Vail Chamber: Staying competitive within an emerging new norm (column) |

Vail Chamber: Staying competitive within an emerging new norm (column)

Ryan Kelsey
Vail Chamber
Ryan Kelsey

Fall has long been my favorite time of year. The air turns colder, leaves begin to change, the Broncos are back on the field and excitement surrounding a new winter season returns to most conversations in both social and business circles around the Vail Valley.

However, this fall we are faced with an emerging and probable new norm. Contributing factors that we’ve discussed ad nauseum are still at play, and new socio, economic and political factors continue to dominate the local headlines and are adding a new nuance to preparation for the upcoming lifeblood of our business community. Is your business prepared to transition toward these new constants?

For years, we’ve lamented the challenges of housing, parking and employee retention. I ask you to consider this: What has changed since the floor opened to these debates? Revamped deed-restriction programs and new “affordable” housing projects come to mind, but so do conversations and many recent tales of longtime locals and valued employees losing out to second-home owner sales and quick flip opportunities within many of our local housing and employee bed bases.

As much as we want to solve traffic woes on Interstate 70 and create more parking in our structures, the volume continues to grow year-round, making a past seasonal problem seem more constant rather than cyclical. One of the best perks of any tried and true ski bum was the proximity of your parking spot or ski locker to the lifts. It has become painfully obvious that employees and employers can no longer count on these value-added aspects to compensation, losing out to other stakeholders in the fray.

Adding to these past woes are other emerging competitive employee recruitment challenges brought about by tweaks to the federal visa program, and economic aspects emerging from the Epic and Ikon ski pass wars. KSL and its growing list of resort communities stands as a major disruptor to Vail’s status quo as the prime employer and place to be in the mountain west ski scene. This is more than obvious everywhere you look along the I-70 corridor and within print, digital and televised advertising.

Add to this Aspen’s recent announcement increasing minimum wage as their next salvo toward Vail Resorts. This competitive wage aspect will further hinder recruitment efforts within our community already facing a glut of open and critical jobs. The recent article positioning Eagle County as trailing in average pay compared with most other relevant mountain and Colorado communities is another major obstacle in our path to staffing for this upcoming season.

Finally, a considerably slower booking pace to the winter season points to emerging changes in consumer behaviors. Additional access to resorts on multiple affordable season pass products is shrinking the booking window and creating a more focused competition towards a shrinking skier/snowboarder base. Logic stands to point where there is good early and consistent snow as well as high customer service standards you will accordingly and increasingly find the winners.

Your business needs to be aware, prepared and insulated against these new norms otherwise you may find yourself spread too thin to “keep up with the Benjamins.”

Ryan Kelsey is the director of sales and revenue for the Antlers at Vail, co-owner of Healing Hut TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and a member of the Board of Directors for the Vail Chamber & Business Association. The Vail Chamber & Business Association is a business advocacy group in Vail and a communications outlet for businesses that want to have a voice in community affairs. For more information, call 970-477-0075 or email

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