Vail Resorts is not considering a change to its new policy that stopped the practice of grooming runs during operating hours, but that hasn't stopped those upset with the change from talking about it.
Vail Resorts announced its new company-wide policy to stop daytime grooming earlier this season, citing safety concerns for its guests. Beaver Creek Resort spokeswoman Jen Brown said Friday that the company is not going to reconsider the policy. When asked whether any specific incident or accident caused the change, Beaver Creek Chief Operating Officer Doug Lovell said no.
"We have had near-misses for years, and have had near-misses in the past year. It's more of a culmination of experiences over a long period of time," Lovell said.
Vail Mountain spokeswoman Liz Biebl said the resort has heard feedback from guests who are disappointed about the discontinuation of daytime grooming, but assured the snow cats and grooming crews are working as hard as ever.
"This season, our grooming crews have adjusted their schedules and grooming patterns and have increased the number of snowcats we operate to accomplish as much grooming each night as we have in the past, and to groom all of the terrain that we have groomed in the past as frequently as we have groomed it in the past, but we are no longer grooming after 8:30 a.m.," Biebl said via email.
Resorts across the ski industry follow similar practices, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
"Nearly every resort minimizes the amount of grooming they do during open hours due to safety concerns for their guests," said Troy Hawks, spokesman for the association. "This has been the case for years, and we haven't seen any industry shift."
While Vail and Beaver Creek maintain that cat crews are grooming the same amount of acreage, if not more, as they always have, some skiers and boarders argue it's not about the ground covered.
Jeff Miller commented on the Vail Daily's Facebook page that the timing of the grooming is more important than the acreage.
"There's a very good argument to be made that allowing snow to get choppy and unkept by mid-day is considerably less safe than having groomers on the hill during business hours," Miller said. "(Beaver Creek) groomers have a pretty immaculate safety record, so the argument that it's an investment in guest safety seems to not hold up."
A.K. Schleusner, a Vail Resorts employee, commented that grooming continues to be excellent. She admires the company for making changes in the name of safety. Others agreeing with the policy change commented that the naysayers need to "get over it," and that guests should "learn to ski all terrain."
In a search of the term "grooming" on www.vaildaily.com, letters both in favor of and against the new policy pop up. Those in favor commend the resort for taking the extra safety precaution, and many of the opposition letters raise concerns about the safety of ungroomed runs at the end of the day, among other complaints of conditions and service.
In a column in the Vail Daily last month about the grooming policies, Vail Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot said 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 said the reality was that Vail was only grooming until 10:30 a.m., and at Vail, that grooming mostly included just Ramshorn, Meadows and Eagle's Nest Ridge.
While the feedback and letters have dropped off as the season has progressed and Mother Nature has made overall snow conditions much better, the conversation has continued.
"Conversations overheard on chairlifts and in other venues throughout the area often include this topic," wrote Brad Austin to the Vail Daily on March 9. "Many think that there is a sole financial reason for this change."
Lovell said the financial motivation argument is simply not true. If anything, the resorts are spending more to groom the same amount of acres overnight as they groomed with overnight and morning operating hours combined.
"We did this because of safety reasons," Lovell said.
Those who don't like that explanation might keep complaining and questioning its validity, but the fact remains that Vail Resorts isn't changing back to its old grooming policies anytime soon.
"We expect to continue to innovate and improve the perception and reality of the grooming at Vail and Beaver Creek to provide the best groomed snow available at any mountain in the world, but we feel that the right practice is not to perform grooming on terrain that is open to the public," Biebl said. "It is our plan to maintain this practice moving forward."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.