Plundered powder

Product marketing changes course on the high seas



Peter Parsons has created a map that gives directions to some of the powder stashes at the Steamboat Ski Area. The Stash Pirates map is transparent and can be laid over a trail map to find the exact stash locations.

— Peter Parsons spends his working days in Steamboat Springs leading a team of engineers that helps electronics companies save money on chip design. But during his coffee breaks, Parsons sometimes morphs into Cutthroat the Pirate.

Parsons is the owner of two local businesses, a consulting firm called Pinpoint Solutions Inc. and Stash Pirates. The former is a consulting firm that designs computer models that support the design of specialized prototypes of new computer chips. Pinpoint Solutions helped Apple design a chip for the iPod, for example.

Parsons, an electrical engineer, leads a team of engineers working in Steamboat, Boulder and Austin, Texas.

Stash Pirates is a very different micro-enterprise that offers a change of pace from computer chip engineering.

Parsons, through his alter ego, sells a treasure map intended to help visiting skiers and snowboarders pillage the secret powder stashes of the Steamboat Ski Area.

"I own a firm that does high-tech consulting. I sit in front of computers all day long and occasionally my brain gets weary. Whenever I need a break, I get up from the computer and start rolling maps," Parsons said.

The Stash Pirates map is a cleverly-designed product that is meant to function as an overlay to the official trail map of the Steamboat Ski Area. Because it is translucent, skiers and riders can use it to locate the unofficial routes through Steamboat's gladed tree runs where, often, untracked powder snow lingers after a storm. Parsons said all customers have to do is line up the dotted lines on his map with the chairlift lines on the official trail map to get the proper alignment.

Especially when taped to a bright window, the official trail map can be read through the Stash Pirates map, which is decorated with art of a pirate ship.

The stashes are labeled by the folk names local skiers and riders have been using for decades - Land of the Little People, Calf Roper Freshies and The Castles, for example. Parsons has had all kinds of fun writing descriptions of how to find the stashes in prose salted liberally with pirate terms such as "avast," as in, "avast ye hearties."

In some social circles in Steamboat, Stash Pirates has earned Parsons a reputation on par with Bluebeard himself. He acknowledges some of the area's most passionate powderhounds have threatened to make him walk the plank. They resent him for providing tourists with a guide to what some regard as privileged information.

The harsh criticism caught him by surprise.

"Some of the hardcore locals,

when they found out about it, they went ballistic," Parsons said. "But everyone who has taken a look at it has said, 'Oh, it's not really giving up any secrets.'"

Parsons said his motivation in creating the map to Steamboat's favorite unofficial powder stashes has been less about profit and more about providing fun for tourists while he explores what it takes to create a successful micro-enterprise. His product opens the eyes of visiting skiers who likely don't realize the ski area is substantially bigger than what is shown on the trail map. All they need, he said, is the key to discovering the unnamed skiing.

"All of the stashes are already within the boundaries of the Steamboat Ski Area," he said. "The map specifically tells people not to go out of bounds. Even if you get to (a stash), you still have to search for the powder. I think (the map) has actually struck a pretty good balance. But certainly, it ruffled a few feathers."

The Stash Pirates map has ruffled enough feathers that Parsons has been forced to learn some lessons about adapting on the fly and creating a new marketing plan in the midst of his first winter.

His initial plan was not to sell the maps in stores, but instead exclusively via rack cards that would drive customers into local restaurants and taverns. Once there, they would have had to ask the bartender for a copy of the Stash Pirates Map.

The rack cards are designed to stand out from the 70 other cards in racks all over Steamboat with a stark illustration of a skull and crossed cutlasses and an invitation to "plunder the hidden powder," and "pillage the secret stashes."

The plan was to add to the cachet of the product and give it a flavor of Indiana Jones by requiring prospective customers to ask local bartenders to pull it out from under the bar.

"I wanted it to have an underground feel to it," Parsons said. "In order to find the map, you have to find the bartender, and when you ask about it, he slides it out from under the bar tied up in a leather string."

Parsons reasoned that for a very slim cut of the treasure (profits) and an indirect means of driving customers to their establishments, restaurant and bar owners would be happy to sell the maps.

The opposite turned out to be true. If the bartenders themselves weren't among the powderhounds who were reluctant to spread the word about the stashes on Mount Werner, they heard enough negativity from their local customers to shy away from the project.

Scott Ford, who has counseled many start-up business owners in Steamboat over the last decade, said he thinks Parsons' product has potentially tapped into a strong desire shared by many vacationers. Vacationers want to discover an authentic sense of place at their vacation destination and to go home with rich stories to tell their neighbors," he said.

"It's about tell-ability," Ford said. "All of us, when we go on vacation, want to feel like a local. And by the time people get home, the fish get bigger and the powder gets deeper."

Parsons' original marketing plan would have allowed tourists to return home and spin a credible yarn about the bartender who turned them on to a secret powder stash where they found snow that was up to mid-thigh.

However, Parsons' ability to let go of the "bartender strategy" and adapt on-the-fly displays is one of the essential skills for entrepreneurs, Ford said.

"The more business start-ups you do, the better you get at it," Ford said.

Since the New Year, Parsons has turned to a computerized phone system to augment the rack cards and send customers to a limited number of retailers that sell the map, including Epilogue Book Co., Rocky Mountain Peddler, Mona's Art to Go and Tropical Rockies. The map retails for $19.95. Sales are "definitely slow," Parsons said.

The computer-based phones system offers 20 extensions and costs Parsons $25 a month. It affords him enough flexibility that he can have a little fun with his customers. For example, the phone message directs customers to hit extension 17 if they want to be insulted by a pirate. Callers who punch in 17 hear Parsons, in his best Bluebeard voice, calling them "scurvy dogs" and other choice pirate insults.

Epilogue's Erica Fogue said her local customers have been skeptical of the map at first, but often are won over after they give it a good look.

"They go through a cycle," Fogue said. "Often they're upset when they come in and want to look at it. They feel a strong sense of localism - this is my mountain. Once they see the map, we talk about it and they end up buying it. There's something about it - it's more a work of art and less of a threat. Some people frame it and put it on their wall."


bcpow 10 years, 3 months ago are a tool. What is next? A map of the best secret fishing spots or maybe the quitest places to have a picnic. Letting some gaper find out about land of the little people is grounds for banishment from the community. Please move to another ski town and ruin their powder stashes.


ihatestupidpeople 10 years, 3 months ago

you suck that is part of being a local you suck get out of town you idiot


fish 10 years, 3 months ago

I don't think that there will ever be a map with the best secret fishing spots because fishermen never tell the truth about size and location!


Matthew Stoddard 10 years, 3 months ago

So is this map for Rabbit Ears? Haven't seen powder in weeks! If this is a B.R.A.T map, can Ski Town Productions sue?


petey1 10 years, 3 months ago

As I reflect back at the wonderful five seasons on the mountain when we lived there, I met some of the greatest long time locals that killed for pow. They turned me on to some of the best fresh I could have ever ridden. And when I read this deal about Mr. Parsons making money with his bogart maps, it makes me want to vomit. Oh wait, I have to. I made some great friends in the Boat, and I miss you all very much. Mike Peterson, from the funeral home PS, maybe Mr. Parsons will be blindsided from some dumb___ person from OKie or Texass coming out of the "stashes" because they don't know better. C ya soon, wishin' we were there. Mikey p


Tigger 10 years, 3 months ago

He will never find my stashes! Oh, and I'm never going to the stores mentioned!


HolySmoke 10 years, 3 months ago

I must say this is just the latest and greatest item on my list of the things that piss me off about steamboat. after 10 years in the boat I just had to go to a new mtn. and let me tell you my fellow powderhounds there is still a mountain (in the us) that does not sell out every last piece of land and every last flake of powder to the highest bidder. It's true i live here. I roll up to my new mtn. about 10 minutes before the lift opens(on a powder day. not 7:00am glass pressers) and find about 20 people in line. There are no hotels, no starbucks, no corporate ownership and its associated marketing in your face at all times. This mtn. is family owned with massive snow, sick lines and a completely open boundary policy. Houses in this area are still affordable, i actually own a home with a river and many hiking trails right in my backyard. sounds to good to be is. Want to move here? well I'm not telling. the last thing that i want is for this place to turn into a steamboat. I love you steamboat locals have a great winter and get on the last of the freshies while they are still there. and remember you still have the canyon that is until the new high speed 6 person chairlft goes in..good luck and if you're really lucky you'll figure out where i'm at and we can make some turns and talk about why we didn't leave steamboat sooner.


spadeisaspade 10 years, 3 months ago

Get off your high horse and give kudos to a local entreprenuer. For goodness sake, Steamboat hasn't been the town people wish it was since the 1980's if not before. The ski area is selling to a multibillion dollar company. The ski terrain, powder and "laid back" small town have been plundered long before this.


suckerfreeforlife 10 years, 2 months ago

Aahhh, the self rightous indignation of a transplant. Always good for a laugh. I love the idea of this map, and the fun it can provide for people. Bottom line, if your not a Temple, a Fetcher, a Wither, or a Ute Indian, than STFU.


QuitYerWhining 10 years, 2 months ago

Anyone who has skiied Steamboat more than a couple times knows where the "stashes" are. The "real" powder hounds wont be waiting in lift lines........get a grip and give up trying to close the gate behind you........Ski Corp spent millions to ensure that would never happen


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.