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Vail Mountain’s top boss addresses staffing shortage in open letter

Beth Howard writes ‘this has been the most challenging holiday season I’ve ever experienced’

Vail Mountain’s Eagle Bahn Gondola (Lift. No. 19) closes early on Dec. 26 due to high winds.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Beth Howard addressed staffing issues and delayed terrain openings in an open letter posted to Vail Mountain’s Facebook page on Thursday evening.

Howard wrote: “In my 37 years in the industry, this has been the most challenging holiday season I’ve ever experienced.”

At the top of the list of challenges, she wrote, is the recent surge of COVID-19 cases. Eagle County, along with other counties who rely on ski resort tourism, has been hit hard by the latest surge driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. As of Saturday, Eagle County was averaging 327 daily cases per 100,000, behind only neighboring Summit County (525 cases per 100,00) and Pitkin County (413 cases per 100,00) as the reddest spots on the Colorado map.



“The biggest dynamic we are contending with right now is COVID-19,” Howard wrote. “It’s why Pride Express isn’t running, why some of our retail stores are closed, and why some of our food & beverage operations have been slimmed down.”

Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Beth Howard addressed staffing issues and delayed terrain openings on social media Thursday.
Vail Daily archive

A Colorado Sun article that dropped early Friday morning, just hours after Howard’s letter posted, explored myriad issues facing Vail Resorts’ mountains in Colorado and around the country coming off a record-setting year for pass sales. The company slashed pass prices by 20%, resulting in 2.1 million sales of prepurchased tickets and season passes through Dec. 5, 2021— a 76% increase in passes sold compared to sales for the 2019/2020 North American ski season.



Among the issues the Sun article addresses: a lack of available bodies to get terrain open after a slow start to the season, a hollowing out of middle-management positions across the company and an over-reliance on technology, including a much-maligned human resources app.

The acute workforce shortage, lack of affordable housing and vaccine mandate for Vail Resorts employees — along with the holiday crowds returning to pre-pandemic levels and a massive storm cycle over the week from Christmas to New Year’s Day — have only exacerbated the staffing crunch.

In her letter, Howard said the mountain has prioritized safety over everything — for guests and employees.

“Our mountain is staffed and our employees are vaccinated, but in an effort to keep you safe we are asking any employee who is sick or has been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home — and they are,” Howard wrote. “We are focusing on your experience, and prioritizing your safety. As a result of these COVID exclusions, our operation has been impacted.”

She also added that the mountain needs more snow before it can open more terrain.

“Additionally, looks can be deceiving. If you look at Blue Sky Basin, it seems like there’s plenty of snow. And in some areas, there is. But in others, we still have quite a ways to go,” she wrote. “The operations team is hard at work preparing terrain. They are performing the careful and meticulous act of snow control — we will never risk their safety or yours in order to open more quickly. We have great respect for the Operations and Ski Patrol leaders who are guiding their teams through this process. We appreciate your understanding and patience.”

Following is the full text of Howard’s letter:

To our Vail Mountain community –

It has been a whirlwind holiday season and I am so grateful for each of you who took time to ski or ride on our mountain. This amazing Vail Mountain team has opened over 2,100 acres, including Sun Up & Sun Down Bowls, and we are running 20 of our 33 lifts. Although we had low natural snow and a warm start to the season, we’ve recently enjoyed numerous powder days and the mountain is filling in nicely.

We have faced some very difficult challenges. The biggest dynamic we are contending with right now is COVID-19. It’s why Pride Express isn’t running, why some of our retail stores are closed, and why some of our food & beverage operations have been slimmed down.

Our mountain is staffed and our employees are vaccinated, but in an effort to keep you safe we are asking any employee who is sick or has been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home – and they are. We are focusing on your experience, and prioritizing your safety. As a result of these COVID exclusions, our operation has been impacted.

Additionally, looks can be deceiving. If you look at Blue Sky Basin, it seems like there’s plenty of snow. And in some areas, there is. But in others, we still have quite a ways to go.

The operations team is hard at work preparing terrain. They are performing the careful & meticulous act of snow control — we will never risk their safety or yours in order to open more quickly. We have great respect for the Operations & Ski Patrol leaders who are guiding their teams through this process. We appreciate your understanding and patience.

In my 37 years in the industry, this has been the most challenging holiday season I’ve ever experienced. This has no doubt been a challenging few weeks for every person working at Vail Mountain — and I am grateful for all of their hard work to perform under the stress of the holidays and the resurgence of COVID-19.

I want to thank the incredible Vail Mountain team for their dedication and professionalism. I also want to thank our guests and neighbors for your patience and smiles.

Please have a happy & healthy New Year. We hope to see you on the hill soon.

Beth Howard, COO, Vail Mountain


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