Vail Valley Voices: Don’t blame the grooming
Ryan Summerlin February 2, 2013
We’re incredibly proud of the amazing work that our groomers have performed over the past two seasons at Vail and Beaver Creek.
Up until the incredible snow we received last week, the snow conditions they have had to work with have literally been the most challenging in the history of the resorts, and we have been amazed by what they have been able to do with so little snow.
We’ve received overwhelming feedback of the same sentiments in the community and from our guests who understand the circumstances.
This summer, we made a decision to change the schedule of our grooming at both Vail and Beaver Creek.
There have been a couple of letters written and some conversation in town that have attributed poor snow conditions on the mountains to the changes we implemented. This is just not accurate.
We constantly evaluate our practices for every aspect of our operation, including grooming. Our goal was to groom as much or more terrain as we always have, but for safety reasons to complete all of our grooming before we opened the mountain to the public.
This summer, our senior-most cat operators came to us with a plan to shorten the window of operation for our cats by two hours 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.
We also knew that contrary to the perception (and the claims in the 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.
So when our crew came to us with the plan because they were concerned about the safety of our guests, we decided to make the change.
Up until last week, snow conditions this year have been challenging. From the extraordinarily warm temperatures in November that delayed our snowmaking efforts by weeks to the lack of natural snow before and after the holidays, keeping our snow in shape has not been easy.
Some of our regular guests, who remember better years when bountiful natural snow covered up our man-made snow earlier and provided our groomers with plenty of material to work with, have attributed the hard and, in some locations without snowmaking, rocky conditions to the change in our grooming practices.
The truth is, as good as our cat crews are – and they are as good as any in the world at grooming snow – prior to receiving the great, new snow we’ve received this week, we struggled to provide the kind of snow conditions we expect to provide.
Again, we’ve received incredibly positive feedback about the job that our groomers have done under the most challenging circumstances ever, and we’re incredibly proud of them.
But the circumstances have been difficult, and the conditions have not been as good as usual.
And it has nothing to do with the changes in our schedule. 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. 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.
The snow we received last week has been fantastic, and with a change in our luck, it will continue and we’ll be able to groom where we typically would with regular frequency, and the man-made 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.
Lastly, everyone responsible for the guest experience on Vail Mountain, up to and including our CEO, is all over Vail and Beaver Creek mountains all season long.
The passion for delivering the best guest experience of any mountain anywhere has never been higher, and we remain as inspired as ever by the commitment of our company’s leaders who came before us.
We will continue to look for ways to be better and safer at what we do, including improving the quality and quantity of grooming that we provide.
Chris Jarnot is the chief operating officer of Vail Mountain.