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A Plea to Stratton and Burton

"The US Open and Stratton Mountain, Vermont". The two names are synonymous with each other. Although the event had earlier incarnations at other mountains such as Snow Valley, Stratton has been the home base to the US Open for over ten years. Just as the Tennis US Open has its Flushing Meadows and golf ‘s The Masters has its Augusta; snowboarding has its Stratton. Unfortunately for US Open competitors, local commercial enterprises, sports fans and relatively well-behaved revelers, this relationship became severely threatened during the 17th Annual US Open.

Like so many events/crises, the mayhem that took over Stratton Mountain had simple beginnings – a playful snowball. But similar to just about any American foreign policy, the snowball escalated to something unmanageable and ultimately – harmful. By weekend’s end, punches were exchanged, bottles were thrown, teeth were knocked out, storefront properties were destroyed, residencies were placed under siege, ambulances came and went and Vermont experienced its first quasi-riot since the Main Street debacle in Burlington last year.

Understandably so, the response to these events have been anything less than positive. Already, the talk of not having the US Open return to Stratton has dominated every conversation from the Intrawest boardrooms to the front steps of the Winhall Market. The basic consensus: too much violence, too much damage, too much drunkenness, and too many headaches. This headache was most evident during the Saturday semi-riot when the local police force gathered together on the perimeter of the 200+ person melee, and symbolically departed from the mountain as one collective unit, leaving the crowd control to the understaffed and overworked Stratton employees.

It appears that ceasing the US Open at Stratton Mountain would be the easy way out of this situation. This is absurd. As the epi-center for the creation of the world’s fastest growing winter sport, the birthplace of industry’s most dominant company, and the home mountain of the sport’s greatest male and female stars; Stratton Mountain has a responsibility to the sport. Stratton has nurtured this event from the beginning. From the times of the Backhill and Winterstick to the neon colors of the Suzuki sponsorship, the US Open has been Stratton’s baby. Just because things start going bad, does that justify complete abandonment of the event. It is the responsibility of Stratton Mountain to adapt to the issues/successes that make or break the event. The sport of snowboarding and the subculture that it creates is a new phenomenon in the grand scale of things, and as a result there is no prescribed/ pre-set formula to managing the event. There are no handbooks on managing such an event. It is the responsibility for Stratton Mountain and Burton Snowboards to write that manual. As the sport grows, so will the issues associated with the influx of people. The process of running the US Open is based on empirical knowledge. For every year that Stratton and Burton manage the vent, the two will learn something new and expand upon those lessons learned.

The boon of responsibility does not lie solely upon Stratton Mountain. It is the responsibility of Stratton to realize that they need to tweak their work plan on an annual basis. It is the responsibility of Stratton to realize that they are in the spotlight of an incredible industry that has yet to reach a climax. It is the responsibility of Stratton to realize the economic benefits to both Intrawest and the surrounding communities. It is the responsibility of Stratton to realize those full page ads in Rolling Stone magazine is an unparalleled event in ski area promotion. However, the responsibility of keeping the masses tame does not rely entirely on the mountain. This is the responsibility of Burton Snowboards.

The annual US Open is Burton’s time. It is Burton’s Christmas Party. It is Burton’s Lemonwheel. It is a time for Burton to both thank its customers, its fans and it is time for Burton to flex its muscles amongst its competitors. It doesn’t matter that Team Palmer took all the events, it is still Burton’s weekend. With this in mind, it is also the responsibility of Burton to be the role model for the industry. The company may be well established and dominant within the snowboard industry, but Burton still has the responsibility to represent the industry as a whole. By being associated with being the pied piper for hundreds of drunken, violent kids, Burton has been given a PR headache. Unlike Stratton, Burton does not have the option of abandonment. The company has no choice but to continue with the event. With this in mind, the only true solution to the problem is that Burton needs to take actions such as the provision of security, public statements and better presence amongst the fans.

The US Open at Stratton has grown into much more than a competition. With the coupling of the spectator appeal of events such as the Half-Pipe and Boardercross and the introduction of a concert to the equation, the US Open has transformed from a competition to a form of entertainment. Stratton and Burton need to take the appropriate steps to address the repercussions associated with Entertainment. Look at Vermont’s other big issue concerning young wasted people – a Phish concert. The boys of Burlington have taken steps to adapt with the growth and changes that the band has experienced. In order for the band to address its needs of pursing creative euphoria, supporting the commercial enterprise that is associated with the band and maintaining the satisfaction of the legions of fans, the band took steps to manage the repercussions of their music and its subculture. They have combated litter problems with Green Teams, they have created touring schedules that discourage city to city touring caravans, they patrol their own safety/security teams in the parking lots and venues, and they continuously made pleas to fans to not show up at concerts without tickets. Although their efforts are not 100% successful, the point is that they have tried to adapt to the exponential growth of their band. They have not given up – they have adapted. The US Open, and the snowboarding industry as a whole, parallel that same growth pattern and its is up to the leaders of the industry to nurture that growth. Giving up is not an option.

Even if Stratton Mountain gives up the US Open, the event will move to another mountain and life will go on. The other mountain will wisely learn from the Stratton experiences and slowly mold the event. If the other mountain doesn’t learn from experiences, then there will still be violence and Burton will be the only one to blame. These two companies must work together to see this event work. The US Open is a defining event for both companies and the two are dependent on each other in terms of public relations and economic prosperity. In the last two years, there have been a lot of changes at Stratton: historic clock towers have been removed, new buildings erected, the base lodge layout has been altered and trails have been flattened and widened. In the yet to be determined cause for resort improvement, Stratton has been transformed and along the way, it has lost quite a bit of its identity. The trails look all the same and there are minimal tangible items that remind us of the mountain’s tradition and heritage. One of the few remaining ties to the recent past is the US Open. The US Open at Stratton is one flowing phrase (So was the Volvo Tennis Tournament at one time). The two belong together and it is the responsibility of the two primary organizations to grow with the times. Even beyond the obvious PR and economic benefits, there is the benefit of tradition and that is being threatened.

As a fan, I also realize our role in the US Open. Just as much as Burton and Stratton hold a responsibility, we, the fans, have a responsibility in being responsible. The weather was good, the competition was high caliber and excellent times were had by all. As the fans, we need to realize that we are part of a positive thing and that we would be idiots to blow it. I look forward to the US Open every year, as it is time to celebrate both companionship and competition. The simultaneously display of athleticism and revelry is unsurpassed, but we need to realize our limits and implement self control. Unfortunately, as a fan base, not only are we young, but we do not have an organizational structure to help implement reform amongst ourselves. Individual fans can set an example but we cannot provide concrete influence. This responsibility lies with Stratton and Burton.

In conclusion, I am simply asking for Stratton and Burton to learn from mistakes. There are obvious problems associated with the US Open, but they can be remedied. Burton has a responsibility to the industry to promote the sport as something a little more civilized. Stratton has a responsibility to its own tradition, promotion and economic success. The two have a responsibility to the surrounding communities to manage these problems. If this wonderful relationship comes to an end, people will be sorry down the road. What may seem as a quick remedy to a problem, will suffer in the long term. History has shown us that quick solutions, although well intentioned in the beginning, have not worked in the long run (Urban Renewal, Shea Stadium, Vietnam, Nutrasweet). My plea to Stratton and Burton is think things out, think about the legacy that has been created and think about the growth of the industry, the mountain and the region.

Please think it through.

A Friend and A Fan

PS. Next time, try James Taylor for a musical act. I don’t think he has ever been able to incite a crowd to a near riot. The information number for Martha’s Vineyard is 508-555-1212. Ask for Taylor.