Sugarloaf operators felt the power of the Internet chat community when they yanked the season pass of a longtime ‘Loafer for a comment he posted about a tragic ski accident. A 16-year-old student at the Stratton Mountain School had skied off a Sugarloaf run and hit a tree Jan. 20. She died the next day.
Posts at the resort’s chat room, discussed the accident and speculated about many aspects of it. One frequent poster, calling himself “Exiled/Vonzipe,” commented three days after the accident on what he perceived as marketing spin in a statement by one mountain employee reported in a news article.
Sugarloaf revoked his season pass, effectively “exiling” Vonzipe for real, the next day. He was told he would be escorted off the premises should he show up to ski again this season. The online response over the next two weeks was outrage, with the general cry being against the attempt by sugarloaf to muzzle free speech.
Sugarloaf is owned by CNL Lifestyle Properties and operated by Boyne – and ultimately the CEO if Boyne responded by arranging a “meeting” between Sugarloaf’s Marketing Director Jim Costello and “Exiled/Vonzipe.” Then the pass was restored.
The Sugarloaf debacle is noteworthy because of the speed with which the incident spread through the Web world of skiers and riders, how it reached across a variety of chat rooms and how effective the public outcry was in forcing Sugarloaf to back off of its heavy-handed approach.