, thanks and joy that someone finally said things that we as a community have been feeling for some time. It has reinforced my belief that this was something that needed to be said and done. I can not thank you enough. I am considering many options moving forward in this, and I will keep you up to date with what I am doing when I am able. CHEERS to all of you, We are Squaw, We are Alpine, We are North Lake Tahoe / Truckee. Not to forget those of you from out of the area, thanks to you as well for your support. I have gotten cheers from people from all over the skiing world as well. This type of corporate malevolence is felt by many, and we all share in the anguish it brings, in what ever form, wherever it occurs.

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The Opinion Page is your place to spout off. This section contains letters to the editor and longer My Shot pieces. Also, the Spout features two bimonthly perspectives — In the Past, delving into Tahoe Truckee history, and In the Moment, an artistic musing of a moment today.

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May 12, 2017