A Lot on the Line
A letter from Vail Mountain COO, Beth Howard.
Wow, what a storm. Last weekend, in a 48-hour period, we received 38 inches of snow at Vail Mountain, which ranks as a Top 5 snowfall event in our 58-year history. We know that no one wants to miss powder like that – so we got straight to work. We had a lot on the line.
Digging out from that kind of snowfall to get our mountain open and safe for guests requires a herculean effort by ski patrol, lift operations, groomers and the entire Vail Mountain staff. I want to express my deepest appreciation for their hard work.
We were fully staffed – it was truly an all-hands-on-deck scenario – and we spared no expense to get the mountain open as quickly as possible. In fact, our patrol team used a record number of explosives in their thorough avalanche mitigation. But safety always comes first – and to ensure terrain is absolutely safe for guests and employees, it takes time.
I want to thank our guests for their patience this weekend and apologize for any experience that was less than ideal. I’d also like to use this opportunity to acknowledge and provide context around two particularly striking lift lines that people saw on social media.
On Friday and Saturday, the line at the bottom of Gondola One was undeniably long. Guests began lining up at 6 a.m. – more than two hours before we opened – eager, as I was, to experience the historic powder. While I don’t like to see anyone waiting in any line, I want to assure you that those lines were gone by 10 a.m. on Friday and by 9:15 a.m. on Saturday. That gondola can manage a lot of guests – and once the initial group dissipated, the line was around 5 minutes long the rest of those days.
Midday on Saturday, while the majority of the mountain was free from lines, we saw a more challenging situation in the limited amount of terrain we had been able to open safely in our back bowls. As many of you know, when skiing or riding the Sun Down and Sun Up bowls to the bottom, the only option to upload is Chair 5. At 10:30 a.m. the wait time began to exceed 30 minutes, and the line grew much longer. By 2:00 p.m., the line had subsided, but that period in between created an unacceptable experience for our guests and I apologize to anyone who got stuck in it.
We considered whether to limit or meter guest access to that terrain, but candidly it was not something we had done before. We also tried to warn guests about the line, but fell way short in our effectiveness – and even when we did, guests tended to ski right past our staff because they wanted to enjoy the untouched powder. To help make up for any guest impacts, we decided to keep the lifts running an additional half-hour.
Again, I know we could have done a much better job anticipating these situations and communicating with our guests. As we head into another big weekend – with more snow in the forecast – I’m focused on improving those communication channels. You’ll see more updates and information on all of Vail Mountain’s social accounts, and I’m pleased to share the EpicMix app has been upgraded so that you can rely on it for accurate lift line wait times.
I am well aware that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I truly hope my words here help provide context for what happened. I have complete confidence in our team at Vail Mountain and the huge investment we’ve made in high-speed chairlifts to alleviate lift line concerns across our resort. I am confident this was an isolated incident in the midst of extreme conditions.
Today our operations are back to normal – and conditions are truly outstanding. I hope to see you up here soon.
Chief Operating Officer, Vail Mountain