The team just had a lousy season. The fans are grumbling. Season ticket sales are down. What do you do?
The standard response if you're running a football team is to fire the coach. That's pretty much what Powdr Corp., which runs the Mt. Bachelor ski resort, did last week by firing General Manager Matt Janney plus three other members of the resort's top management.Things haven't been going smoothly at the mountain since Powdr took over. Complaints about lift breakdowns, inadequate grooming, poor food, early closures and high prices have multiplied. To some extent, these may be just the predictable gripes from locals who are angry because "their mountain" has been taken over by "outsiders" from Utah. But people who spend a lot of time skiing and snowboarding at Bachelor say there's considerable substance to them.
In the 2007-'08 season other ski resorts in Oregon broke all records for attendance, but Bachelor's ticket sales actually dropped 7%, in spite of one of the best snow years in history and aggressive marketing. Shortly after the disappointing numbers came out, Powdr announced it was firing Janney and the others.
We're not privy to the inner workings of Powdr Corp. or Mt. Bachelor. For all we know, Powdr made the best decision it could have. But there are some things about the move - particularly the firing of Janney - that worry us.
Janney started his career in the ski industry as a lift operator at Bachelor and rose through the ranks to become director of operations there in 2003. After a stint running three Powdr resorts in the Lake Tahoe area - where by all accounts he did an outstanding job - he returned to take the top job in Bend. Janney had been manager here for only 10 months, hardly long enough to turn things around. It's also difficult to believe that a guy who had been a stellar performer for so many years suddenly became incompetent.
Who will Powdr pick to replace Janney? When he was selected for the top post at Bachelor last summer, Powdr touted his connections with the Bend area as a big asset - which they were. Will Powdr find someone else who knows the mountain and the community like he did, or send in some drab corporate bean-counter with no local ties?
It's easy and convenient to make the coach the scapegoat for poor performance, but when a team is losing it's not always the coach's fault. Even a Vince Lombardi or a Bill Walsh can't win if the front office doesn't give him the support and resources he needs. Is Powdr prepared to give Janney's successor what he or she needs to get the job done - or in another year will we be reading about another manager getting booted while the mountain's problems remain unsolved?
Defenders of Powdr will point out that it is, after all, a private corporation and it has the right to run its affairs its own way. That's true, but any corporation - and this one in particular - has public as well as private responsibilities. For one thing, Powdr does not own the mountain; the U.S. Forest Service (in other words, We the Taxpayers) does. More importantly, the long-term survival and success of Mt. Bachelor is vital to the economic health of Bend and Central Oregon.
When Powdr took over we waited to see whether the corporation would fully understand its public responsibilities or simply treat Bachelor as a cash cow to be milked for as much and as long as possible. We're still waiting.