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Worldwide Ace » An Open Letter to Bill Killebrew and Eldora

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An Open Letter to Bill Killebrew and Eldora

13 April, 2014 (08:58) | Work

Mr. Killebrew, sir:

Today marks the last day of skiing at Eldora Mountain Resort. It also marks the end of my fifth Winter as a ski instructor here. While it somewhat pains me to send this, I feel the need to document how I’m feeling at this point and attempt to offer advice from the rank and file of Eldora.

Firstly, I’d like to thank you and all our management over the years for working so hard to create a wonderful, professional environment for us. I’ve been able to grow as a man and as an educator working here. Bettering myself through PSIA and AASI as well as our internal clinics has been encouraged and supported both emotionally and financially. I’ve had the opportunity to help multiple departments, assisting Brian and then Ellie in rentals, working closely with Lee and Chris and our dedicated Food & Bev staff, helping the lifties under JT, Hayden, Jacob, Steph, Russ, and all the other leads, and getting to know most of the cashiers and retail staff on and off the mountain. I’ve learned more about the ski industry in my travels thanks to real deals and our recent exchange with Vail Resorts and the Epic Pass, and I’ve been welcomed in more places than I could’ve hoped. This is all thanks to the opportunity I was given at Eldora.

Snowsports, my prime department, has become a family to me. Alicia interviewed me when I first applied, Kate Rau, Captain Ron, Lynne Bulig, Ken Ray and Tony Baloney helped mentor me as I got my footing. I was in an excellent new hire class that created a team with Kevin Hueth, Pam Hill, Katie B., Matt Celesta, Steph Walton, the late Rob Tacchino, a fantastic crew with whom I couldn’t be happier. Jono, Timo, Molly, and many of our clinicians helped hone my teaching and skiing. Matt Chester, Jay Kaminsky, Kurt Baker, Greg Tinkley, Jess Newman, Ric Widenor, Nate Emerson, Ethan Houle, Clay Bedell, Chris Pappas, Marc Latolais, Doc, and Aaron Sanford, and so many others helped show me how to be supportive of my fellow instructors and create a true sense of camaraderie and mutual personal growth. And over the years, as I tried to instill the same sense of trust and familiarity in the new hires, I grew to know and love Molly Holmes, Tyson White, Brian Murray, George Mattison, Jenny Leksander, Scott Battat, Rumen, Ryan DeCesseri, Adwoa, Lauren Bond, Rachel Metz, Marilee Ives, Angie Zimmerer, and all the others who exhibited the same passion and dedication to the job. These are the people on whom I came to depend, with whom I skied and spent time outside of work, and through whom I saw all the joys of skiing come alive. I’ve already spent too long naming only a small portion of the people for whom I’m so appreciative of, and whom I never would’ve known with working at Eldora, and the list could go on.

I’ve always referred to Eldora as the Little Mountain that Could. But that’s a misnomer.  When I began working here, we sported nearly 300 instructors in Snowsports alone. That’s now dwindled to just over200. Wolf Creek has a mere 130. Powderhorn only 150. For a mountain of our size, it’s clear that teaching is our bread and butter. I was told throughout college that Eldora wasn’t worth the trip, that it was smaller and wimpier than the Summit resorts. In truth, we have more skiable acreage than A-Basin. We are steeper than Keystone and Breck. We have more vertical and more lifts than Monarch or Powderhorn. We have gnarlier, tougher, more challenging trees than anywhere I’ve been in Colorado (which is every resort save Ski Cooper, Sunlight, Ski Hesperus, and Chapman Hill). We may be the Little Mountain that Could, but Eldora is a hidden gem that benefits from proximity and a lack of crowds. And I am so thankful that I discovered what could be considered a local’s paradise.

We also enjoy some of the best local crowds in Colorado. Wolf Creek told me their locals programs had dwindled down to one day a week over the years. Telluride doesn’t even offer a regular local kids program. Vail’s obsession with Lindsey Vonn is as painfully annoying as it is inspirational. I love seeing the same kids come back again and again. This year, around Christmas a beaming family with four kids came waltzing into the children’s center, excited to be back. I didn’t even know that they had made the trip from San Diego. Their mother told me that it was my red lesson the previous year that caused them to come back, that they had been talking about it for weeks, and that our attitude and friendliness is the only reason they returned to Colorado instead of traveling to another new locale. I see the excitement and joy on the faces our returning patrons. We have dedicated Eldora folk all along the front range. No other mountain can say that anymore. No other mountain feels quite like a home. Our name may say Resort at the end, but I wouldn’t trade for the crowds of out-of-towners the other resorts boast. And those out-of-towners who do come back seem more engaged in Eldora as a community.

I understand that Eldora is a business and that many of the changes we saw happen over the last year had to do with that business, but Eldora is also a family, a community and a home, and I would hate to see it be any other way.

Some of the changes are purely cosmetic. The loss of our old locker room, disheveled as it was, wasn’t much of a loss. Our new locker room, once up and running, was still actually an improvement, though many instructors would argue otherwise. The lockers, when filled with skis and snowboards, could barely accommodate two instructors, unlike our old lockers. The lack of benches made busy mornings a pain. The promised boot-dryers never materialized, and the generators on several occasions ran out of fuel, leaving our gear frozen and cold. All these things we could deal with. Separating us into two separate trailers, while necessary due to our numbers, however, hurt our camaraderie. I pride myself in knowing every instructor on the mountain and learning the entirety of one other department each year. This year, there are still instructors to whom I’ve never spoken because they’re segregated into a separate building.

Other changes, while small, can make a world of difference not only for our sense of community, but for the mountain’s coffers. For my first three seasons, there was never a complaint when instructors headed to the bar after work for an adult beverage. We would break down lessons, ask advice, and build and grow in our personal time. And we would spend money at the bar, purchasing beer, supporting the other staff, and mingling with the other departments. This year, our pants, which do indeed say Eldora Mountain Resort Staff on the leg, became an issue. Our new lockers don’t provide enough space for spare pants; the glass doors on the locker room mean changing in view of the public; and the time and difficulty of changing our pants meant the bar was quickly abandoned. Very Nice Brewing kindly offered a two-for-one deal that made drinking there more affordable and comfortable as well. It’s never been our intention to drink to excess or cause issues, and I’ve not known of any Snowsports instructors causing problems at the bar, but the end result of this policy wasn’t simply a loss of business for the bar from employees; it was the loss of community. I can’t help but wonder how injurious the policy was to cross-department fraternization, to the tips and income of the bartenders and to the personal and professional growth of our department. I understand that drinking in our uniform is frowned upon and it’s an attempt to create professionalism, but we live at this mountain and the folk we teach know us whether or not we’re in uniform. Though it’s only a small policy, it too contributed to making Eldora a little more segregated and a little less familial.

Eldora has, for a long time, been somewhat of a cowboy mountain. We run a little looser than other mountains, a little more wild and fun. And yet our policies are more restrictive, and, when enforced this year, they surprised many who transferred from bigger, “more professional” mountains. Our grooming policy limiting dreadlocks, beards, tattoos and piercings is archaic and prevents many good people from working here. The nature of Nederland, Boulder, and our feeder towns and cities is one of liberal permissiveness and we should reflect that. I had a full beard from the time I graduated high school until the day I started working here. I didn’t complain, as many people do, simply happy for the opportunity, but many instructors I learned from growing up had beards and most other mountains don’t alienate so much of their prospective staff. I would much rather work with good people than prim and proper looking people. And while I appreciate that the rules and regulations are an attempt at reining in our cowboy reputation and purporting ourselves in a more professional manner, perhaps it’s to our detriment and not our benefit to shirk what makes this part of Colorado unique and wonderful. It costs us excellent staff, and this, in turn, costs us returning lessons when we hire someone who looks the right part but can’t perform the job well.

A few of this year’s changes I mourn. For instance, we throw away our unsold food at the end of the day instead of handing it out to hungry and poor employees or donating it to a shelter or those in need. I miss Little Hawk running on week days, the jump to EZ from Tenderfoot often too large mentally for our students to handle. I am disappointed that we did not have a little terrain park this year, and that we are still denied the ability to take our classes where they so often want to go even when we’re certified for the terrain park; every season, we’re turning way money by not offering park lessons or building a terrain park early enough or with progressive difficulty built in. I envy the napkins at the Vail resorts which list the skier’s code of responsibility, and I wish we had access to the race course for lessons, to more equipment to make better changes to our own gear. All season long, the fencing for Sunkid was falling apart, but we were never given the tools or resources to repair it because we are simply instructors. When I did make repairs, I had to bring tools from home, a running theme for many of the improvements and changes we needed. In previous years, the deteriorating ski racks in the Snowsports locker room were a safety hazard that could’ve been easily remedied with some wood, a few tools and some time, but permission was never granted. It’s now moot in our new locker rooms as we don’t have ski racks at all, skis and boards left out falling constantly and continuously on our staff as we move about.

There have been many changes that were beneficial this year as well, such as the excellent work in glading Jolly Jug Glades, the hard work at improving our snowmaking, and excellent effort put in by Hayden, Doc and all of base ops making the changes that needed to happen. The Igloo seems to improve every year. We now have more hooks for instructor jackets and helmets in the children’s center, and Ryne, Emily, Steph and Coquette helped the programs run as smoothly as they could given the strange turnover in the snowsports staff. The women’s program, though smaller, thrived, and our rental department, though stretched thin, seemed to work even harder and perform more than adequately when fully staffed.

Snowsports in specific had an incredible group of rookies join our ranks this year, many of whom rose to the occasion and proved themselves to be great employees and instructors. It was a pleasure watching instructors like Will Ford, Addison, Mary Catherine, David Dunlap, Amy Barfield, Katherine Stuart, Whitney Quigley, and others grow and excel. It’s for them that I’m writing this. It’s for the people coming back next year who deserve the same home, the same sense of family that I’ve had, and who have earned the right to experience the Eldora I grew to love.

Some of the changes this year have baffled me. Our treatment of Ignite created terrible publicity and alienated many. The loss of the DoJo fostered ill-will with some of our most loyal patrons. We were terrible about promoting Retro Day, sorely missed the CU Race Team, and we seemed to have fewer bands, events, and opportunities to truly enjoy ourselves outside the norm than ever before. Choices with regards to employee parking were at times understandable, and at times damningly bothersome. Our staff in general has seemed unhappy, and that has translated to less excitement, sales, and happiness on the mountain for everyone. The lack of new demo skis and boards, and the restrictive policies with regards to renting them to staff in need of new equipment, has made our lives a little less exciting and cost Eldora sales. I understand that many of these things don’t seem to pay off on our bottom line, but as an experienced businessman you know that taking a loss in one area can actually increase our profit in several others.

We introduced 4-6 Snowboarding officially this year, and we charge the same as we do for ski. We should charge more per kid, have a better ratio of instructors to kids (2-3 max class size), and offer appropriate terrain-based teaching. The Yard this year was set up fine for skiers, but the berm didn’t have the slope needed for snowboarders to learn on, making our job more difficult. Other mountains charge more for their products, many don’t even offer 1-hr privates anymore. They offer bonuses to instructors based on class size, returning patrons, and hours worked. We start our staff reasonably, but we see none of these things. Our raises based on certification and experience are reasonable, but the only way we can see a pay increase is to invest money and time. We are told that our pay scale reflects that we receive tips, yet Eldora sees some of the fewest and paltriest tips in all of the industry. This makes it a severe logical disconnect between expectation and reality.

Over the course of this year, I watched many of my friends and colleagues leave. Some under strange or unfortunate circumstances, some because it was the right time to go. Today, those people are off at other mountains, doing other jobs, and preparing for summer. Eldora has provided me a network of friends and colleagues across the Rockies and beyond. But I keep asking myself why these people are so gung ho to leave, especially when Boulder is so near and Eldora can be so wonderful. Ultimately, all I can think of is that we aren’t being treated well enough.

There will be more changes, of course, some for the better, some not. Our expansion plans have been rumored for years, and with our constantly failing lifts, it would seem that should be our priority, regardless of cost. Rumors of the destruction of Jug Glades, the best teaching trees on the mountain, worries me. Rumors that Nordic won’t even exist next year is scaring staff. Rumors that we’ll continue to curtail passes for grad students, seniors, and many of our long-time loyal patrons mean I’m constantly bombarded with questions I can’t answer. Rumors that we’ll be announcing a sale tomorrow to a non-Vail resort is exciting. And talk that we’ll hire even fewer new staff next year, continuing to shrink our staff despite being short-staffed most of this year, is a terrible thought.

Still, I’m hopeful for the future, hopeful for what might be in years to come. Tomorrow, I’ll be unemployed once more, trying to figure out how waste another summer until next ski season. I hope I have the opportunity to return to Eldora and that we will fix many of the problems of this year.

If you’re still the owner and/or General Manager of Eldora next season, Mr. Killebrew, you have an opportunity to turn the changes of this year around. You have a chance to make Eldora not only more profitable, but better for all of us. All I ask is that you consider the concerns of the staff, think about how the little things can really make a difference, and remember that we are not cogs in a machine but a family that loves this mountain. If you can do all that, I know we’ll have more returning staff, more returning patrons, and a better reputation among the mountains.

Thank you for your time, the mountain, and your effort moving forward.

Sincerely,

Ben Roberts

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  • Jess Newman

    Ain’t no Jess Newmans in your list.
    Understandable, I guess, knowing what a liability those guys can be.

  • Ben

    Clearly, whoever wrote this wasn’t thinking, the jerk. I’ll let him know that Jess Newman demands, nay DESERVES, to be added to the list.

  • Jess Newman

    I was confused, but thought that, since this was such a rational and diplomatic letter, that referencing a militant hater of much of Eldora’s bullshit would have been a bad idea.
    I like the letter. I think it strikes an excellent balance between calling the resort out and illustrating understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. I think if anything is likely to catch someone’s ear, it’s something like this.

  • John Doe

    Ben-
    You were a lot gentler than I would have been. I can’t be very forthcoming about my position at Eldora, since at this time I still have not found a better job, but suffice to say I get to see the ins and outs pretty well. It has been astonishing to see the changes that have happened at the resort in the last year, all because of the sociopathic WDK.

    When he announced to us last April that Jim was resigning/retiring and he would step in as permanent GM, obviously we met that with quite a bit of skepticism. None of us were prepared for the shit show that ensued.

    It is one thing for a new GM to implement changes to policy in an effort to try to make things run better, increase profit, etc. It is a completely different thing for him to go out of his way to let his employees know that he absolutely doesn’t give 2 shits about a single one of them. It is beyond me how the majority owner of the business can treat every last employee like complete garbage — without even trying to hide it or sugar coat it…. and expect ANYTHING other than a resort full of employees who hate their job, have no pride in it, and as a result zero regard for the resort’s success. It’s amazing to me that in spite of how he blatantly hates his employees and in many instances goes out of his way to screw them over, he somehow expects all of us to go above and beyond.

    When I started at Eldora some time ago, it was an AWESOME place to work. Why? My coworkers. I know you know exactly what I’m talking about because you touched on it in your letter above. The group of men and women who work at Eldora are some of the greatest people you’ll ever meet. I used to wake up every single day and be genuinely excited to go to work. Everybody got along, departments worked hand in hand with no problems, and everyone DID have a genuine interest in the resort’s success. As with any job, there were office politics, obnoxious micromanagers, and the occasional jerk. But the job was fun! It was a great place to work!

    Enter Bill Killebrew as GM. or BuzzKillebrew as we like to call him. Literally a buzzkill. Now I understand wanting to come in and tighten the ship. This is his baby afterall, and it’s in his best interest to make things run as efficiently as possible so that he maximizes his and the other owners’ profits. But he has successfully come in and accomplished the COMPLETE opposite. He has sucked every ounce of morale from every employee, and in the process made us into robots who are only there because we need a job. To say the least, it has become a hostile work environment. That’s sad. I have on at least 2 occasions witnessed him shamelessly degrade, belittle, and humiliate an employee to the point of almost being in tears. One of the times his son was present, and you could see the shame in his eyes as this went on. What kind of a human being would do this, let alone the “GM” of a successful resort? It is clear that he is a sociopathic egomaniac in the truest form, he hates his life and takes it out on everyone around him.

    Sadly, Eldora is circling the drain as a result of this man, and his ego is too big to allow him to see it. As me typing this, Eldo has had the following management quit, and still left unfilled (in order of senority)

    Director of Operations
    Director of Marketing and Sales
    Director of Human Resources
    Snowmaking Manager
    Vehicle Maintenance Manager
    Food and Beverage Manager
    Marketing Manager
    All but one of these quit as a direct result of how lousy the working environment has become due to Bill. I know of at least 3 other managers and supervisors who have shared their desire to leave.
    I just hope he opens his eyes this summer and realizes that he, and he alone is killing this resort. Before it’s too late.

  • Ben

    I appreciate you speaking up.

    I’ve gotten the same criticism from several of my coworkers that my words were too kind, too understated, and too nice. That may well be true.

    At the same time, there’s only so much I can do, whether that’s as an employee or as a writer. I chose my words carefully in the hopes that they would exact a difference and open the lines of communication rather than insult our owner and close them. I’m sure several of the things I said he’s been aware of already, and I’m sure that taking a more forceful or angry tact would only be met with a negative response.

    Hopefully, I won’t be the only employee to speak up. Hopefully, others will do so with tact and grace. And hopefully, the necessary changes to right our ship will come.

  • Wallace C Westfeldt

    This is an extremely diplomatic letter sent to an extremely un-diplomatc soul. As long as Wild Bill is at the resort … I’m not going. He is a well known and unforgivable jerk. Best of luck tilting this windmill Ben. Very mature … but I like John Doe’s response better.

  • Ben

    It’s understandable that you feel that way, and it makes me sad that you and others are choosing not to come because of some of the things happening. One of my biggest regrets of college was not riding at Eldora despite the proximity to Boulder. Everyone I knew said it was small and not worth it, that the snow sucked and there was no reason to ski there when Summit was so close. Those people were sorely mistaken and my choice to listen and believe them cost me several years of great, close skiing. I hate to think that people will miss out on what a wonderful place Eldora can be, and I hope we can make things so there are no impediments to your finding pleasure on the slopes here.

  • Mrs. Rippin’est

    Amen brother!!!!!

  • Wallace C Westfeldt

    I know Eldora, my family knows Eldora, and we know most of the people who have left and know many of the people who are still there. We don’t have any problems with the skiing. While your approach to the Kilibrew problem is admirable, it’s futile. At this point, the only solution I can see is his departure as GM first and owner second. This is not going to happen without some incentive to get him out of there. I don’t even know what that is. But it’s time the “public” became aware that there he is a very bad man. I wish he wasn’t in our state.

  • ixf729

    Really well written Ben. It would be so tempting to insult but I do like the tone you wrote this with. I feel you hit the nail on the head with your comments about staff morale and loosing the feel of family. I worked for a different department and it seemed very clear in staff training that he did not give a shit about his staff. We are a disposable commodity to him.

  • Ben

    Thanks.

    I’ve heard that from a lot of staff, that we, more than ever before, were being treated as easily replaced cogs in a machine. In some regards, that’s true. We can be replaced. And certainly, not all the staff perform above the level of a replacement. But for those of us who do, there truly is no replacing us. This is especially true when Eldora isn’t exactly offering job benefits that would attract a higher skill of employee.

    This article in Forbes by Amy Rees Anderson sums up just how wrong it is to think that great employees are replaceable. One side effect of doing so is that when a great employee leaves, many others follow, effectively stripping a company of more than just the individual’s talent. Watching my friends leave, it’s been clear that many people won’t return because just one or two of their respected colleagues chose to leave. That’s why Eldora’s deteriorating family feel seems to be happening so quickly.

  • Steven Rigby

    Bill Killibrew,

    The mass exodus of employees leaving because of you is astounding! BTW, they aren’t bagging groceries or panhandling because they don’t have jobs at Eldora anymore. Here are a just a few examples of jobs that upper management personnell who left recently now have.

    Marketing for Prinoth Snowcats
    City of Boulder Firefighter
    Colorado Division of Wildlife Ranger
    Aspen Mountain Snowsports Management

    So, what does it mean when your employees leave and get better jobs? It means that you are losing quality people and other agencies are benefitting from your losses. This is the equivelent to you being a sports team owner letting all your best players sign with better teams in free agency. Maybe you should sell Eldora and buy the Jacksonville Jaguars, because your companies are destined for the bottom of the standings. Look on the bright side though, you’ll have the cleanest shaven bunch of losers around!

  • Stormy Greer

    Interesting observations, Ben, as I too have seen many potential improvements and/or changes ignored, delayed or just plain denied. But change is difficult for people and often the resources are not available. Sometimes you can only change the things you can (I brought in my own tools and a water cooler of my own for the Lifties), point out areas of easy improvement and finally: it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission (in appropriate things). Keeping focus on realistic goals: providing Eldora’s customers with the best experience possible, ensuring a safe working environment, doing what you can to make Eldora profitable, enjoying your job, etc. is really the way to improve conditions, which I see as the point to your letter. Can you (or even should you) change Mr. Killebrew’s choice of actions? Not all of your points were or are in his control, though as President Truman stated: “The buck stops here.” Only time will tell if Eldora Mountain continues under its present course or becomes another one of Colorado’s lost ski areas.

  • Ben

    Thanks Stormy! You always seemed to be comfortable and to keep a level head at Eldora. I for one have missed having you there.

    I agree with that sentiment, and during my time at Eldora, that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do: change what I can, live with what I can’t. At a certain point, though, I need help from others because things are beyond my control. If they’re out of Bill’s control as well, then I can live with it or move on, but it’s the best effort I can make at this point and asking for his help and attention can hopefully make a little bit of a difference.

  • Amal Easton

    Nice letter, too nice. Eldora management 2014 Sucks!! does not give two shits about staff or local clientele. too bad there are not more options.