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Mount Snow bans local musician for letter on Facebook

Colby Dix defends criticism of ski resort’s new employment policy

DOVER—Colby Dix knew there was a risk to posting his letter criticizing Mount Snow’s new employment policy on Facebook.

Mount Snow responded by banning him from performing at the ski resort.

“It’s a real true-colors moment,” Dix told The Commons, adding the resort has unapologetically “burned a lot of locals.”

In a confidential March 15 memo, Mount Snow, owned by Missouri-based Peak Resorts, stated effective April 21, “staff or volunteers of the Hermitage, The Haystack Club, their golf course, real estate and other associated companies may not work or volunteer at Mount Snow.”

A large number of people in the community who work at Mount Snow supplement their income working at Haystack, said Dix. They felt they couldn’t speak against the policy.

“Plenty [of people] have to suck it up and choose a side,” said Dix, a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Dix served on the Dover Selectboard and is involved with the Tri-Town Economic Development Committee and the regional efforts of the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategy (SeVEDS).

So Dix, who supplements his income performing music solo or with bands Dix Junior or Touchpants at the mountain, decided he had slightly less to lose.

In its memo, Mount Snow said working for the other resort in town proved a conflict of interest.

“In general, working at other businesses in the Valley does not constitute a conflict of interest, however the Hermitage and Haystack have been at times in conflict with Mount Snow’s business interests,” stated Mount Snow. “Therefore we do not believe it is in Mount Snow’s best interests to have our employees and volunteers working simultaneously for these companies.”

Mount Snow employees and volunteers who chose to continue moonlighting at Haystack may not be rehired or asked to volunteer at Mount Snow or Peak Resorts.

“Haystack,” known as the Haystack Club, a now-private resort, reopened in 2011 under the ownership of Jim Barnes, who also owns the nearby Hermitage Inn.

According to a January 2012 article by Pete Biolsi, Eastern editor for the website On the Snow, reported that repeated efforts to open Haystack had previously stymied “most recently due to disputes with nearby Mount Snow.”

Julio A. Thompson, Director of the Vermont Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit, said, that the memo did not violate any statutes that the Attorney General’s office can enforce.

Thompson spoke with The Commons in a phone interview, March 22.

According to Thompson, no state statute prohibits an employer from requiring employees to work for only one company.

If Mount Snow was attempting to corner the market on either specialized skills or hard-to-come-by materials, then the company could possibly be in violation of restraint of trade, creating a monopoly, he said.

If the ski resort asks existing employees to sign a non-compete contract, however, that document may not be enforceable under contract law (which follows common law not statutes), he said.

Non-compete clauses or contracts are generally not favored under contract law, Thompson said.

In a valley with a lousy job market in a state where most people work multiple jobs — “Moonlight in Vermont, or starve,” as the saying goes — the memo did not stay confidential.

Dix said he felt confident that he had remained level-headed and did not bash the resort in his letter.

In his nearly 1,000-word letter posted to Facebook in March, he asked, “Can I see both sides of this coin? Sure. But given a bit of time to think on it, it seems clear to me that the only ‘victim’ in the recently handed down edict from Mount Snow’s HR Department is the local workforce.”

In a separate interview, Dix said, the conflict of interest policy feels “heavy handed.”

“But the idea that Mount Snow’s base, its employees, in fact its champions and ambassadors present a ‘conflict of interest’ in their constant efforts to make a living in an area with substandard wages and nigh upon ridiculous property taxes smacks of ignorance,” Dix wrote.

It stymies the area’s economic development and treats the local community with disrespect, he said.

“Our unemployment rate remains staggeringly above the mean of the region, while our wages remain an equally staggering percentage below the accepted ‘livable’ rate, and a full third lower than the state average for annual wage,” he wrote. “You know why that is? It is directly attributable to the high number of service jobs in the area. There’s a parallel in there somewhere.”

Over time, such policies will weaken the employee pool, he said. People will look elsewhere for work or move away entirely.

“It’s disappointing because [Mount Snow] has made clear its concern is not local sustainability,” Dix said.

Despite holding deep respect for many of Mount Snow and Peak Resorts’ employees, he feels that the resort’s recent decisions are “ethically and morally questionable.”

The conflict of interest memo and the subsequent ban on his performing at the mountain shows “a real disrespect of local opinion and commentary,” said Dix.

This year, Dix played at about 100 music performances across at least six different venues at the mountain.

Although he posted his letter in March, and performed at the resort-owned Snow Barn on April 13, no one from Mount Snow informed him about the decision to ban him until Dix called to book new gigs.

Dix worked his way up the managerial chain in search of the person who had made the final decision to ban him.

The buck stopped with Peaks Resorts Vice President Richard Deutsch.

According to Dix, in a “long conversation,” Deutsch explained that the resort’s ownership decided to ban Dix “absolutely” over of his letter.

Calls to Richard Deutsch seeking comment were not returned.

According to Dix, Deutsch said the business took “great offense” to the letter.

“It was a gross overreaction to my little letter,” Dix said.

In his opinion, the company’s strong reaction displays an intolerance for dissent.

“That’s a really negative thing” for public relations and employee morale, he said.

Mount Snow earned a lot of “PR capital” with the support it gave the community after Tropical Storm Irene struck in 2011, said Dix, but the company’s recent actions have squandered most of it.

“It just smacks of disrespect,” Dix said.

The ban is “a major setback” to Dix’s income. He estimates that last year, the music gigs at Mount Snow amounted to 40 percent of his annual income.

Does he regret posting the letter?

“Honestly, the answer is still no,” Dix said.

Dix said now that the initial shock has passed, he sees the incident as an opportunity.

The musician and co-owner of Vermont Geeks said working close to home allowed him to stay nearer his young family. But now that his son is older, Dix said it’s time for him to reach beyond the Deerfield Valley.

Mount Snow’s ban serves as motivation, said Dix.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #203 (Wednesday, May 15, 2013).

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