Monday, March 12, 2012

WAYLAID at Sugar Mountain Ski Area

Update 3/18/2012: SkiNorthCarolina.com and SkiSoutheast.com are defending Sugar. That's Banner Elk resident Mike Doble's right. But to clarify remarks he's posted, I contacted Mr. Doble in his capacity as a website designer for High Country Webcams. I'm not familiar with the ski sites he's associated with nor do I wish to be.

'Bout 36 years ago, North Carolina's Sugar Mountain ski area ripped me off for a lift ticket and lodging. Slope conditions advertised as "excellent" turned out to be solid ice, unskiable unless you happened to be an expert. At that time, I was new to the sport, and I still remember duped customers idly staring out at the slopes, where only two or three skiers were able to ski. Complaints were met with a "Not our fault. We have no way of knowing what level you ski at." Refunds were not given. I never went back.

Fast forward 36 years.

This season, a few days after a snow storm - played up to the nth degree on Sugar's website - I gave 'em a second chance. And that was a BIG mistake. These people are dyed in the wool con artists. This time it was dirt, rocks, etc. unavoidable on open terrain, and a risk of damaging skis even when getting on or off the lifts. An absolute nightmare. Two efforts at skiing down from the top, and I simply wasn't willing to take further risk of tearing up my expensive, one year old, K2 skis.

Second time up, after negotiating - as best I could - the muck at the lifts, I started down Sugar's "Tom Terrific" trail, and was forced to stop after about 15 boring yards to avoid skiing thru muck that extended all the way across the trail and continued downhill for at least several yards. By labeling the trail "expert," perhaps Sugar is referring to the level of misrepresentation. That trail - if not the entire ski area - should have been closed down and so designated on Sugar's website. Wound up takin' my skis off and hiking back to the top in order to get down - and off - the mountain. That meant another "run" down Sugar's "double black diamond" dubbed "Whoopdedoo" which had already proven to be a bitter disappointment. And not only from the surface conditions. Touting such terrain as a "double black diamond" is nothing short of an outright lie. Closer to a green than a double black, it barely qualifies as average intermediate. Tom "Terrific" and "Whoopdedoo" indeed.

Beyond the muck at the lifts, an attendant delayed things by zapping each person's lift ticket with a laser gun. Another attendant ignored my efforts to steer clear of the muck, grabbin' my arm and ushering me forward even after I voiced my concern. Brown Sugar Mountain would be a better name for this lousy operation, and a whole lot more disappointment was yet to come.

I asked the girl at the ticket counter for a refund. She conferred with the other agent, refused to grant a refund, and then they both giggled loudly, exhibiting rude delight that people were being ripped off. I then complained to management, and things got even worse. Another customer walked into the office, asked how my day was going, and when management (identity kept secret) overheard me describing the slope conditions, I was told to remain silent or be escorted off the premises. At management's behest ("Get him outta here."), Sugar's resident thug (another secret identity) lunged at me from the other side of a counter. The guy is a double fisted, twice my size bully. I'm 66 years old, five feet five inches tall, weighing 128 pounds.  

Apparently, this is Sugar's modus operandi. Sucker folks into buyin' a ticket, get 'em over a barrel, and then browbeat 'em if they dare to complain about anything. There I was in a strange place with my credit cards, some cash, and over $1,500 worth of ski equipment - much of it loosely secured outside - surrounded by Sugar's employees. And I figured the Banner Elk cops were a sure bet to take Sugar's word over mine regardless of what happened. The only rational choice was to leave quietly (management told me to "keep walking") and plan a future response. As I left, I did, however, inform folks who were approaching the ticket booth about the slope conditions.

Sugar Mountain Resort is a cheap shot. Initially, I couldn't find the locker area, and two people I asked didn't know where it was either. Loaded down with ski gear, I looked through a glass door, saw a slew of lockers and someone putting on ski boots, so I entered, assuming the notice of "no ski equipment allowed in lodge" applied to a different area of the building. That was when Sugar's resident thug first appeared, ordering me to leave my expensive skis outside. My tough luck if someone took 'em, right? With help from the person putting their ski boots on, Sugar's resident thug finally understood that I had mistaken that room for the locker area. If the guy ever went to school, he musta thought the first recess was the end of it and never went back.

Once inside the locker area - its outdated, complete with a gritty, bare concrete floor - a Ski Patroller came by, noticed my nice skis with towels wrapped at both ends, and remarked that I was takin' way too good care of my skis for what I was gettin' ready to put 'em through. But alas. At that point I simply had no way of knowin' what he was talkin' about.

'Cept for slick advertising, Sugar is the epitome of poor design. The locker area is accessible only by climbing stairs, and when you exit, its a lengthy uphill trudge - likely to be muddy - from the bottom of those stairs to the ski area. By all means, try it in ski boots. Tacky little dump that it is, Sugar obviously doesn't have sufficient snowmaking equipment, and its doubtful they have the expertise. Factor in their lack of integrity, and it all adds up to one glorious mess. Keywords: exorbitant prices, ripoff. Unlike 36 years ago, at least I didn't pay for any of their food, lodging, or beverages.

Now I know why ol' Sugar doesn't have a Facebook page. They'd have to monitor it constantly to remove postings from outraged customers. As for me, my credit card company - Chase - agreed to dispute the lift ticket charge, and gave me a credit for the full amount. Rakin' people's skis thru muck is a bad idea. And by the time I'm through spreadin' the word about ol' Sugar, they're gonna wish they'd cleaned up their act.

Depend on it.

Update 3/12/2012: I e-mailed Sugar a link to this blog post along with copies of references I posted on Facebook and Twitter. 

Update 3/16/2012: Thank goodness this lousy excuse for a ski resort is now closed for the season. Maybe if it hadn't been for my blog post, ol' Sugar would still be suckerin' folks into buyin' a ticket. At any rate, Sugar Mountain Resort has now underscored its contempt for customers by blocking future e-mails sent to them from my account. Be warned: Sugar is still open for warm weather activities. Avoid Sugar at all costs.

Update 3/19/2012: I've sent links to this blog post to various business oriented websites in Avery County and Banner Elk, most notably Chambers of Commerce whose websites promote Sugar Mountain Resort as one of the centerpieces of the area. As businesses in these areas bask in the spinoff from folks who wind up visiting Sugar Mountain Resort, I'll keep my hard earned dollars out of the vicinity and advise others to do likewise.