VAIL - Vail and Beaver Creek implemented a new plan this season in which grooming no longer occurs during operating hours. The new grooming schedule has garnered criticism from skiers and snowboarders, but Vail Resorts maintains that the schedule isn't much different than it was before.
The Vail Daily has received at least half a dozen letters regarding the daytime grooming, and letters have also been flowing into the inboxes of Chris Jarnot, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Vail Mountain, and Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz.
The feedback, at least in public forums such as the Vail Daily and on Facebook, has largely criticized the schedule change.
David LaGrange commented on Facebook that he dislikes the new policy because "I like the fresh-groomed trails from time to time, it takes out the bumps on some runs and makes them smooth. I like to ride behind (the snowcats) as they cruise down the hill and it's great to see them in action."
Jarnot said mountain operations crews constantly evaluate resort practices, and the decision was made over the summer to change the grooming schedule "in order to eliminate operating in open terrain while our guests were on the mountain and still groom as many acres as we were grooming before by adding cats to the fleet and rearranging our plans.
"We knew that when guests saw the fleet of cats on the mountain in the morning, their perception was that we were grooming all over the mountain all day long, and this contributed significantly to the overall perception of our commitment to grooming," Jarnot wrote in a letter to the Vail Daily (see page A6 to read the entire letter). "We also knew that contrary to the perception (and the claims in recent letters) that we were grooming all afternoon all over the mountain, the reality was that we were only grooming until 10:30 a.m., and at Vail it was mostly just Ramshorn, Meadows and Eagle's Nest Ridge."
Perceptions of eliminating those two hours of grooming, however, include everything from thoughts that the resorts have cut grooming in half to blaming the corporation for cost-cutting strategies. Some blame "someone dumb enough to ski close to a groomer to change" the policy, referring to safety concerns for stopping the snowcats while the mountain is open.
Matt Sloan wrote to the Vail Daily and said the two-hour grooming elimination has made a "huge difference in the skiing quality to many of us."
Gretchen Zimmerman Townsend thinks less daytime grooming makes the slopes too dangerous for her children toward the end of the ski day.
Beaver Creek homeowner Larry Marks said he has always loved Vail and Beaver Creek because of their "aggressive grooming" programs.
"I understand you want to save money and get that you want to avoid potential liability. However, since no one here has ever been hit, to the best of my knowledge, I wonder about your real motivation," Marks wrote in a letter to the Vail Daily. "With the large increases in lift tickets each year I expect more grooming, not less."
Jarnot said that while snow conditions until last week had been difficult in terms of providing the kind of snow conditions the resort aims to provide, that was not the reasoning behind the grooming schedule change.
"At Vail, with the exception of Ramshorn, Meadows and Eagle's Nest Ridge - which we are now grooming just prior to opening - and with the exception of areas where we don't have snowmaking and haven't had enough base to groom as regularly as we typically would, such as Simba and Blue Ox, there has been absolutely no change in the timing or frequency of our grooming," Jarnot wrote. "This includes areas like Bear Tree and Born Free, where we have all experienced hard snow this year - those areas in particular are being groomed as often as they ever have been and at the same times of the day as in the past."
He went on to say that with continued snowfall, Vail will "be able to groom where it typically would with regular frequency, and the manmade snow will be softened up by the cover of natural snow combined with great grooming.
"Then, perhaps even our critics will realize that our cat crew is doing the same great work that they always have," Jarnot wrote.