Sim-plicity: I am a ski resort manager

Christopher Livingston at

Having retired from world-saving heroics, Christopher Livingston is living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week he’s off to the Swiss Alps to work as a ski resort manager; that is, until he becomes obsessed with a giant mound of salt.

I refuse to bury the lede, so I'm just going to come right out and say it: a ten-foot-tall pile of salt has completely destroyed any hopes I had of running a successful ski resort. Granted, I can't really blame the pile of salt itself. I mean, it's salt. It's a seasoning. It didn't attack me with a machete or set fire to a building or steal my identity and run up a massive credit card bill in the Bahamas. It just sat there, in a pile, being salt. And yet, simply by being a pile of salt, it ruined everything.

I'm playing Ski Region Simulator this week, which promises me the opportunity to create and manage a world class ski resort. And, as many of these simulation games do, it appears as if this is going to be an exercise in driving from A to B in a variety of similar vehicles with a thin layer of finance management spread over the top. For instance, my first task is to drive around in a giant snow tractor, grooming the ski slope I've purchased, which essentially amounts to painting the snow a slightly different shade of white until a percentage meter fills all the way up.

Please enjoy our complimentary car-grooming service.

After grooming the slope and purchasing some additional ski resort facility buildings, a window pops up telling me a skier has been injured on my slope. I'm told I can collect him in a rescue sled and drive him to the helipad so he can be airlifted to a hospital. So, I drive off in my tractor, looking for a rescue sled. I eventually find a vehicle showroom conveniently located on the premises, and buy a snowmobile for a whopping $48,000, plus a sled for another $3,000.

After rescuing the skier, I go back to my snow tractor, making a stop at the bank to see how I'm doing financially. Let's see... including the construction of the new facilities and the cost of the snowmobile, I've spent $121,000 today. And my revenues from ticket purchases: $378. So... not super great? After jacking up prices on all of my facilities (ticket prices, food prices, and I even charge $5 for using the information booth), I get another call: one of the chalets has run out of towels, so could I please drive some up the mountain on a transport sled? Which is a totally different kind of sled than a rescue sled, apparently?

Another reason I'm not profiting: skiers take the lift up and then immediately take it back down.

I speed back to the vehicle store to buy a slightly different kind of sled for another couple grand, then drive to the spot indicated on my map. There's a box of towels someone has thoughtfully placed outside in the snow for me to collect, because who doesn't enjoy an ice-cold sopping wet towel on a crisp winter day? I speed up the mountain, deliver the towels, and am paid a staggering $11,000.

Whoa! $11,000 for spending a few minutes to deliver a box of towels? If someone needs a toothbrush and some contraceptives, I'll actually be able to pay for this snowmobile. A few minutes later, another fetch quest pops up: I'm asked to deliver a spool of replacement cable to one of the lift stations, for which I'll be paid $5,800. A strategy suddenly emerges. Subsist on snowmobile missions until I'm making a profit, then invest in additional slopes. Don't buy any other equipment or vehicles or buildings in the meantime. Maybe I can turn this whole resort around and actually start making a profit.

Then, I spot the aforementioned ten-foot-tall pile of salt and that plan goes straight to hell.

Salt, shown here in pile form.

This giant pile of salt is immediately hypnotizing to me. I mean, it's a giant pile of salt. It's huge. I should do something with it. Nay, I must do something with it. I love doing things in video games that I've never done before, and I've never done anything with a giant pile of salt before in a video game, so when another fetch quest pops up, promising me thousands of dollars for a routine driving chore, I decline it and decide to do something with this mesmerizing bunch of salt instead.

I head back to the vehicles store, and find an enormous truck called the Lizard Cougar Salt Spreader, which costs $95,000. I buy it without thinking twice. I am going to fill this truck with salt and then spread the salt on things. It finally occurs to me that I don't know what to spread salt on or even why I would spread salt on anything, but then I remember: parking lots! Salt is the best way to melt iced-over pavement while simultaneously turning cars into rusting husks.

I drive my new truck over to the salt pile, then begin to wonder how this is going to work. An info box tells me I need to fill the truck with salt, but doesn't give me indication of how this is to be accomplished. I try backing the truck into the salt, thinking, I don't know, maybe the salt will just jump in there, but my truck simply drives up on the giant salt mountain and stops. And then it won't come down. The wheels just spin. My $95,000 truck is stuck on the pile of salt.

I claim this salt pile for Spain.

Ho-kay. Maybe I can push it off with my snowmobile or something. I rush back to the vehicle store, where my snowmobile is parked, and take a moment to look through the rest of the vehicles. There is something for sale called a "Skid Steer Loader with Bucket", which will allow me to fill my truck with salt, I guess. One problem: I can't afford it without selling the giant salt truck I just purchased. So, I can either have a truck with no salt, or a salt loader with no truck. It's like that O. Henry story "The Gift of the Magi" only with a single gift and several tons of salt.

I sell the truck, only noticing after I click the button that I've sold it back at a 50% loss. Now, I can afford the tractor and the loader, but not the salt spreading attachment, which is $28,000, which seems like a lot for just a big metal saltshaker. I have to sell the snowmobile back, again, at a huge loss, to afford the spreader. But at last, the salt will be mine! The precious, precious salt.

I drive my loader over, and slowly push the front of it into the salt pile, thrilled to see that the bucket fills with salt, but not thrilled to see, once again, that the loader has become wedged on the salt pile. The rear wheels are on the ground, the bucket is in the salt, the salt is in the bucket, but the front wheels, the ones that actually turn when you accelerate, are in midair, touching nothing. I'm stuck.

I haven't hated Salt this much since I saw the movie Salt.

Let's quickly get through the next steps I take, because you can probably guess them all.

Salt is bad for your health, and now, your mental health.

  1. Try to ram the loader with the tractor I just bought, hoping to knock it free yet resulting in both vehicles getting stuck the exact same way? Check!
  2. Visit the vehicle store to sell both vehicles back at a huge loss, and wind up unable to afford replacements? Yup!
  3. Go to the bank and take out a massive loan to purchase another loader and tractor? You know it!

So. Carefully, I get my second loader filled with salt. I manage to dump the salt into my new salt spreader. And I drive off, now hundreds of thousands of dollars poorer, with salt in my spreader, and finally, at long last, start actually spreading salt.

If you look closely, you can see the salt.

For the record, I was able to spread salt for about six seconds before the spreader was empty. I didn't even reach the parking lot.

Conclusion: I think I'm going to let you draw your own.

And from my Ski Region to yours, Happy Holidays!