If the reservation system that Vail employed for its resorts in Australia and New Zealand earlier this summer is going to be the same process we utilize in North America, get ready for some frequent headaches.
Vail’s first attempt at utilizing a COVID-related reservation process led to long waits online with users trying in vain to reserve spots. Plenty of potential skiers and riders found the system frustrating, in many cases, failing to get the days they wanted. Some customers waited more than 12 hours for their turn to reserve tickets.
Mix in the early shutdowns the resort conglomerate enacted in Australia only after a few days of operation, and a fear for how the Epic Pass would work stateside started to percolate.
So, just how difficult will it be to get a reservation this upcoming season at a Vail-owned property?
“We believe, for the vast majority of those days, guests will be able to ski and ride on the days they want,” said Jody Churich, vice president and general manager of Colorado’s Keystone Mountain Resort, one of 37 properties owned by Vail. “But we’re planning for all days and contingencies; weekend powder days, holidays, and the like.”
Less than two weeks from Keystone’s projected opening on Nov. 6, which would make it the first of Vail’s North American properties to open for the season, the resort network feels that it has worked out the kinks that gave it such trouble during the summer months down south.
“We have been working on our technology and really have learned a lot through the process,” Churich said. “Being able to really learn about the patterns of how that system works sets us up for North America, heading into the season having knowledge for how that system functioned.”
Vail is confident that it has sifted through the issues that faced the online waiting room, and is ready to roll out the refined reservation system in November. The lessons learned at southern hemisphere resorts like Austrailia’s Thredbo, should serve as a roadmap.
“We had four times the demand on our website,” Caroline Brauer, Thredbo’s director of brand and marketing, told Aspen Public Radio. “We had 38,000 people trying to access our reservation system to get their lift passes. And our system just didn’t cope.”
It wasn’t the only trouble that Vail experienced with its online commerce over the last few months. In September, with Epic Pass-holders looking to apply their credits toward a lesser-value pass for the 2020-21 season, it led to a customer service overload.
Keystone’s opening on Nov. 6 will serve as a nice test run for the reservation system, perhaps helping East Coast Epic Pass-holders understand what to expect when the operator’s family of Northeast resorts opens. Wildcat Mountain will be the first in New England to open on Nov. 13, followed by Mount Snow one day later.
As Vail announced in late August, early-season dates at its resorts would be reserved for season pass-holders. Ticket reservations for the general public will be available Dec. 8 — April 4 across all resorts. Pass-holders can make as many week-of reservations as their pass type and availability will allow throughout the season.
“We don’t want to be caught off-guard or find the need to make reactionary changes,” Churich said, adding that Vail is striving for consistency across all of its resorts in order to provide skiers, employees, and communities with as much predictability as possible.
Vail is focused on three major priorities, Churich said, as it looks toward the 2020-21 season; the safety of its guests, employees, and community, having a successful season from start to finish, and prioritizing pass holders. Face masks will be required without exception at all properties, and skiers and riders can expect changes in terms of Vail’s food service, ski school sizes, and rental capabilities.
But whatever limitations are in place, they are done so with one common goal; to set aim on a complete season, something we saw come to a sudden halt last March.
“While things will look different this season, the exciting news is we are going to have a ski season,” Churich said. “We are striving to be out front and really thoughtful as we head into the season. It is our goal, and we have designed an approach that can remain in place for all of the season.”