Vail officials talk reservations, employee perks, recent layoffs ahead of Sept. 17 Epic Pass deadline
With Vail Resorts’ Sept. 17 pass purchasing deadline looming, those considering the Epic Pass for this season are weighing their options.
The Epic Pass is Vail Resorts’ only consumer product which offers guests unlimited access at Vail Mountain, with no blackout dates.
Unlimited access during the 2020-21 season might be a little more tricky, however, as guests will be required to reserve the days they want to attend in advance. If days do fill and access to Vail is restricted this season, holidays and powder days are expected to be the days which fill first. Holidays are more likely to fill in advance while powder days are expected to fill on a more last-minute basis.
Nervousness about the potential for restricted access through Vail’s recently announced reservations system tops the list of concerns for many.
Without detailing specific capacity numbers, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz tackled a few questions related to the program in a video published Monday.
“In a typical season, for most days, capacity at our resorts is at a level that would not require us to have to impose any limits this season,” Katz said. “The reservations system is really in place for peak days. The issue is we can’t always predict a peak day. So this reservations system becomes a tool to help us manage that capacity, and be out front in our approach to help keep you safe all season long.”
Student pass returning
While specifics on potential price increases haven’t been announced, the Sept. 17 deadline will represent purchasers’ last chance for the lowest price on pass products, and the last chance to use the credits offered to pass purchasers from last year’s abbreviated season.
People not observing the deadline — using more of a wait-and-see approach — include local students, those who plan on volunteering at the resort, those who are considering getting a paid position on the mountain, and those who plan on working for an employer who participates in the merchant pass program.
Vail’s merchant pass program will be reinstated for this season for participating businesses who are a member of the Vail Chamber and Business Association or the Vail Valley Partnership.
Discounted passes will be available to Eagle County Schools Students, as well, Vail Mountain Communications Senior Specialist Hannah Dixon confirmed on Wednesday.
“Students enrolled in Eagle and Lake County Schools will be eligible for this pass,” Dixon wrote in an email to the Vail Daily. “Proof of employment/enrollment will be required to purchase.”
Details are still being finalized for both the student pass and the merchant pass, but both will be subject to the reservations system, Dixon confirmed.
Details associated with volunteer passes have not yet been made available.
Blackouts, but no reservations for employees
The only pass that is so far confirmed to not require reservations is the employee pass. In Vail Mountain’s attempt to staff up for this season, it’s a perk they alone can offer, an unmatched incentive in what is expected to be a challenging hiring season at Vail, as it looks as though managers might not be able to use visa workers to meet their staffing needs in November and December. The federal visa suspension through the end of 2020 prevents Vail Resorts from pursuing J-1 or H-2B visas.
“Employees will not be required to make a reservation to access our resorts for skiing and riding,” Dixon said. “That being said, there may be certain periods when employee access is blacked out at some resorts, due to terrain availability, especially during the early season.”
Dixon said the company also has additional strategies in place to help staff up for the winter, and employees from prior seasons are showing enthusiasm to return.
“We are heavily recruiting in the Vail Valley to provide as many local employment opportunities as we can,” Dixon wrote.
Employees aside, the best access will once again be given to Epic Pass holders. Epic Pass holders who live near resorts may once again have the best chance to access the mountain as they will be able to keep a perpetual roll of reserved days in front of them, reserving a new day as soon as an existing day is scanned.
“The relative value of of one of our season passes may never be better than this winter, because we are giving our season pass holders the best access to the mountains,” Katz said.
The advantage goes to the local Epic Pass holder when the penalties for reserving and not showing are considered, as a local pass holder can easily get their pass scanned for the day they reserved, while someone who must travel for hours to visit the mountain won’t have that option.
“We’ll be motoring the system, and looking for pass holders who constantly book days and don’t show up,” Dixon said. “If we find they’re abusing the system, we may restrict their ability to reserve future days for a period of time.”
Pass holders who have a reservation that they do not plan on using will be asked to cancel on the company’s website by midnight the night before, so that pass holders looking for availability the next morning have the chance to grab it, Dixon said.
“Of course, we understand that for all of us there will be reason we can’t show up to the mountain, even when we were planning on it,” Dixon said. “We plan to give pass holders plenty of leeway on that.”
Hiring and layoffs
Dixon said the company has made significant investments in technology to make the reservation process as easy and painless as possible, and the reservations portal will be one system, on one website, for all of the company’s resorts.
“It will be a one-stop shop for our guests to reserve days and get the information they need,” Dixon said.
In August, many IT workers at the company returned to their jobs after months away from work. In other areas of the company, however, the furloughs became full separations.
Over the summer, the company considered all positions originally furloughed in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic and evaluated the necessity of those positions in light of the operational changes that have resulted. Employee performance and future business needs were also examined as part of a large separation program, which considered some 2,500 positions. Of those positions, 410 were eliminated company wide, with jobs ranging from bike mechanics to administrative specialists.
In Vail, 43 employees saw job separations, five from on the mountain and 38 from lodging and retail. In Beaver Creek, 12 people were separated on August 7, all from retail and miscellaneous operations.
“We have had to evaluate all parts of our operations to determine where we need to make adjustments,” Dixon wrote. “As a result, we have had to lay off some employees in areas of the business where we expect lower guest demand due to COVID-19, such as staffing conferences and other large events.”
Dixon said COVID-19 has had a significant impact on business in Vail and Beaver Creek.
“Any of our eligible employees received separations packages and outplacement services to secure new employment,” Dixon wrote. “They are also typically eligible to apply for open positions with our company.”
Prospective job candidates can find open positions and benefits information at jobs.vailresorts.com.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.