Some folk have recently being asking just exactly what in the hell went down at Glencoe: here is a fairly comprehensive overview, I hope you are ready for a monster post as I feel I ought to tell the story from my perspective:
I would like to start by thanking the good people at Glencoe Mountain, of which there are many, for their warmth, friendship, support and good banter. The majority of the staff come highly recommended and despite what you may read below, I genuinely enjoyed most of my experiences at the resort.
This is a complex story, and I have condensed it as far as possible, whilst trying remain objective and omission free, without straying too deeply into resort politics which existed before I came on the scene.
Firstly, a bit of an insight into the background of my business at Glencoe Mountain Resort as a mountain bike guide/coach: during initial negotiations between the majority owner of the Resort and myself in November 2011, it was agreed that I would rent an office on site at £75/week~ this seemed like a good deal, as we agreed the in house engineering team would complete the new bike track as well as a pump track in time for opening around May 2012~ however, partly due to storms over the winter which destroyed some buildings and infrastructure, as well as completing the new accommodation area, this was not possible, and the track was opened in late May 2012 as a basic fire road style descent, which was not likely to attract many customers... it also prevented me from beginning skills courses as there was simply no features on which to teach skills. I was admittedly a touch shocked at the time, but since rapport was still being established, I kept this sentiment to myself and focused on the positives as this was the start of a partnership that was projected to grow over years.
In the meantime, I had already laid out my own money for advertising materials, went canvassing around local accommodation providers and spent a huge amount of time constructing my own website, so I was already wholly committed to the venture, thus when it was proposed by the Resorts owner that I began work on the track myself to increase its appeal and attract more customers, I agreed... we negotiated a sum of £75 a day to do this work, initially in lieu of rent on the office, with any sum above this to be payrolled once the work was complete (in fairness, the resort owner explained at this stage that cash flow was a problem, so payment might be a... though this deviated from our original agreement, I understood their predicament and reasoned it was essentially a longer term investment that would pay off once I started running skills courses and was lead to believe that once the necessary engineering works for the accommodation were complete, the engineering operations team would work on completing the trail, which wouldn’t take long as they had earth moving machinery... being as the largest trade would likely occur Jul-Aug, this all seemed reasonable at the time.
Time passed by and progress continued on the trail~ considering to begin with, it was essentially a featureless access road with dangerous amounts of loose rock and inherent drainage problems, as anyone can see when they visit, the time and sheer physical exertion I singlehandedly put into ensuring the trail was enjoyable and commercially competitive was no small task, being as I was just using hand tools, and a power barrow. I also put a not inconsiderable amount of work into documenting progress and promoting the trail, via various social media such as mountain biking forums , facebook and twitter. Before building the trail, I was told consideration would have to be made for access by a 6 wheeled ATV, which was on order and would be used in case of accidents and emergencies. Thus any features I built were made to either allow skirting around, or withstanding such a vehicle.
At the start of July, I split with my partner and was kicked out of the house... I decided that the easiest solution would be to buy a cheap caravan and since I was working at Glencoe Mountain, I asked if I could park it there, to which to their credit, they agreed~ at the time, it was implied that since I was already paying rent for the office, there would be no additional charge.
Coincidentally, the start of July was also around the time the Engineering team finished the accommodation section, so I going by what I’d been told earlier, I reasoned soon, I’d have some help; as it transpired though, one of the lifts up further up the hill required an extensive overhaul ready for the winter season.
I continued to slog away, generally working afternoon and evenings, as this reduced disruption to trail users whilst the lift was running. Somewhen around this time, I was approached by some fine folk on this forum, who suggested we organise a dig and ride weekend~ I had already proposed this idea some time earlier, and though the resort owner was positive, the Engineering manager was a touch more reticent, explaining that “volunteers tend to think they own whatever they’ve built”, so at the initial stage, that plan was shelved... nonetheless, with a bit of back rubbing and charm, we managed to organise a build weekend.
The week before the build weekend, the Engineering team decided they needed a cat tracked digger up the hill and just drove it up the track, whilst some riders were hurtling down. In fairness, they radio’ed the lifty to give the riders advance warning, and the driver was as careful as he could be to avoid damage to the track, however, there was nonetheless fairly extensive damage. I was pretty shocked to see the digger appear over the brow of the hill as I stood there sweating, carefully arranging interlocking stones to form the foundations of a rhythm section. I raised my concerns vocally (and passionately) with the engineering manager and suggested that if this was going to happen again, sufficient prior warning would be the best policy... I also suggested that for safety purposes the track be shut until such time as I had made good any rocks that had been loosened. After this incident, I raised the issue with the resort owner who told me they had always managed to get the machinery up the hill before the track was made, so he would ensure they used the traditional route to avoid damage to the track.
Anyhow, the near legendary “Glencoe Hot Diggedy” build weekend went ahead, much of which was focused on repairing damage caused by the digger... on the plus side. it will go down in history as the most perfect trail building conditions ever experienced at Glencoe, with sunshine, a light breeze and no midges (+ booze). Also worthy of note is some of the most intrepid and gnarly tandem shredding puny mortals have ever witnessed. Once again, massive thanks to everyone who turned up and worked their guts out... the weekend (and especially the tandem!!) generated some publicity for the track and the number of riders visiting began to increase.
For some time after this, it rained, meaning since I had accrued several days work above the seasons rent, it was a good time to leave the trailbuilding on the backburner and focus on building the business proper.
This seemed to irk certain members of the management, who started making bitchy comments suggesting I was lazy. I found this a touch offensive~ as I was living on site, I spent a fair bit of time in the cafe and having a good camaraderie with the staff, when things got busy, I was all too happy to help out, collecting plates, changing toilet rolls and in one incident, when some misguided soul had actually had a poo in a bin, literally cleaning other peoples sh*t. This was compounded by the fact that my accuser was well paid for her role, which consisted mostly of loudly playing songpop on her ipad, disturbing the ambience of the cafe and irritating clients. Obviously, I retaliated somewhat and things seemed to settle down again.
As we are now into September, I had been discussing with staff what jobs were available over winter~ evening staff in the cafe seemed the best role, so one evening whilst speaking to the owner, I enquired as to the prospect of securing such a role for the winter. He explained that he left recruitment to the management team, but he couldn’t see there would be a problem. I also enquired as to the prospect of payment now I was owed a not insignificant sum. His initial reaction was along the lines of: I’m not paying you, you’ve been staying here in your caravan. Though this was quite a slap in the face, in the interests of diplomacy, I curbed my tongue and suggested over the coming week, we discussed alternative means of payment.
Though initially I was met with resistance, I put my perspective across in an email, the choice points of which are below:
At this stage in time, when Glencoe is just finding it’s feet as a mtb centre, the most important area to focus on for a long term sustainable business is the trail infrastructure... especially when there are sooo many more competitors within the UK than on the skiing side of things; granted, the chairlift is a draw (though there are many trail centres which have minibus uplifts), but unless the trails are enjoyable to the target demographic and comparable to the competition , then the reputation would be tarnished from the outset~ as BIG Mountain Scotland is intrinsically associated with Glencoe Mountain Resort, both my business itself and my reputation within the MTB community relies on the quality of the trails.
Whilst I appreciate a better route to making money in the short term would be to exploit the existing trails in the surrounding area, at this stage, there is not sufficient draw to make that side of things a profitable and sustainable business not to mention the impact to my credibility in the long term .
Notwithstanding the fact that I am now living on site, the reason I agreed rent the office in the 1st instance is because I was under the impression it would provide me with the infrastructure necessary to conduct business. As you can doubtless appreciate, though I lack huge sums of money, I’m investing what I can into ensuring the trail does match up to the competition, because I have every faith that in time, my investment will pay off...
Speaking of figures, let us assume for a moment that a reasonable expectation (and conservative once the full potential has been achieved, especially if events were to be included) for rider numbers purchasing a day pass for the red trail over the next 5 years is 30 per week for 25 weeks of the year.
So... 30x25 = 750 each paying £25 = £18,750/year x 5 years = £93,750 turnover from the chairlift as a direct result of the trail, with additional income from the cafe, accommodation and bike hire resulting from these visitors who would not have previously attended.
I see your point regarding the potential for a niche market for riders wanting the views, but no technical challenge on the trail, but my understanding of niche markets is they lack volume... I would also recommend you ride the trail in it’s current state (thanks to extensive erosion due to gradient and lack of water diversion, the washing out of much of the surfacing has exposed a great deal more rock... something I will address when time allows) to assess its suitability for inexperienced riders.
Without wanting to sound too harsh, this niche market would no doubt dry up over time, as the trail deteriorated... rendering a £60k investment little more than an access road, not bringing in any significant income (I appreciate communications here can be a bit muted, so I’m not sure how much information you’re privy too, but I’ve been led to believe that certain parties only really wanted an access road, rather than a commercially viable bike trail... which reminds me, could you clarify the position with the route for the digger), which would doubtless cause negativity toward the mtb market and further investment in developing the trail infrastructure further to increase visitor numbers and profitability.
In respect of this, though it wasn't the best deal for me, we managed to agree I could carry my accrued earnings over into next seasons rent (i.e. 2013 = now).
The SDA were due to run a race on the route on 30th September and as the track was still damaged from the diggers initial journey, I asked if the engineering team could spare a couple of days to help get the track up to scratch: as I had come to expect, I was met with hostility and a refusal.
This is when things started getting wild... firstly, I was confronted aggressively by a female manager, who demanded I have the office tidy that she may come and see to some paperwork stored in the cupboard; like any normal human, I was a touch affronted by the ferocity of her attack and responded, “I do pay rent you know” with some passion. Being as the management team are a close knit group, mostly of the same family, later that day, I came under some pressure, with snide comments, including, “ a real rock n rolla eh?” (as in the film, wants the f**kin lot) and “you’ll be remembered”. Considering this pressure, I was forced to apologise, when in actual fact I was not the aggressor.
Come Friday afternoon, just as I arrived at the top of the chairlift ready to work into the evening, the ATV containing the engineering team rocked up, and I was sneeringly told they needed the sledgehammer, so it better be at the bottom of the lift on Monday morning, or else... knowing full well that the sledgehammer was at the furthest possible point of the track and I would have to carry it down.
The regular harassment was beginning to take its toll and I began losing sleep, which spurred me into action, posting some light hearted retaliation on the Resorts Facebook Page~ this spurred the owner to spontaneously appear one Sunday and to his credit, he was very understanding and lent a hand helping prepare the track for the coming race.
Come Monday morning, it was showtime and I donned sunglasses and a long coat, making reference to the earlier rock n rolla remark, and appearing around the corner just as my victims exited the work van~ handing the sledgehammer over ever so daintily, I said firmly: “Next time, show some manners and we’ll all get along just fine” Many of the staff were giggling all day, but a few folk didn’t seem so amused.
That evening, I went into Fort William to get some supplies~(food and drink, not guns and ammo!!) coming out of the supermarket, as I approached my car, a rough looking tattooed guy approached me and said “excuse me sir” on replying how can I help you, he growled “Fu*k off out of my car park”. I can’t recall my exact response, but I don’t think it was “with pleasure my dear man”. Anyhow, I hopped in the car and went to the supermarket petrol station~ during fuelling, it occurred to me this was quite a coincidence considering the day’s events, so on a hunch, returned to the car park to see if there was any trace of the surly fellow. Sure enough, I noticed a Silver Saab waiting expectantly near the exit, parked across the bays for a swift exit~ I also noticed the guy in question was in the passenger seat and his body language suggested he was trying to avoid being seen. I was pretty pissed off by then and adrenaline was in abundance, so I pulled up at bit away from them at 90 degrees and put my lights on full beam, letting them know they’d been rumbled. I then parked directly in front of the supermarket and waited for them to leave~ however, the thug in question got out of the car and approached me, at which point I decided the best option was to go into the supermarket foyer in sight of the public. He kept trying to get me to come outside to somewhere private so we could discuss matters, however, I said if he had anything to say, why couldn’t he say it here~ we farted around like this for a bit, then eventually got bored~ I hopped into my car and he ran back to his mate in the Saab...
So we had a little car chase up Fort William bypass... on coming to the roundabout on the edge of town toward Glencoe, I figured if they kept following me, things could get ugly, so I feigned a turn, then hooked a u-turn around the traffic island.... in the meantime, they had continued around the roundabout, so I ended up chasing them!! They sped off. I went to the police and tried to explain the situation, but was a bit confused about the digits of the number plate, so didn’t really get anywhere.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep particularly well that night and chose to sleep in the office for added security.
The next morning, there was some nervous faces and an almighty staring match, whereby a certain individual stood outside the cafe window giving me unbroken evils for what must’ve been getting on for 5 minutes. I sat there with a warm cup of tea and a (fairly) innocent grin, before he finally jacked it in.
Sleep was still in short supply, but the next day, I made my way to the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland conference in Perth... If any forum members were there, you may recall I was a bit jittery by then and had a bit of an outburst in the evening session.
Just before I left for the season, the digger made its way back down, this time without so much care and destroyed the rhythm section which was over a month’s work and a great deal of other features.
In the end I didn’t get a job there for the winter and was never paid in full, needless to say, I haven't returned this year.
All told it’s a shame that things panned out the way they did, and certainly, in future, I would ensure a contract was drawn up to ensure expectations were fulfilled.
Though I am not proud of my actions, I am certainly not ashamed of my conduct considering the contempt, hostility and ingratitude I was facing... everyone else was paid to work there, whilst I paid to work there.
If you have any questions, or better still suggestions, fire away.