28 Comments

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Jan 17, 2022·edited Jan 17, 2022

The Stevens Pass response of blaming "The Covid" for their struggles is both infuriating and unsurprising.

So many large corporations have made their revenue goals on the back of cutting things to the bone. Now, they want to use "But Covid!" as an excuse for every failing. As if it's OK to have have a $2.3 Billion dollar company and never plan for the inevitable black swan event.

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When Life gives you onions... I made a giant pot of French Onion soup, I had to buy the croutons and gruyere to complete it properly. I just took the last two onions out of the lifty room today.

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VailFail gobbling up more and more mountains just can’t be a good thing. Each mountain has a local flavor and style and trying to run them all the same is not an improvement. But they got our billions. They are ruining skiing, it’s sad. Old school die hard mountains won’t exist and that sucks. Great article though.

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Jesus Christ, I thought the onions and potatoes thing was a metaphor. These people are cartoon villains. Completely out of touch with reality.

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Jan 10, 2022·edited Jan 10, 2022

Not sure which Hunter Mountain you are speaking about but 31 trails? Not accurate. The entire West Side is closed as is 90% of the newer North section. Skiing was ok for what nature delivered but snowmaking seemed quite erratic this past week when temperatures were optimal.

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Jan 8, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

I am in Ohio and i usually ski Mad River, 2 things really bother me. The first is, they set the limited schedule for the rest of the season!!! That tells me they gave up, won't even try to be open more often. I also noticed this at Mt Brighton in Michigan, I naively thought it was because of early season snow conditions, boy was I wrong.

2nd they are the best capitalized company by far with Ski operations in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana and their snowmaking efforts is pitiful. Next year its either Icon and a Snowtrails pass or an Indy pass and Snowtrails, the wildcard could be a Ski Cooper pass.

I I don't care at all if the Vax requirement hurt them from hiring. Its their job to ensure staffing. If you cannot get enough people for what you want to pay, then pay more. Its simple supply and demand. Also let me predict Epic pass sales will drop significantly in the more affected area's, at least where there is any reasonable choice.

7 Springs fans look out, consider some other options if possible, this will likely be similar for you next year aka later opening and staffing issues limiting hours.

I don't think its a coincidence that they are now closed during the week in what I assume is their least profitable times.

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But nothing In this article about vail employees required to take jab could lead to staff shortage.

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Get your shot already you giant baby

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If the resorts had real management the emoyees would not be a problem.

The problem is the the owners sisters daughters newphews uncle is running the place. He hates the cold and spends January in Florida.

Real ski resort managers love the cold and spend January giving candy bars to beginners, telling the kids they are skiing great, walk around hand out hand warmers to employees, ski the just groomed to make sure it is right and have clothes drying rooms

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Jan 7, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Getting up at 4am to drive 4 hours and ski three mountains in one day - that ROCKS!

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hmmmm...... I get up at 7:30 get on the lifts at 8:45 and ski two mountains most days of the week. Maybe you like your job too much. You should move.

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Jan 7, 2022·edited Jan 7, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Oh, don't let Crystal Mountain off the hook. They look amazing compared to Stevens, but the hill is a hot mess of oversold ski passes and a management team that view parking as an amenity (their word) rather than a requirement for ski area that 99.99% of people drive too. Unless you're into a 90 mile roundtrip on a bus at peak COVID.

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I TAUGHT AT CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN FOR 1970 TO 1975. Crystal was great back them. it has sucked for the last 40 years though and it just keeps getting worse.

Easter Washington and Idaho are much much better. just need to keep the sleazy Californians away.

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Jan 7, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Personally I prefer parking in Enumclaw, so I don't have to deal with Crystal Mountain Blvd but 🤷‍♂️.

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Jan 6, 2022·edited Jan 6, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Great post. There are two corrections. First, Stevens has never had 75% of the terrain open this year. The most I've seen listed is 61%, but it is, more often, in the 40%-50% range. Second, Stevens did not start counting the snowfall until December 1st, according to them when I asked. If you look at the WSDOT website snowfall report for Stevens Pass, there is a daily history https://wsdot.com/travel/real-time/mountainpasses/snowfallreport and as of 12/28, there had been 216" at the pass level. As of today, (there is so much snow all Washington State east/west passes are closed due to avalanche hazard), there has been 262" of snow according to WSDOT. Stevens is reporting 162" which is simply not true. We have had massive snow, and it feels like they are manipulating that data to suggest they don't have as much snow as they do. They are reporting an 82" base, while the WSDOT is reporting 100" at the highway level. This is closer, so feels a bit more realistic.

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Good reporting from the ground! The conditions you've described are accurate and the reasons given by management not unexpected. That said, there may be another, more subtle and potentially longer-term, contributing factor of substance beyond the staffing shortages and limited terrain issues.

Looking back to last season, it took a Herculean effort to confront the unknown and get resorts open, especially given the devastating human toll of the pandemic and the overwhelming regulations and protocols resulting from it. Our expectations were low. The collective focus was "to get through this" with some relationship to 'normal'. The outdoors, in particular the mountains and snowsports, provided a glimmer of hope and many of us escaped to these havens. And our expectations were exceeded!

However, lost in that euphoric moment was the potential for a Perfect Storm to move in behind it. Traversing stealthily under everyone's radar it approached, combing the impact of pandemic-induced lifestyle changes - work habits, school closures, increased recreational time, the exodus to the outdoors - with two other known and recurring phenomena; the increasing trend by resorts to jettison day tickets in favor of affordable season passes and the impact of weather on mountain operations. As it is with the unpredictability of snow, this storm hit ground zero with a fury over the holidays wiping out nearly all of the good will and joy from the previous season. And our expectations were crushed under the weight of long lift lines, crowed runs and limited operations.

The question for today is: "How did the industry manage a full one-eighty on the 'Guest Experience'?" Answers are almost always complex. But one contributing factor may be resort management likely relying on the historical average relationship between the number of passes sold and skier usage. Not taking into consideration the new lifestyle paradigm shift in marketing their passes looks to be an Achilles Heel for meeting guests' expectations. And it shouldn't have been. Widely published reports over the past eighteen months from across mountain communities consistently confirmed significant increases not only in the number of guests visiting but also the average length of their stay.

Despite these well-documented visitor analytics, resorts charged ahead strategically positioning their season pass pricing structure to not only direct purchasing decisions but in doing so have facilitated a substantial increase of skier days. Was this an unintended consequence or a failure to recognize and respond to a dramatic shift in market dynamics? It's likely we'll never know the answer. But the question for tomorrow is clearly the most important: "How do they plan to pull off another full one-eighty?"

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Another big problem is the ability to staff adequately to run the operations and equipment to the capacity of same. The H2B visa workers aren't there this year (I did meet one lift operator from Brazil on a lift, but he was the only one), and the cost of local housing exploded with the transition of people to remote work in the mountains. This may be an impact felt at the bigger resorts more than the small hills of the midwest and mid-Atlantic, but it did strain the crews over Christmas digging out the west and getting equipment back online safely.

This obviously also impacts food service, lessons, and other off snow activities. I really saw it in the lack of line/corral management, where there wasn't an employee assigned to wrangle the herd.

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Here’s the deal from a former ski instructor‘s point of view as far as staffing goes. Yes it’s true they pay us peanuts, lefties snow makers hospitality services kitchen staff etc. and yes ski instructors. Rental prices for a single room in someone’s home has jumped through the roof. Yet the wages have not. Let’s face it, we all know that there’s a labor shortage in the cities and towns that we live in it makes no sense in the world to turn your life upside down to move to the mountains to make peanuts and pays super high rents when we can go down the street and make $17 an hour.

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Jan 11, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Further to my previous comment, as far as the H2B visa workers goes, in general, the resorts provide lodging for them yes four to a room which if you’re 18 years old is acceptable -sort of, however I’m told that the lodging sometimes leaves much to be desired. I had a conversation with a former race coach from Portillo Chile who told me that when he was working ,a number of years ago, they had a hot bed arrangement. What’s a hotbed arrangement you ask?, The ski instructors, lifties and hospitality have the beds from 8 PM to 6 AM and then the same beds are occupied by the snow makers until 4 PM… (This was not a Vail Resort) How about the story of a ski instructor friend of mine who worked at the same mountain for 40 years he was told that everyone with his PSIA level classification would be making $15 an hour This is what 40 years experience gets you in this business insulting is not even the word for this. By the way some mountains are getting $1000 a day for a six hour private lesson….You do the math ! And tips are no guarantee -some do and some don’t. Vail has built their fortune on the backs of their workers you’d think they could give them some stock in the company-But in my opinion it might be too late there’s too much ill well at this point

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The problem is that all major companies hire MBA's to manage things.

MBA's are people who reason know absolutely nothing about business but think they do because they learned a bunch of indicator equations which they promptly forgot.

An MBA spends his days thinking of ways to cheat into a profit rather then giving a quality product in exchange for the customers money.

An MBA says: " well we already sold the seasons passes to only be open the minimum we have to to not give back the money.

A real manager says yeah I want this place to sale more season passes next year then this year so on crappy days give all my pass holders who are up here free hot chocolate and french fries or a free ski voucher for a friend another day. Then advertise you did it after the fact.

Real managers build a seasons pass holders only part of their lodge.

MBA's say if there is standing room in the lodge; good enough.

real managers say how do we get the humidity down so clothes dry faster.

It is not just ski resorts that suffer the MBA plague. All American business fell for the MBA lie and all american companies are suffering for it.

You want a real scientific team to run your business the hire an Economic major, finance major, accounting major, and a worker off your front line team. Then make they agree on all decisions. You will get good results every time.

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Completely spot on! Tossing in a loaf of bread and a few potatoes and onion is the icing on the cake. Great write-up. The problem that's actually making customers unhappy is not staffing, covid, weather, etc, it's lack communication! And also never making any sort of acknowledgement or concession when they aren't able to meet basic expectations other than blaming external factors. If the company had communicated that they were going to do all this, especially when people were buying passes, there wouldn't be anything to complain about. Entirely predictable, except maybe in the Broomfield bubble.

I also suspect the company is becoming less and less popular to work at so they may even need to offer higher wages/benefits than the competition just to hire the same amount of people going forward.

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Great piece.

I know this blog is probably only read by 40 yr olds who stick to groomers but I think you have ignored Vail's impact on terrain parks.

They bought some of the biggest mountains in that game and turned them into absolute jokes. Keystone, Breck, Northstar, Big Boulder were all top 5 parks with Pros who trained there. Now that community has moved on. Seven Springs is next now that they were bought, Carinthia at Mt Snow for some reason is allowed to exist still. Stevens pass wasnt a half bad park back in the day btw.

You dont need to be a rocket scientist to see that top tier parks attract a younger crowd which also happens to be who staffs resorts usually. Before these resorts could pay lower wages but having a free pass to a mountain that actually was fun and had a community was worth it. Woodward Park City (+ Killington/Copper) has no shortage of young, talented employees because they focused on building a community and the perks were worth it.

No kid is going to be persuaded by a free season pass to somewhere that just isnt a fun mountain.

Vails drive to make resorts disney world with no regular community is part of the reason they will attract no younger staff who are actually knowledgeable and passionate. Money was always tight in this industry but killing the passion is the other missing puzzle piece.

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author

Good points about parks. That was BB's whole identity. Keystone and Breck are odd cases though since Vail has owned them for 25 years and must have created the parks to begin with. Still, your point is made: parks are very expensive/intense to upkeep, and I wonder if there's been a philosophical shift internally?

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

For North Tahoe, the park center of gravity moved to Woodward at Boreal. There weren’t any parks setup at Palisades last week, which I think is really due to prioritizing getting the mountains and lifts safe & open. PT’s President was seen running a beginner chair at Alpine on NYE day.

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