It has been a rough stretch for Vail.
Well, really, it’s been a difficult start to the ski season for everyone. A lack of natural snow and warm temperatures have limited skiable terrain throughout New England. Some ski areas, like Pat’s Peak and Wachusett, are able to maintain their conditions with superior snowmaking. Others had to sit and wait until more suitable temperatures returned to the region.
So Vail properties are not alone in their struggles to begin the 2021-22 season.
But no other resort conglomerate sold 2.1 million season passes either.
With a number that high, complaints are going to be incessant, especially in the vociferous world of social media, where Vail was routinely hammered during the holiday break.
It was particularly bad in New Hampshire, where Vail-owned Attitash Mountain Resort had, yet again, issues with the summit triple that led to long lines at the base. A lack of open terrain at nearby Wildcat had many Epic Passholders wondering if Vail was sitting back on its responsibility to produce a skiable product.
That led general managers at both resorts to issue Christmas Eve apologies over their social media channels.
“I know that this has been a challenging start to the season and we hear your feedback that you wish more terrain was open,” Wildcat GM JD Crichton wrote. “Trust us, we do too.…It is no secret that we, like so many others in the travel and leisure industry, are facing a staffing shortage that is creating challenges for certain departments at Wildcat.”
Attitash GM Greg Gavrilets wrote, “While opening a resort is no small feat in any season, these team members are deserving of extra thanks this year. Over the last year, we have seen an increased interest in outdoor experiences. At the same time, like others in the travel and leisure industry, we are contending with staffing shortages that are creating challenges for certain departments. This is compounded by the continued impacts of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.”
A few days later, Crotched Mountain, the third of four Vail-owned Granite State ski areas, announced that, due to the elements, the property would close on Mondays and Tuesdays for the immediate future.
“This change to a five-day schedule will allow our hard-working resort teams to better focus on delivering the best possible ski and ride experience for our guests on those days,” Crotched GM Susan Donnelly wrote on social media. “We will continue working toward solutions to these challenges and will reassess our operations strategy as the season progresses, so please stay tuned to our website and social media channels for updates.”
More letters ran on other Vail-owned property websites, each very similar in its message and delivery. A scathing article in the Colorado Sun detailed how a record number of pass holders were dealing with a critical labor shortage at Vail-owned properties. Last week, Vail announced that Jeff Wise, a communications manager who had been with Stowe for 27 years, and had been assisting in that same role this season with Attitash and Wildcat, was leaving the company.
So, yes. It has been quite the rough stretch.
Jason Blevins wrote in the Colorado Sun that skiers from Vail Resorts’ “Stevens Pass ski area in Washington on Thursday created an online petition to “hold Vail Resorts accountable.” More than 11,000 people signed the petition in the first 24 hours.”
“We are disgusted with the mismanagement of the ski area, the failure to treat employees well, or pay them a livable wage, and the failure to deliver the product we all paid for,” reads the petition at change.org. “There is a clear pattern of overselling passes and failing to provide the most rudimentary services to uphold Vail Resort’s end of the deal with consumers.”
The 2.1 million Epic passes that Vail sold last offseason were a 76 percent increase over the 2019-20 season. It has many wondering if Vail is only about marketing in volume, not quality.
Of course, some snow wouldn’t hurt either.
Eric Wilbur can be reached at [email protected].