I have yet to use my Epic Pass this season.
I’m not holding out for a refund.
It’s easy to blame Vail Resorts for all the trials that have plagued this skiing and riding season, but it’s really not their fault that you haven’t been able to ski Okemo, Mount Snow, or Stowe this year.
There is plenty of criticism to go around when it comes to the behemoth’s impact on the industry as a whole. This isn’t necessarily one of those moments.
There is some confusion over Vail’s inclusion of its Epic Coverage with all season passes this season. That insurance, which many pass-holders assumed to mean a refund should they be unable to quarantine in order to meet strict travel restrictions (like those employed by the state of Vermont), does indeed cover the event of personal injury, job loss, or specific resort closure. It does not cover the variety of travel restrictions put in place by individual states due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And so, Vail’s reluctance to issue refunds to skiers and riders unable to use their passes thus far this season has started to attract some attention.
“I live in Massachusetts and had hoped to ski at Okemo Mountain Resort as much as possible this year,” Rob, a skier from Massachusetts wrote to the New York Times’ Tripped Up travel advice column. “However, in November, Vermont announced a new set of cross-state travel guidelines, which include a mandatory quarantine that makes it all-but-impossible to visit regularly throughout the winter. Despite a blitz of preseason assurances of risk-free booking on seasonal ski passes, Vail Resorts, Okemo’s parent company, is refusing to issue pass refunds for people facing state quarantine requirements. The silence is telling: Where’s the corporate responsibility?”
Of course, Vail had already gone above and beyond for its season pass-holders by dishing out partial refunds from the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, based on the amount of days you had used your pass. According to New Hampshire’s Conway Daily Sun, “Vail Resorts reported a net loss of $153.8 million for the first quarter of its current fiscal year ending Oct. 31. That was a decrease of 44.4 percent year over year; however, the company reported an increase of about 20 percent in season pass sales through the first week of December.”
Ted Brady, the deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency Commerce and Community Development, told the Times that Vermont resorts reported a 50-to-70 percent decline in bookings over the holiday season.
In other words, Vail, like everybody else in the ski industry, is struggling this season. A refund bonanza is probably a foolhardy proposal.
WCVB’s Ben Simmoneau recently spoke with a number of Massachusetts residents also expressing their frustrations with the lack of a refund going with the regulations to ski in Vermont.
“It’s just plain wrong because they’re forcing people to do the wrong thing in the midst of a pandemic,” Dr. Danielle Roncari, who works at a Boston hospital, told WCVB. “I felt like Vail was forcing people to make decisions to travel because they had this pass that wasn’t refundable.”
But Vail isn’t forcing anybody to stretch the limits of Vermont’s requests. Mind you, there are still three more Vail-owned ski areas (Wildcat, Attitash, and Mount Sunapee) located in New Hampshire where the Epic Pass is still valid. But skiing or riding at those locations comes with its own set of travel restrictions for Massachusetts residents, who have to quarantine or test upon return from the Granite State.
In Vail’s mind, travel restrictions may be inconvenient, but they do not outrightly prevent pass-holders from visiting the resorts. This is true. I shouldn’t hold Indy Pass liable for me not being able to visit Jay Peak, Bolton Valley, or Magic Mountain without putting my life on hold for two weeks prior, should I?
Vail did give purchasers a deadline in December to submit for a refund. But, if you’re like me, at least, chances are you let the date pass while holding out hope that COVID numbers would decrease and that travel restrictions would somehow vanish in time for spring (let’s all just take March off, shall we?) Some COVID numbers have started to trend downward and the vaccine is being distributed. So, maybe it’s not such an outlandish thought, despite the new strain of coronavirus that recently made its way into the Bay State.
I’ve still got reservations for Stowe in both March and April that I won’t be cancelling quite yet. I’ve got priority reservations at both Wildcat and Attitash next month that I still aim on using.
Maybe the travel restrictions in Massachusetts will be lightened by then. Maybe I’ll be scrapping all my plans and heading to Wachusett for the rest of the season.
Who knows? It’s all an enormous frustration.
But it isn’t Vail’s fault.
Not this time, at least.
Long weekend delivers needed snow
Heavy snow scattered throughout Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine last weekend, just in time for the MLK holiday, a pivotal period on the industry’s annual calendar. Bolton Valley picked up 19 inches through Monday. Killington saw 25 inches. Wildcat received a foot, and was able to open 40 of 48 trails by Tuesday.Bretton Woods is reporting as much as 26 inches over the last five days. Sunday River saw 11 inches fall, and now has 96 trails open at the Maine resort.
Cold temperatures this weekend should allow for additional snowmaking across the ski area landscape. But as far as the next, big storm is concerned, we’ll just watch and wait.
Woodstock Inn and Brewery’s Steven Rouse gives us the lowdown on the 4000 Footer IPA, a fan favorite that skiers and riders can grab both at the brewery and at a New England retailer near you.