“The people who ski all of our resorts … need to feel like they are getting a good experience, and if they don’t, then our company is not successful.”
Now I understand why the failures have happened... skiing for Rob was always a sport and never a way of life or lifestyle... he is so far removed from so many issues at the VR in New England that he comes across as a liar... "Jerry of day" is not making fun of tourists or black people...
Thank you my man. And yes Doug Fish will be on the podcast every year until he says no.
Great podcast Stuart and holy mackerel! You've interviewed Rusty Gregory and Rob Katz, the minds behind North America's current two largest ski corporations. And good job asking all the hard questions that were at the front of our minds about Vail and their downright horrendous season this year, you asked the questions for the millions of us that can't get a chance to talk to Rob Katz.
At this point I'm sure you could interview anybody in the ski industry, except for maybe the corporate heads at Powdr Corp due to some fiery articles you've written about that company lol.
On a slightly different note regarding mega-passes, are you by chance considering having Doug Fish on for a third podcast appearance? It would be awesome to see how he would reflect on the Indy Pass's third season when it's over, let us in on the numbers and how they compare to the previous Indy Pass seasons, and give us some ideas for what's next with this very new and revolutionary pass.
I wish more was mentioned in regards to just employee relations within the company. There is obviously something very toxic going on there. I know I recently was reached out to for a office role in Bloomfield and they were offering 50k as the starting range.... For perspective I told them I would need atleast market rate of 150k to leave my current role. I started at 50k in my first role out of college almost a decade ago with no experiance.......
In Ohio, I heard they were offering $12 at their resorts but now $15 across the board? Meanwhile Cedar point is starting at $20. Meaning they tend to be percentages off what the market rate is for a role.
If they arent treating their employees or their customers right, I really don't see why this company should be allowed to exist. I invite others to join me in not buying their product and certainly not working for them until they can get it together. As of right right now, society is better off without them.
Congrats on the interview Stuart. As a full time ski enthusiast, part-time ski coach I am more than nervous what the big 4 executives not only think but actually put into practice. If Customer experience and employee experience are the two main factors for success why is it seem Vail and even Alterra are so reactive rather than proactive with these experiences? I like how he stated that one of Vail’s mantras was “inclusiveness”. However never mentioned his steps to action for drawing in more minorities to skiing.
I will add that I grew up skiing at a small hill in southern Michigan. If the owners of Bittersweet decided to cancel night skiing many skiers would of simply lost interest in meeting their friends at the mountain. Furthermore pros/olympians out of the Midwest like; Tom Wallisch, Mike Hornbeck, and Nick Goepper. Would ultimately have never come to exist. Nick put Perfect North on the map. Same goes for Mike with Bittersweet and Tom for Seven Springs. I’m pretty certain two of those resorts are now owned by the big 4. Just imagine if these amazing skiers were never allowed to ski at night? day after day? You are possibly depriving a child from following their dream and in the cases above ski culture as a whole. It is also possible the next Tom or Nick could be of color as well?
All I know about vail, from working there, is that it's a culture of foul-mouthed immature people and I believe that goes all the way up to Rob Katz because, as we know, it all starts at the top and trickles down. Having worked with Vails supervisors and managers and subordinates only solidifies the probable fact that this inferior culture must start with Rob Katz. But nothing will be changed as long as the money is rolling in for the stockholders. The lift lines will stay long and the mountains ungroomed and labor shortages will loom. It was a pleasure to see the $13 million settlement for the hundred thousand workers that were abused.
Rob Katz skis in jeans. That is all
Let's get straight to the rub for a moment ... If not for snow sports enthusiasts turning ski resorts and ski towns into petri dishes of covid variants because they can't be bothered to follow pandemic protocols, NOT a single one of the people in the "Vail Sucks" crowd would give a single shit about worker wages, employee, housing, or any one of a hundred other issues that have plagued the ski industry for decades.
Why do they suddenly care? Because their experience has been impacted by their own actions. Actions they don't want to take an ounce of responsibility for.
Over the past five weeks, I visited six ski towns and ski resorts across the west. Half were Vail properties and half were a mix of Alterra and independent resorts. EVERY single one was suffering from massive staffing shortages which meant that on-mountain access, services, and comfort across the board were affected. Locally, at every level, gift shops to restaurants to bars to hotels to grocery stores, etc. were all short-staffed and hiring. ALL due to covid.
If not for Covid, staffing wouldn't be an issue. And if everything was running smoothly in spite of Covid, NO ONE would be bitching about anything. That's the reality.
But "Vail Sucks" because they are an easy target. Never mind that for decades, millionaires and billionaires who infect ski towns like a different kind of plague have fought subsidized housing for resort employees at every turn because they don't want their property values to decrease. Never mind that the same people in the "Vail Sucks" crowd probably don't support a federally mandated $15 minimum wage. Never mind that most of them have probably never worked in the ski industry and have zero clue the challenges resort workers have ALWAYS faced. They only care now because their experience hasn’t met their expectations and entitlement.
Under 4% of the US population skis. Unlike Austria, where over 60% of the population skis, the US is not a ski culture. Ski areas fail due to many factors, the most important of which is declining profits. Argue all you want about Vail, the company found a way to get more people to take up skiing. And that's the final rub isn't it? Crowded slopes are a problem for those people who want skiing to remain an elitist pastime.
As for Covid, Omicron finally caught up to me and my 80 year old father a few days ago. Could have been at Beaver Creek, Keystone, or Breck. Either way, we are both triple vaxxed, wore masks, and did our best to minimize exposure. We still had to cancel our vacation early due to the reckless and irresponsible behavior of someone else ... I wouldn't wish this crap on anyone, yet there are large percentage of people who don't give damn whether their actions impact the health and welfare of other people. And it pisses me off that someone else’s irresponsible behavior has cost me ski days.
Now imagine being a resort employee who is exposed to 100X the people my dad and I were exposed to on a daily basis ... Would you put your health at risk to work at a resort? No you wouldn't.
Vail isn’t the problem. People who visit resorts are the problem and the “Vail Sucks” crowd exemplifies that reality to a “T”.
Greetings from Whistler. I am Not really in the loop here but debris keeps surfacing: The biggest reason for long lift lines is the firing, loss, retirement of experienced staff. There are No spares to get stuff open in a timely manner. Steven's Pass is right: failure to pay a living wage; a housing situation destroyed by capitalism: No-one here needs renters and the Muni and Vail have failed utterly.
Three winters ago we had a crappy opening and the groomers were told 'there ain't no snow; don't bother coming in'. That year they 'retired' Whistler's most experienced Avi-guy when snow-control is really what determines lift-lines. When the season 'ended' last year; the Pro-patrol were having a tail-gate beer in the parking lot. Security pulled up and somebody said something: One guy fired, two severe reprimands and another just quit. This is Pro-patrol in helicopters in the mountains in winter with explosives and victims who may be cold and blue. These are not the guys to hassle in a parking-lot.
This year NINE groomers and THREE lift-maint. have been fired for not getting vaccinated. Obviously anti-vaxx is flat out stupid: BUT the cynicism, the hypocritical cynicism; of Not requiring Vaxx-proof for lift-tickets is beyond reason. I have heard that there are no more supervisors here; only 'employees' and the remote bean counters in some gaming room in Boulder. One of the reasons Dave Brownlie quit was because the lifts were being controlled remotely from this Boulder-bunker. Lifts, Snow-making, Grooming, Ski-patrol: anything else is just icing on the cake. What used to be a sport is now merely 'entertainment' between lunch and another mediocre dinner with ambivalent friends.
Some, obviously haven’t considered the Midwest skiers. 20 plus years we got to ski midweek! Not now. They told me in person they are not opening for any more hours this season. While it’s not up to the Beaver Creek standard, at least it’s skiing. Btw this has been the case in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana in my experience.
Next years shopping decisions are Icon and Snow Trails pass or Indy pass and Snow Trails.
I believe there has to be a price paid by Vail. Less sales is the only manner that most large companies will even notice.
Rob Katz can look at the “big picture” all he wants, but I believe the local consumer affected by hiring being more difficult. ( Snow Trails fully open 2 weeks earlier, no noticeable staffing issues) if they truly wanted to hire people they could have. A choice was made, and next year I will be making my choice. I am not saying I won’t go back, but a price needs to be paid. So for the next year or two I am making a different choice.
God this guy is gross. Blaming his company's lack of spine to do right by their workers on the skiing community. Gaslight through and through. Disgusting.
I agree with most of the previous comments but came here to interject two observations: (1) diversity is important in any industry but diversity should not just be "inner-city-disadvantaged-poor-uneducated-people-whose-skin-color-is-not-the-same-as-my-doctor-teacher-friends-family-coke dealer-mortgage broker-and-preacher" type of diversity. It should also be reflected in management's worldview so that management does not consist 100% of business school slappies. It's inevitable that biases emerge when one focuses on only one fundamental aspect of a business. Unfortunately, when you're trained in an MBA program, you're trained in one very specific way of viewing the world. And, when you have generations of people running a business who think of the business only through the lens of "interest holders" and "dividends," you're going to miss out on a lot of "other shit." This phenomenon is what leads to so many in America's business world to seem out of touch even thought they're heralded within their tribe as geniuses, innovators, and disrupters (tm). Robert Katz sounds like another very successful business leader who is, unbeknownst to himself, out of touch with the rest of the world. This is not a judgment. His being out of touch is likely also the reason he was successful at making Vail resorts an extremely profitable institution. But, having such a narrow framework also brings limitations and such limitations might be what is currently being felt by so many people emotionally reacting to your podcast etc. (2) Why the hell does Katz have such a beef with Jerry of the Day? Even Jerrys understand that Jerry-of-the-Day humor is universal and timeless. It's not elitist. In fact, I would say that the slap stick humor found in 98% of Jerry of the Day videos is the most base level, salt of the earth humor known. I want someone to investigate what the good people at Jerry of the Day ever did to Katz and/or Vail Resorts. There must be something there because no one hates Jerry of the Day videos, including non skiers. His diatribe against Jerry of the Day seemed interesting and worth exploring.
Good Pod. The man is slick and smooth. Of course, you don't rise to that position without those qualities. I heard customers/clientele many, many times but I didn't hear stockholders/shareholders much, I wonder how different the language is at the shareholder meetings. I do think he has had some great ideas, but in the end, I found him disingenuous, he sure likes to take credit, but is quite good at shifting any blame.
First of all, congratulations to the Storm for landing the interview. For someone at Katz’s level to seek out the podcast in order to get his story out, it demonstrates the relevance of this podcast. And the listeners appreciate the fact that you rolled out some of the tough questions, and also understand why you would not want to follow-up too harshly when the questions weren’t directly addressed. It was well done.
My reaction to his story is that we are witnessing one of the greatest corporate spins of all time. What if Vail was instead called Skicom, was based in say Houston, paid the vast majority of their employees minimum wage, caused massive traffic jams and ski town congestion, limited operating hours, was unabashedly pro-business, etc? They would be hated and vilified by all. But make a few changes: talk a good game about diversity, make some strategic donations, use paper straws, and green wash every communication? Some people will be fooled. Vail is writing the playbook of how to be the big ugly dominant player but fool people into thinking they are something else.
It was disheartening to hear the reaction to what is happening at the local hills. The response was basically: wait, look over here. These bigger resorts are fine. More skiers = good. And something about not opening Big Boulder early was about sustainability?
Vail is in a state of operational meltdown right now at many of its properties. At Jack Frost, skiers on multiple occasions are walking back up the hill to get in runs! Read that again – skiing down, and the walking back up the hill. You can joke about the size of the hill and the 600 vert all you want, but that is not the experience of a lifetime. And nobody can say with a straight face that it is a strategy for attracting new participants to the sport.
For midweek skiers, an Epic pass is a good deal. It is terrible for skiers who lean more towards the weekends. And I don’t know where they go from here to “grow the business”. If they keep the same pricing strategy and grow revenue, then the congestion problems will continue to get worse. If they raise the price to grow revenue, how many current passholders are going to say no thanks after the experience this year? It’s going to be interesting for sure.
Stuart, when you’re being interviewed in 20 years about the Winchester media empire and look back on The Storm, you’ll fondly remember the inflection point of winter 21-22 and specifically how you dropped THIS podcast in the middle of THIS season.
Good interview. His response to window rates fell flat for me. I look at it from the perspective of someone outside of ski culture walking up to try out skiing for the first time and promptly walking back to the car when they realize they can’t sacrifice a month’s rent to coast down the bunny hill for 6 hours.
Sometimes he could’ve just answered the questions by saying “we got out-competed on that one” like he did a little bit at the end of the podcast instead of blaming some factor outside of their control that is affecting everyone else equally. It’s like a football coach in a press conference blaming his powerhouse team’s loss on the snow. The underdog team that won isn’t blaming their victory on the snow.
He has some interesting perspectives on some of the other things you talked about. You can’t argue with his and Vail’s business acumen and vision.
He's a smart guy. The first half I thought he was pretty personable and it was interesting hearing his perspectives. But in the second half he seemed to go into damage control, sometimes even before you asked the question. I thought you did a good job asking the tough questions fairly point-blank. And unfortunately the answers were largely beating around the bush and blaming external factors while in no way admitting that there might be a systemic problem. While many of the initiatives sound great and most are well intended, at the end of the day customers care more about their local ski area and operations rather than the corporate culture in Broomfield bubble he at times seems to be in. Is it really true that at "all of the resorts they've purchased they've seen tremendous enthusiasm from those historical skiers?" In the bubble perhaps. Is he really the savior of skiing as he makes himself and his company out to be? Come on. A disrupter for sure, and he definitely has had an outsized impact. But really.
No real conclusion to the comment. Time will tell where things go. I do think the ski industry is much more sustainable now than it was a few years ago. I think most of the rest of the industry is heading in the right direction now after a few years of blindly following Vail. I hope all the old Peak Resorts find a way to cater to the local cultures rather than just become sanitized places for upper-middle class Epic passholders with a fraction of the visits thanks to the drastically reduced hours, operations, and parks.