VAIL, Colo. (KDVR) — A new petition making several criticisms about Vail Resorts is gaining national attention.
The petition has received 44,000 signatures over the last month. It highlights what the author calls, “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 and bought with hard-earned money during a pandemic,” among others criticisms.
Vail Resorts, which owns 37 ski resorts in the U.S. – including Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood in California -, Canada and Australia, announced during an earnings call in December a $3.6 million investment into its sustainability efforts this year, including making its snowmaking operations more energy efficient.
The petition states that there are several issues for Epic Pass holders and skiers at Vail Resorts. From long lift lines, to not enough parking, staffing shortages, and closed lifts.
“Lift lines are out of control to the point where the majority of a day of “skiing” is spent standing in line at one of the few lifts open. This is, of course, if you are even able to park and not told you cannot access the ski area due to limited parking,” shared Rubingh, the person who started the petition.
At the start of the 21-22 ski season, Vail Resorts announced “enhancements” to the guest experience, which included the following:
- Limiting lift ticket sales during the three most popular holiday periods across its 34 North American resorts this season to prioritize pass holders. Dates include: December 25-January 2, January 14-17, and February 18-27.
- Deploying a new operating plan which includes a significant improvement of how efficiently the company loads lifts and gondolas to reduce wait times, among other operational enhancements.
- Launching a new daily forecast of lift line wait times in the EpicMix app at 12 of the company’s most popular resorts to help guests better plan their ski and ride day.
- Investing in new lifts and expanded terrain to reduce wait times and improve circulation around the mountains. New lifts are unveiling at five resorts and expanded terrain is opening at Beaver Creek; plus 19 new lift projects are planned ahead of next season as a part of the company’s Epic Lift Upgrade initiative.
“Unfortunately, Vail Resorts has contributed more to the destruction of our ski communities and our sport than they have created value. We look forward to speedy resolution of these issues,” shared Rubingh.
However, the creator of the petition said those enhancements are not being met.
Full letter listed on the change.org petition:
As Stevens Pass skiers, snowboarders, and customers who purchased Vail Resorts “Epic Pass,” 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 and bought with hard-earned money during a pandemic. Lift lines are out of control to the point where the majority of a day of “skiing” is spent standing in line at one of the few lifts open. This is, of course, if you are even able to park and not told you cannot access the ski area due to limited parking. In addition, the failure to open ample lifts or even half of the available terrain is due solely to mismanaging an understaffed ski area. The Stevens Pass website now states they will likely only run three base area lifts and open only 40% of the terrain, though there is plenty of snow to open more. Parking has been abysmal at Stevens Pass due to a lack of staffing, investment in infrastructure, and plowing. Customers are often told they cannot use their “Epic Pass” or the products they have paid for at Vail Resorts and must turn around, simply because there is nowhere to park.
Avalanche mitigation cannot be used as an excuse for a lack of terrain opening as other ski areas nearby with more challenging terrain issues and similar avalanche conditions, have been successful in opening up most of their terrain. This is simply a matter of not hiring the appropriate staff to run a ski area, or pay a wage commensurate with experience and the job description. Mt. Baker, Snoqualimie, Alpental, Crystal, White Pass and Mission Ridge do not appear to have this problem whatsoever. 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. Unfortunately, this is a problem that extends beyond Washington. With above average snowfall and other resorts in the area proving they are able to run lifts and open terrain, it is painfully clear that Vail Resorts are not operating in good faith towards their customers or their employees. Furthermore, it appears they have no respect for skiing, ski culture, or the public’s experience of snow sports in the areas they operate.
Pass sales for 2021-22 are up 76% compared to the 2019-2020 season across “Epic Pass” resorts. Yet, there are hundreds upon hundreds of unfilled jobs that are necessary to operate ski areas. The wages being offered for key personnel, like ski patrollers, are sub-standard. To offer a patroller, who needs avalanche and medical training, a mere $14 an hour is offensive. To offer anyone this amount as a “living wage” at this point, especially in rural areas where a commute is necessary, is abhorrent, especially as c-suite executives and shareholders profit in the millions.
The product marketed and sold by Vail Resorts included reasonable access to the terrain and lifts that are prevalent in their marketing materials and on their maps. We were not sold passes with the understanding that Vail Resorts intended to keep 60% of the terrain and the majority of lifts closed for the season. We would not have bought passes if we knew this. It is illegal for a business to accept payments for products or services they do not intend to supply. Vail Resorts needs to commit to returning 60% of the cost of a season’s pass to all pass holders unless this problem is addressed immediately. There is ample evidence that Vail Resorts was aware of their staffing issues as early as the 2019/2020 winter. To sell this many “Epic Passes” in Washington State while being fully aware of staffing issues and knowing that they could not meet their obligations to all of their consumers, it is clear that Vail Resorts deceived a substantial portion of the public and committed this deception in the conduct of commerce. We believe that Vail Resorts’ failure to comply with our request is a violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act. Without action from Vail Resorts, the undersigned will bring a claim of violation to the Consumer Protection Division and the Attorney General of Washington State.
The undersigned also suggest a review of the operator’s agreement pursuant to the special permit issued by the United States Forest Service (USFS) for operating on the two parcels on USFS property. We feel there could be a better operator serving the interests of public recreation on our public lands, especially if Vail Resorts is found to be in violation of the Consumer Protection Act and is failing to provide the services on public lands they have agreed to. The current operator is acting in bad faith and seems solely focused on profit for a large corporation whose corporate headquarters and shareholder majority do not reside within this state. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture Ski Area Special Permit document states, the Forest Service may revoke or suspend this permit for noncompliance with Federal, State, or local laws and regulations. In addition, the special permit states, “The holder, in advertisements, signs, circulars, brochures, letterheads, and like materials, as well as orally, shall not misrepresent in any way either the accommodations provided…” We, the undersigned, note that Vail Resorts has greatly misrepresented accommodations provided.
We sign this petition with a heavy heart as we would much rather be enjoying the snow the only way we know how as dedicated skiers and snowboarders. We would also prefer to spend our free time celebrating our sport and creating more equitable access rather than fighting with large corporations. But the time has come for us to take a stand if we are to have high quality outdoor winter recreation for future generations. Unfortunately, Vail Resorts has contributed more to the destruction of our ski communities and our sport than they have created value. We look forward to speedy resolution of these issues.