Saturday May 11, 2013

When we learned management at Mount Snow threatened its employees and volunteers with termination if they also had jobs at nearby Haystack, many in the Deerfield Valley concluded it was a petty action.

These are people who barely make more than minimum wage and often need two jobs to make ends meet. At the same time, they are often the employees that the customers at Mount Snow encounter on a regular basis, whether they work on the mountain, in the cafeteria or in hospitality services. They are the faces of Mount Snow.

Many of them are part-timers, but when you combine the hours they work at other jobs, they often work 50, 60 or more hours a week.

When the letter went out threatening those employees and volunteers we were astounded that a Midwest home-grown company such as Peak Resorts could make such a public relations misstep and that it didn’t occur to Mount Snow management that the letter would make its way to the Reformer and the Deerfield Valley News.

When asked to justify the rationale behind the letter, media reps from both Mount Snow and Peak Resorts had little or no comment, as if they themselves were embarrassed by the letter, merely stating it was a "business decision."

According to the Deerfield Valley News, the letter was prompted by allegations that some Mount Snow employees were encouraging customers to visit the Hermitage Club. We can’t verify that allegation because Mount Snow’s media relations department has been ordered to not comment about the reasons behind the letter.

The Reformer realizes there are two sides to any story, and the truth is often found in the middle somewhere, but when only one side is telling its version of events, it doesn’t leave us much room to show sympathy for the other side.

It would appear there is some sort of disagreement between Peak Resorts and the owner of Haystack, Jim Barnes, because Mount Snow’s employees are not restricted from working at other resorts in the region, including Stratton and Bromley.

Barnes had little to say but told the Reformer he didn’t know why Mount Snow "would create a policy that affects the livelihood of people in the Deerfield Valley."

As Craig Altschul writing for snowcountry.com noted, "Taking the higher road of simply calling it a ‘business decision’ lets Mount Snow officials stay out of the weeds and avoid getting into an even more public media battle with its competitor a snowball’s throw down the road. The downside is it makes the story appear one-sided with Mount Snow seemingly wearing the black hat in this small Green Mountains community and having to take its so-called lumps."

While Peak Resorts might be entirely justified in issuing the letter, the truth is the policy hurts most the people who work the hardest for very little, if any, pay. It also tarnishes the image of the valley and negatively affects the small business owners who are dependent on ski season for their very survival.

But if we thought we couldn’t have been more disappointed by Peak Resort’s letter to its employees, we were wrong.

Following the distribution of the letter to Mount Snow’s employees, a local musician, Colby Dix, wrote a Facebook post haranguing management for its ultimatum.

Dix, a former Dover Selectboard member and current board member of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, wrote the best way Mount Snow could keep people from working at Haystack was not by using the threat of termination, but instead by offering them "year-round employment at a livable wage."

"I have a deep respect for so many of the employees of Mount Snow and Peak Resorts that it pains me to write any words of criticism, but I do hope that the management can clarify this position and gracefully retract the policy, letting the great people of our area get back to work without animosity."

At the end of his post, Dix stated he hoped his written opinion wouldn’t jeopardize his ongoing gigs at six of Mount Snow’s venues.

No such luck.

Dix told the Deerfield Valley News last week that when he called Mount Snow Management to schedule upcoming performances, he was told his services were no longer welcome at the mountain.

"I consider it a petty response on the part of Peak Resorts ownership," he told the Deerfield Valley News. "It’s surprising because I really feel like I shared a balanced and fair perspective from an economic development standpoint, and as a member of the community. This shows an absolute lack of respect to the interests and opinions of the people of the area, period. It essentially makes a point from a business standpoint that zero criticism will be tolerated."

Dix told the Valley News he felt he has been blacklisted by Mount Snow for his remarks.

"I always had a great relationship with them for many years and that’s why this hurt a lot," he said.

We would urge Peak Resorts to reassess its decision to prohibit its employees and volunteers from working at Haystack, and also consider how its decision to keep Dix from playing at its venues is making its black eye even blacker.

If Peak Resorts is not willing to do so, perhaps it should get out in front of the issue and explain exactly why there may be bad blood between it and Barnes and what it plans to do to rectify the situation.

At this point, Peak Resorts looks like the big bad bully on the block picking on the upstart Haystack. Perhaps there is very little truth to that image, but while Mount Snow is forbidden from discussing the reasons behind the letter, the image will persist.

And that not only does damage to the reputation of one of the finest ski mountains in the country, it also harms a community that is still struggling to recover from the national recession and the flood waters of Tropical Storm Irene.

The Reformer hopes Mount Snow and Haystack can find a way to resolve this dispute, but while it’s allowed to fester, it can only get worse.

It’s time to lance that boil.