Opinion: Keeping Squaw ‘true’ may doom Squaw to failure
For most of my career, I was the Chief Financial Officer for a multi-state electrical distributor. In retirement, I remain active as Treasurer of the board of directors of the Tahoe Forest Hospital District and as a ski instructor at Squaw Valley.
I first skied at Squaw in December of 1960, so I share a long time love for this mountain. I understand and appreciate those who want to keep Squaw “true.”
However, one thing I have learned over my life is that change is inevitable. You either fight it or embrace it; you resist it or you help shape it. Keeping it “true” may doom Squaw to failure.
When I first skied, resorts in the northern Sierra only competed to serve a local market … Reno, Sacramento and the Bay Area. Like it or not, Squaw Valley is now part of worldwide industry, and it competes with resorts all over this planet.
It is reported that between 2003 and 2013, snowboarding declined almost 30% while skier numbers were flat to down. According to an industry expert, 150 of the current 470 ski resorts in the US are at risk for failure, and many will turn off the lifts despite the return to a good economy.
So what should Squaw do stay in business and capture enough market share to keep the lifts running for all of us? They should do what every successful business does … innovate. They should expand the customer base by listening to what today’s customers in the broader market want in services and amenities.
Eight years ago, Tahoe Forest Hospital was faced with a similar dilemma. The state imposed a costly seismic upgrade to several of the aging buildings, and many areas of the hospital needed updating.
Despite a vocal minority that wanted the hospital to stay the same and send everyone off the hill for most services, over 72% of the residents voted for a $98 million bond measure to bring our hospital up to current standards and expand the services.
As a result of expansion and innovation, we will retain this valuable local asset while other small community hospitals who fail to adapt to changing times are closing at alarming rates.
Woolworth’s, Pan American Airlines and Polaroid Cameras tried to make a profit doing business as usual until they shut their doors. Commodore Computers held 50% of the PC market in 1985, then dropped out of sight as others met the changing demands of their customers.
Will this planned change to Squaw Valley bring some discomfort? Of course, every change brings some distress. But, in my opinion, the discomfort brought about by this transformation is more than offset by the likelihood that innovation will ensure survivability — survivability that will guarantee we can ski at the mountain we so love, guarantee that taxes so essential in our tourist economy will continue to be collected from our visitors, and guarantee that related jobs will endure for many of our residents.
Dale Chamblin has been a full-time resident of Tahoe Vista for the last 15 years.
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