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The 2021-2022 Ski season thread


Skivt2
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On 3/5/2022 at 6:45 PM, bch2014 said:

Skied Hunter today for the first time this season (I’m an Indy pass holder) for “social reasons.” I know the mountain well-as I’ve been a pass holder there for two seasons previously-yet still came away not wanting to ski there again.

The quality of skier seemed even worse than usual (to the point of being nervous I was going to get hit on the slopes-can’t imagine what a non-expert would think), the grooming/surface management terrible (have they ever heard of tilling a slope?), and finally, key snowmaking terrain was closed. It’s the first weekend of March and K-27, Clair’s, and Racer’s Edge all closed… If Hunter doesn’t have its best expert terrain open, I’m not sure I understand the value proposition over Windham, Belleayre, and Plattekill. 
 

Further evidence that Vail=Fail.

I've heard grumblings that they want to pivot but being as large a ship as they are, it takes time.  They got into it deep in most mountains this winter in the East.  I still think the institutional knowledge retained at the non-Peak Resorts ski areas allowed for a better season (ala Stowe, Okemo, even Sunapee).  

Yesterday though was big news in the ski industry and the labor market is just getting weird.  The VR company minimum wage is going to $20/hr ahead if next winter as the first pivot point.  VR was first to announce $15/hr last winter and Alterra answered with the same... and locally I know Smuggs did match that in most jobs,  but the independents won't be able to match $20 IMO.  Businesses in town are going nuts right now too... going to need to keep pace with a very limited labor pool.

When I started in the industry back in 2007, as weird as it is $20/hr was like pretty decent mid/upper management wage even (with OT and bonuses you'd get $50k to manage)... and starting was $7/hr.  Wages stagnated and even two years ago an entry level liftie or parking attendant was doing $10/hr.  Now it'll be $20/hr.  Many of us keep reaping the benefits of the upward wage rise as they need to keep wage separation from higher levels and starting wages, so we all keep winning when starting wages go from $12 to $15 and then $20 in three winters.  For the same job responsibilities somehow many are getting anywhere from 15-25% more at manager level and lower down its going to be near 40% more money in just two winters.

From Stuart Winchester (great guy who writes well about the ski industry)...

"It’s getting weird out there. My first inkling that ski season might go sideways was a series of cross-country autumn drives in pursuit of my secondary passion, college football. In the windows and scrub-grass highway partitions of every gas station and Burger King, the signs. Help wanted. $17 an hour. Sometimes more. Empty lobbies. Drive-thru only. Lines impossible, as though an asteroid were inbound and everyone was snagging a Burrito Supreme en route to their woodland bunkers.

Caterwauling into the midst of this weirdest labor market in memory came Vail’s 99-cent Epic Pass, available next to gumball machines nationwide. Three years ago, this strategy may have driven season-pass prices nationwide into the basement, as flummoxed competitors tried to hold market share and appease hey-what-about-us passholders. But as we all know, three years ago may as well have been 50. Covid upended our world, and took the low-wage worker with it. Across Vail’s empire, from Stevens Pass to Park City to Paoli Peaks to Alpine Valley to Crotched to Attitash, not enough people showed up to blow snow, run the lifts, manage the parking lots, or groom the hillsides. “And we would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids-who-saw-the-opportunity-to-stand-in-the-cold-for-$11.25-an-hour-and-said-nah-I’ll-just-go-work-at-the-gas-station-for-like-double-that-Brah-but-thanks.”

By the time Vail instituted a $2-an-hour bonus in mid-January, it was too late to save the season across Vail’s Midwestern portfolio, where most of its properties had slashed hours and operating days, or in New Hampshire, where traffic, mechanical, and staffing woes rumbled in like aftershocks all winter long. Vail’s mistake was not in discounting Epic Passes, which drove the little white cards into the bootbags of 20 percent of America’s skiers, but failing to meet the moment in the strangest labor market since World War II.

Yesterday, Vail CEO Kirsten Lynch laid out an aggressive plan that reorients the company away from its McDonald’s-in-the-mountains reliance on low-wage labor and into a career-track organization invested in its employees’ welfare on and off the mountain. Here are the highlights:

  • $20-an-hour minimum wage for all North American resort employees for the 2022-23 season, $21 for Patrol (including unionized Patrol), maintenance technicians, and certified commercial vehicle drivers

  • A commitment to “aggressively pursue building new affordable housing on land we own”

  • A career-track program that creates a Yellow Brick Road from, say, bumping chairs to management positions and more

  • An enormous expansion of the human resources team to decrease reliance on Vail’s hated HR app

  • A flexible work policy that allows corporate employees to live and work in any community where Vail Resorts operates

This ambitious plan, launched alongside Vail’s second-quarter earnings release and (presumably) just ahead of its 2022-23 Epic Pass unveiling, lands in a complicated world, for Vail and lift-served skiing, yes, but also for America as a whole. Mountain-town housing is in air-raid-siren crisis. Inflation is rising. Skiing can’t decide if it wants to be the most or least exclusive sport in America. Covid is still circling. American workers are more assertive than they have been in decades.

In the midst of these complications, Vail still posted positive business results yesterday: net income, skier visits, and total lift revenue all increased over the previous two seasons. Still, it was clear that Vail could not weather another season in which its narrative was overwhelmed by debacles like the meltdown at Stevens Pass. “We think a critical question is will Vail defend its moves and tweak its business model, or consider a more substantial pivot to balance pressures in its communities and protect the luxury experience?” Bank of America research analyst Shaun Kelley wrote last week. There are a lot of ways Vail could have pivoted: pull Epic Pass prices back skyward, tweak the pass suite to better manage skier traffic, better define mountain capacity, invest in labor, or some combination of the above.

As usual, Vail dropped a plan that was more comprehensive and ambitious than most of us could have imagined. Initial reception has been strong. “…this [plan] sends a meaningful message that Vail is serious about improving its company and the on-mountain experience for its guests,” Kelley wrote this morning. The Epic Liftlines Instagram account, which had racked up 48,500 followers on themes of worker’s rights and overcrowding, announced that it was going into hibernation in a post captioned “WORKERS WIN!”

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39 minutes ago, powderfreak said:

I've heard grumblings that they want to pivot but being as large a ship as they are, it takes time.  They got into it deep in most mountains this winter in the East.  I still think the institutional knowledge retained at the non-Peak Resorts ski areas allowed for a better season (ala Stowe, Okemo, even Sunapee).  

Yesterday though was big news in the ski industry and the labor market is just getting weird.  The VR company minimum wage is going to $20/hr ahead if next winter as the first pivot point.  VR was first to announce $15/hr last winter and Alterra answered with the same... and locally I know Smuggs did match that in most jobs,  but the independents won't be able to match $20 IMO.  Businesses in town are going nuts right now too... going to need to keep pace with a very limited labor pool.

When I started in the industry back in 2007, as weird as it is $20/hr was like pretty decent mid/upper management wage even (with OT and bonuses you'd get $50k to manage)... and starting was $7/hr.  Wages stagnated and even two years ago an entry level liftie or parking attendant was doing $10/hr.  Now it'll be $20/hr.  Many of us keep reaping the benefits of the upward wage rise as they need to keep wage separation from higher levels and starting wages, so we all keep winning when starting wages go from $12 to $15 and then $20 in three winters.  For the same job responsibilities somehow many are getting anywhere from 15-25% more at manager level and lower down its going to be near 40% more money in just two winters.

From Stuart Winchester (great guy who writes well about the ski industry)...

"It’s getting weird out there. My first inkling that ski season might go sideways was a series of cross-country autumn drives in pursuit of my secondary passion, college football. In the windows and scrub-grass highway partitions of every gas station and Burger King, the signs. Help wanted. $17 an hour. Sometimes more. Empty lobbies. Drive-thru only. Lines impossible, as though an asteroid were inbound and everyone was snagging a Burrito Supreme en route to their woodland bunkers.

Caterwauling into the midst of this weirdest labor market in memory came Vail’s 99-cent Epic Pass, available next to gumball machines nationwide. Three years ago, this strategy may have driven season-pass prices nationwide into the basement, as flummoxed competitors tried to hold market share and appease hey-what-about-us passholders. But as we all know, three years ago may as well have been 50. Covid upended our world, and took the low-wage worker with it. Across Vail’s empire, from Stevens Pass to Park City to Paoli Peaks to Alpine Valley to Crotched to Attitash, not enough people showed up to blow snow, run the lifts, manage the parking lots, or groom the hillsides. “And we would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids-who-saw-the-opportunity-to-stand-in-the-cold-for-$11.25-an-hour-and-said-nah-I’ll-just-go-work-at-the-gas-station-for-like-double-that-Brah-but-thanks.”

By the time Vail instituted a $2-an-hour bonus in mid-January, it was too late to save the season across Vail’s Midwestern portfolio, where most of its properties had slashed hours and operating days, or in New Hampshire, where traffic, mechanical, and staffing woes rumbled in like aftershocks all winter long. Vail’s mistake was not in discounting Epic Passes, which drove the little white cards into the bootbags of 20 percent of America’s skiers, but failing to meet the moment in the strangest labor market since World War II.

Yesterday, Vail CEO Kirsten Lynch laid out an aggressive plan that reorients the company away from its McDonald’s-in-the-mountains reliance on low-wage labor and into a career-track organization invested in its employees’ welfare on and off the mountain. Here are the highlights:

  • $20-an-hour minimum wage for all North American resort employees for the 2022-23 season, $21 for Patrol (including unionized Patrol), maintenance technicians, and certified commercial vehicle drivers

  • A commitment to “aggressively pursue building new affordable housing on land we own”

  • A career-track program that creates a Yellow Brick Road from, say, bumping chairs to management positions and more

  • An enormous expansion of the human resources team to decrease reliance on Vail’s hated HR app

  • A flexible work policy that allows corporate employees to live and work in any community where Vail Resorts operates

This ambitious plan, launched alongside Vail’s second-quarter earnings release and (presumably) just ahead of its 2022-23 Epic Pass unveiling, lands in a complicated world, for Vail and lift-served skiing, yes, but also for America as a whole. Mountain-town housing is in air-raid-siren crisis. Inflation is rising. Skiing can’t decide if it wants to be the most or least exclusive sport in America. Covid is still circling. American workers are more assertive than they have been in decades.

In the midst of these complications, Vail still posted positive business results yesterday: net income, skier visits, and total lift revenue all increased over the previous two seasons. Still, it was clear that Vail could not weather another season in which its narrative was overwhelmed by debacles like the meltdown at Stevens Pass. “We think a critical question is will Vail defend its moves and tweak its business model, or consider a more substantial pivot to balance pressures in its communities and protect the luxury experience?” Bank of America research analyst Shaun Kelley wrote last week. There are a lot of ways Vail could have pivoted: pull Epic Pass prices back skyward, tweak the pass suite to better manage skier traffic, better define mountain capacity, invest in labor, or some combination of the above.

As usual, Vail dropped a plan that was more comprehensive and ambitious than most of us could have imagined. Initial reception has been strong. “…this [plan] sends a meaningful message that Vail is serious about improving its company and the on-mountain experience for its guests,” Kelley wrote this morning. The Epic Liftlines Instagram account, which had racked up 48,500 followers on themes of worker’s rights and overcrowding, announced that it was going into hibernation in a post captioned “WORKERS WIN!”

Who wants to pivot? The MTN leadership, or the Hunter mountain ops staff (with regard to making more snow on expert terrain next season)?

Yeah, I saw that announcement. It will certainly help make Vail the employer of choice (at least on a wage basis) in many of these mountain towns. As you said-it might ruffle feathers in the community... But if you're MTN leadership-I'm not sure what other choice you had (other than to raise wages)... Damned if you do, damned if you don't in the eyes of some. 

I'm sure you have intel on this-but I'm just not sure how Vail plans to keep pass prices so low with so many cost increases coming down the pike.. Whether its labor, energy, or CapEx, things are just getting more expensive. My company (large CPG) has taken ~15% pricing across our portfolio this year as we face labor pressure (paying $8,000 signing bonuses for line workers at manufacturing plants in East Tennessee, to give a bonkers example) and commodity pressures (not only crude oil-things like palm oil, sugar and corn also up big).

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20 minutes ago, bch2014 said:

Who wants to pivot? The MTN leadership, or the Hunter mountain ops staff (with regard to making more snow on expert terrain next season)?

Yeah, I saw that announcement. It will certainly help make Vail the employer of choice (at least on a wage basis) in many of these mountain towns. As you said-it might ruffle feathers in the community... But if you're MTN leadership-I'm not sure what other choice you had (other than to raise wages)... Damned if you do, damned if you don't in the eyes of some. 

I'm sure you have intel on this-but I'm just not sure how Vail plans to keep pass prices so low with so many cost increases coming down the pike.. Whether its labor, energy, or CapEx, things are just getting more expensive. My company (large CPG) has taken ~15% pricing across our portfolio this year as we face labor pressure (paying $8,000 signing bonuses for line workers at manufacturing plants in East Tennessee, to give a bonkers example) and commodity pressures (not only crude oil-things like palm oil, sugar and corn also up big).

MTN Leadership.  The brand took a beating and they know they need to change it.  The snowmaking issues were largely if not all staffing issues.  I think most of the problems were staffing issues to be honest, we had them at Stowe too.  The vaccine mandate didn’t help at all either.  That more acutely hit Operations staff than any other department.  Snowmaking just isn’t safe if you are running low team numbers out there… need full crews because if something goes sideways it happens fast.  Need control room staff, staff on hill, etc. It’s very labor intensive and those needs just could not be met sometimes.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they pivot off the super cheap pass a bit. I’m sure the volume over yield model may be shaken a bit but who knows.

The labor force thing is mind blowing country wide right now. I know Vail was giving options of $3,000 bonuses and free housing if you would move from a ski area closed for the season in March to one’s operating till late April or May.  For transient season labor that’s an appealing option.

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10 minutes ago, powderfreak said:

MTN Leadership.  The brand took a beating and they know they need to change it.  The snowmaking issues were largely if not all staffing issues.  I think most of the problems were staffing issues to be honest, we had them at Stowe too.  The vaccine mandate didn’t help at all either.  That more acutely hit Operations staff than any other department.  Snowmaking just isn’t safe if you are running low team numbers out there… need full crews because if something goes sideways it happens fast.  Need control room staff, staff on hill, etc. It’s very labor intensive and those needs just could not be met sometimes.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they pivot off the super cheap pass a bit. I’m sure the volume over yield model may be shaken a bit but who knows.

The labor force thing is mind blowing country wide right now. I know Vail was giving options of $3,000 bonuses and free housing if you would move from a ski area closed for the season in March to one’s operating till late April or May.  For transient season labor that’s an appealing option.

I do think the cheap passes have helped skiers get into the sport. 

For every person I know among my core skier friends from growing up in the northeast who is mad at Vail, I know another from Houston and Dallas who have bought their first season pass and are doing multiple trips to Keystone/Breck (whereas maybe they used to just drive to Taos for a week).

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18 minutes ago, powderfreak said:

On another note, snow is sticky now.  Hate when powder warms up the first few times. Needs to cycle to granular for corn but fresh storm snow getting mid March sun and 30-40F becomes glue.

headed up your way tonight... seems like I should quit work early and wax em up.

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20 minutes ago, bch2014 said:

I do think the cheap passes have helped skiers get into the sport. 

For every person I know among my core skier friends from growing up in the northeast who is mad at Vail, I know another from Houston and Dallas who have bought their first season pass and are doing multiple trips to Keystone/Breck (whereas maybe they used to just drive to Taos for a week).

It does and it’s a mentally challenging thing for many including me.  Did I like how it was when AIG sold $2000 passes and very expensive day tickets?  Yes but everyone in town complained that they couldn’t afford to ski at their local ski area.  Now it’s busy but so many new people to the sport and Stowe… like this week it must be a vacation week down south as the Florida, Georgia, Carolina crowd is here.  And they are stoked.  It’s hard to hate it when you see the kids from Florida just infatuated with snow… I get it kids!  Ha.  Now if I was getting on a plane to ski I’d go west but that’s another issue haha.

The biggest issue is trying to balance people who wouldn’t ski otherwise with a decrease in experience for long time skiers.    I don’t want to be selfish and think Mansfield is mine and exclusive to me… everyone should experience it.  But there’s a trade off too.

I also ran Stowe social media during AIG years and I know people forget how hated AIG was as well, ha.  It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns though most locals have convinced themselves it was.  When the US Govt bailed out AIG in like 2008…. Yikes. I don’t think I’ll ever see hate directed towards a ski area like that again.  The Vail stuff is peanuts to tax payers bailing out a company that owns a ski area on public land that charges the highest prices in the East lol.  Arson and bomb threats, people defecating on the office steps.  I still keep that stuff in perspective.

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Yes, it indeed got sticky at around 12:30 from mid mountain on down (felt the snow starting to grab at the skis as I went down Nosedive and decided enough was enough). The morning was fantastic through, with the woods skiers left off of Lookout and skiers left of Starr still housing some pockets of fresh turns and good coverage. The top half of Lookout proper was awesome too.

 

Between Jay yesterday and Stowe today, easily the best March tree skiing in recent years! 

0939C93C-A5C7-4FF8-9064-E22BFF075D26.jpeg

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You have to be really lucky or just take enough ski trips to experience 40"+ in a week out west (50" on the nose at Alta). Safe to say Utah delivered. Two days at Solitude, Snowbird and Alta each with one at Deer Valley (meh, but fun to check out)

First two days at Solitude provided 12-14" of blower over a light crust, not quite enough to cover it up but 114mm underfoot and 188cm did enough to keep my 5'10 frame mostly floating above it. 3rd Day at Snowbird it began snowing again and didn't stop for the next 36 hours. The following day at Alta was the deepest of my life, the kind where you can't feel the bottom and have trouble seeing and breathing through all of the powder. Just absolute euphoria and couldn't get myself to stop for pictures while skiing haha. Next two days were bluebird and plenty of leftover powder. Our final day we spent checking out Deer Valley. Definitely a let down from a skiing perspective after the week we had, but still some fun terrain and it was funny seeing all of the little things that make it "the #1 ski resort in North America" :lol:

Gonna be tough to top this one. 

solitude 1.jpg

solitude 2.jpg

bird 1.jpg

alta 3.jpg

alta 1.jpg

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@MRVexpatthat is the holy grail right there of a ski trip!  Nice.  I caught a 24” day at Alta with my father about 15 years ago while I was in college and it remains my best ski memory to date.  The vibe of an Alta storm day and then the resultant bluebird powder day afterward is unbeatable.

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It's kind of crazy to realize that I haven't done an all-SLC ski trip since 2013 and wonder if my opinions would now be different based upon wider travels out west over last decade; but I don't get the lack of love that Deer Valley gets...well, I do understand of course; but is it really warranted if you are just comparing terrain? Couple of clarifying statements, of all the resorts out there, DV does get the worst snow and the clientele and infrastructure built to support their ski experience may not be everyone's taste but I've skied there 2 or 3 times and really liked the place! Granted I skied there one day where 12-18" fell but I remember skiing lots of fun and challenging terrain and looking at ridges that were very steep. The place was one big construction project in 2013 between private homes, condos and hotels so I can only imagine what it looks like now but I just recall I liked the skiing very much.

@powderfreakYou are right about the vibe at Alta on a storm day. 

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Stowe totally delivered the goods...  

Fast and firm everywhere from 8-945.  Hit Spruce thereafter and the top turned to butter, not sticky.  Wonderful.  Hiked the peak and observed some cool wave features in the snow and were treated to epic views of Mansfield.

20220316_101230_resize_24.thumb.jpg.a3751f08a5031bbf475fcc86d400edef.jpg

20220316_102057_resize_14.thumb.jpg.ff4e41eb72a1e97ca626e82b6726ce94.jpg

20220316_102116_resize_36.thumb.jpg.1a555328a565cbf7197de730ce63009f.jpg

 

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What a crazy 72 hours of skiing in NH this past weekend.  Friday, rock hard midwinter groomers. Saturday pouring rain flipped to dumping snow, skiing trees by the end of the day. Sunday incredible windblown powder day with fresh tracks everywhere.  Gotta love New England!  
Skinned and skied in a tshirt the last few days here in western mass. 

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6 hours ago, amarshall said:

heading to sugarbush tomorrow . Hoping for t-shirts

Today was HOT up here.  60F in the base area and low-50s at the summits.

Snow is sticky on all but steep, man-made trails that are more granular.  Avoid any intermediate or lower natural snow trails like the plague, feels like it wants to rip you out of your boots lol.

The steeps are great though, I bet stuff like Ripcord, Organgrinder, and Steins will be fantastic.

Spring skiing is also about the fun vibe regardless of snow conditions.  Folks BBQing, sitting in the lot drinking beers, popup tents and stuff.  I love the spring anything goes atmosphere. 

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Wildcat was a good vibe today at least.

Mid-mountain was all glue.

Kinda hard to ski since you end up going very fast in shady areas and then suddenly crashing to a stop in areas with sun.

I did a few runs and bailed. Hopefully it straightens out more after the rainer, but at this rate a warm rainer may close Wildcat down anyway.

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21 hours ago, radarman said:

Stowe totally delivered the goods...  

Fast and firm everywhere from 8-945.  Hit Spruce thereafter and the top turned to butter, not sticky.  Wonderful.  Hiked the peak and observed some cool wave features in the snow and were treated to epic views of Mansfield.

20220316_101230_resize_24.thumb.jpg.a3751f08a5031bbf475fcc86d400edef.jpg

20220316_102057_resize_14.thumb.jpg.ff4e41eb72a1e97ca626e82b6726ce94.jpg

20220316_102116_resize_36.thumb.jpg.1a555328a565cbf7197de730ce63009f.jpg

 

Wave drifts!!

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