By Alan Prendergast
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"Breckenridge is obviously a very diverse resort," Kay says. "You'll see families with little kids at snowboarding events and old people next to families, so the brand is a bit esoteric."
The resort has targeted families with ads in Texas Monthly and Sunset, but it never tried to reach teenagers and twenty-year-olds with print ads until last fall because, Kay says, that demographic is "very jaded." Breckenridge had primarily appealed to young skiers and riders with its televised sporting events, such as the U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, which accounts for 5 percent of its marketing budget. But Vail Resorts decided to experiment in September by spending 1 percent of its Breckenridge money on ads aimed at a younger crowd. One of the ads deemed offensive by locals touted the town for having "the best kind of nightlife of all -- the kind you can pin down and ask, 'Who's your daddy?'"
The ads came at a bad time: Just weeks after they appeared, Cody Wieland was fatally beaten, and the day after that, between twenty and thirty Mesa State College students renting a house in the aptly named Warrior's Mark subdivision got into what witnesses described as a "huge brawl." Resident Matthew Palmer told the Summit Daily News that "police got out with their guns drawn, the kids were drunk and stumbling -- it was crazy."
"That was blown out of proportion," says police chief Holman of the incident, in which seven students and one local were cited for underage drinking. "Everyone was on edge over the homicide on Main Street."
Indeed. Residents wrote letters to the Summit County paper condemning the ad campaign. "Congratulations, Vail Resorts. Judging from the events in Breckenridge -- or is it Brecken-bitch? -- this past Friday and Saturday nights, it looks like your efforts to attract the young, edgy crowd with your ads this season are certainly a success," wrote Mark Holdeman of Fairplay.
Jim Moritz of Frisco also weighed in, writing, "The recent flap over the ski advertisements for Breckenridge highlights the fact the citizens of Summit County fail to realize that the future of the county is not in their hands, but is being decided in the boardrooms of Vail Resorts Inc. and Intrawest. While the intrusion of these companies into the county has brought many benefits, their corporate strategies and multimillion-dollar promotional and advertising budgets will determine who will be attracted to the county, and hence, set the 'tone' for the economy and lifestyle for years to come.
"The town of Breckenridge has spent millions of dollars on family recreational facilities, eliminated some objectionable juvenile events, and has tightened its housing laws to provide a more 'family friendly' environment for the 'destination traveler' who spends money," Moritz continued. "But Vail Resorts has decided, without even consulting town officials, to attract a customer that is inconsistent with the town's own plans."
Kepple, now a forty-year-old ski-patrol employee, volunteer firefighter and bartender, thinks the ads were also inconsistent with the town's actual nightlife. "A lot of us laughed at the campaign; the whole thing was fiction in our minds, because it showed a party scene that just doesn't exist anymore," he says. When he moved to Breck permanently, in 1993, there was a weekly bar circuit, and it was common to wait 35 to 45 minutes to get into a place: On Monday nights, people went to the Breckenridge Brewery for the cheap pitchers; Tuesday was dollar night at Tiffany's; Wednesday nights would find people at Johsha's, a popular nightclub that featured acts like the Dave Matthews Band and the Spin Doctors before they hit it big; Thursday nights, people gathered at Breckenridge Bar-BQ, where Kepple tends bar; and on Fridays, the Gold Pan Saloon was the place to be, since Smoky, a local DJ, would spin while patrons were served cafeteria trays lined with sixteen glasses of beer.
Not anymore. Johsha's has been replaced by condos, and no one has filled the void it left. DJ Smoky moved away. And while the Gold Pan is busy on weekends, it's fairly quiet the rest of the week. "People used to party every night, but now the mid-week around here is pretty lame," Kepple says.
Mark Goodremont has a different take. He's lived in Breck for six years and says he still sees a party scene alive and well; it's just that the players are different. While most of the ski bums a decade ago were in their mid-twenties to thirties, now they're in their late teens and early twenties. Goodremont attributes the switch to the advent of the buddy pass, which allows people to ski or ride at Keystone, Breck and A-Basin for $250 a season.
"Because it's so affordable now, you get that young, rowdy crowd," says the 28-year-old ski-patrol employee from Ohio. "It seems like if you go to any given bar now, you'll find younger people who are not as considerate; they're punks, basically. They're the rude, inconsiderate people who would, say, beat someone to death with a helmet. You wouldn't have found attitudes like that in Breckenridge ten years ago. Aspen and Beaver Creek don't have that crowd, because it's not financially feasible. We're in Summit County, but we also call it 'Slum-It' County."