A small Utah ski resort lashed out at powder poachers. It started an online storm

Eagle Point ski area’s post set off debates about land use and pettiness

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Skiers brave fog and snow as they ride the ski lift during opening day at Eagle Point ski resort above Beaver in 2010.

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None of the brouhaha surrounding Eagle Point Resort this week likely would have happened if the skiers involved would have done a better job covering their tracks.

Early last Thursday, six skiers slapped skins on their skis and scaled the western ridge at the Beaver-area ski hill, which is closed Tuesday through Thursday. They splashed through the estimated two feet of untouched powder blanketing three of the resort’s signature runs. Then they did it again, and again.

It was an act likely as euphoric as it was illicit — the resort prohibits inbounds skiing when it is closed. At the end of the day, though, the revelers skied straight back to their condo, leaving a trail a sheriff’s deputy would follow to their door later that afternoon.

In an impassioned social media post, Eagle Point berated the powder poachers and declared it would press charges against them. Now, though, the ski area is facing its own trial in the court of public opinion.

“I would say we didn’t expect to find ourselves at the center of debate about private land use in the United States,” said Eagle Point spokesperson Scott Curry.

How much did the post blow up? On its most high-traffic day of the season, Eagle Point, one of Utah’s smallest resorts, gets around 500 visitors. In a couple of days on Facebook, its post drew more than 1,000 comments. Its Instagram story has drawn another 985 comments.

Curry wouldn’t say who wrote the post. He did say, however, that the attention hasn’t made resort management regret its aggressive stance.

The power of powder

To understand Eagle Point’s reaction, or overreaction depending on the viewpoint, to the fresh tracks laid down by the six skiers, one first has to know about “Powder Fridays.”

If the resort being closed three to four days a week, depending on the season, is the lemons for Eagle Point regulars, “Powder Fridays” are the lemonade. When a snowstorm blows through midweek, the powder stacks up like a fluffy blanket and sits there until lifts start turning Friday morning. It’s a second chance to enjoy Mother Nature’s bounty for any skier or snowboarder who can’t break away during the week. And Eagle Point has built an entire marketing strategy around Powder Fridays. That includes hyping them up throughout the week the two or three times a year one appears on the horizon.

If advanced ticket sales are any indication, anticipation for the Feb. 25 Powder Friday was particularly high. Fresh snow has been hard to come by this season, and it offered a stash of 20-plus inches of powder to frolic through as well as a clear, bluebird day.

“It’s what everyone asks for…,” Curry said. “We also knew that this Powder Friday was going to be our biggest ever. And, frankly, one of the busiest days we were going to have all year.”

So, when workers at the resort realized mid-Thursday that their treasure had been plundered, tempers flared. The following day, the resort posted its full-throated assessment of the situation on its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

It called Powder Fridays “a sacred tradition” and said “Some of those memories and moments of joy were stolen yesterday.” It also boasted that the resort called in the sheriff after the poachers “shredded several of the western slopes” and that “we pressed charges and there will be a hearing.”

Its original post, which stood about five hours before being edited, added: “We’ll see you in court and we’re bringing the passion of our guests with us.”

The Beaver County Sheriff’s Office confirmed it had opened an investigation into the matter, but as of Monday no formal charges had been filed.

The real storm, meanwhile, has already hit Eagle Point.

What was the reaction online?

The comments started with some people shaming Eagle Point for going after skiers who had “earned their turns,” or just for posting its intent to do so. Some defended the resort for standing up for its guests. Others pointed out that, while the post said it was protecting the powder for its guests, anyone can rent the ski area on a weekday for $15,000 through its “As You Wish” program.

Angie Hill of Park City was among the commenters on the resort’s Facebook page who derided Eagle Point for calling the police and posting about it on social media. Hill told The Salt Lake Tribune that she has skied at Eagle Point and gotten first tracks and “it’s amazing.” But she has also worked for several ski resorts, including Alyeska Resort in Alaska.

“How we would have solved that there was just taking a six pack of beer and sit on the porch,” she said, “and say, you know, ‘[Let’s] just talk to talk to each other one on one.’”

Quickly, though, the conversations devolved into debates about property rights and rich elites vs. starving skiers.

On those points, Curry would like to make a few clarifications. He said the perpetrators are “very familiar with” the resort, are able to afford the lift tickets — which he said ran between $40-50 that Friday — and are not kids. In addition, he said, Eagle Point owns the land and does not, as many resorts do, lease it from the United States Forest Service. That was a point emphasized in a follow-up to its original post.

“No different than having a farm and having someone stealing your crops,” wrote one commenter.

The snarky rebuttal: “They stole the mountain?!?!?!”

Curry said after examining the profiles of some of the posters, he and the Eagle Mountain staff came to the conclusion that the post had played into Facebook’s algorithms and ended up on the feeds of people who have never skied or snowboarded and have probably never come within 500 miles of Beaver.

Dave Amirault, a 20-year veteran of ski resort marketing, agrees that’s likely what happened. But he said he doesn’t believe all press is good press.

“To go so far as ‘We’re going to bring all our passion and our customers’ passion, and we’ll see you in court,’ et cetera, et cetera,’” he said. “[It’s an] extremely off-putting and unwelcoming message to hear from a resort operator or a marketing department.”

Curry disagrees. He said because Eagle Point is a small, independent resort and because Powder Fridays are so critical to the bottom line, management felt a strong message needed to be sent. He also said Eagle Point knows who its customers are, and though it may not seem like it on social media, emails and messages he’s received indicate the messages the resort put out are striking a chord with its customers. Plus, he said, one of the biggest complaints about larger resorts is that they don’t care about their customers.

“We wanted to inform our guests, who we love because they’re some of the more loyal and appreciative out there, that we stand by them. That, you know, we intend to preserve the guest experience,” Curry said. “And if part of that is letting people know that this is not acceptable to do, then we’re comfortable with that byproduct as well.”

So, like the powder poachers who set off this firestorm, Eagle Point has no intention of covering its online tracks.