Oh boy. Vail Resorts is not having a good week.
Well, I guess that depends on what you might define as “good”. On one hand, Vail Resorts sold more Epic Passes than ever before this season. Seems like the corporate people at Vail are probably pretty happy about that.
On the other hand, over 3,500 people have signed a petition against Vail Resorts owning/operating Stevens Pass, WA. There’s also the growing media attention around their mismanagement of Wildcat and Attitash in New Hampshire, and the potential threat of ski patrollers walking out at Park City.
Oh, and I’ve personally noticed that all of the Vail-owned properties in the Midwest are struggling to open terrain while other mom-and-pop resorts are nearly fully opened. Just check out the lift/terrain status at Wilmot Mountain, WI and Afton Alps, MN. You’ll see what I mean.
Anyways, back to why you clicked on this blog…
The petition is claiming that Vail Resorts is mismanaging Stevens Pass which lies on US Forest Service land. It claims that the US Forest Service can revoke an operator’s permit if they’re found to be violating any federal, state, or local laws. The petition believes that Vail has violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act. I’ll let you read the full petition for the details on that.
I’ve been getting word for the last couple of seasons that skiers and riders who frequent Stevens Pass have been displeased since Vail took over. I have no idea if anything will come from this petition, but thousands of people displeased with Vail Resorts in the Seattle area should certainly be cause for concern.
Even for the mega-corporation with over $1 billion cash on hand…
Click here if you want to sign the petition.
Full petition posted below.
Hold Vail Resorts Accountable
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 (by January 15th). 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.