Vail Resorts employee who posted sign in front of snowstake cam says protest got him fired
Tim McMahon says he was upset about Vail Resorts efforts to disperse workers out of a coronavirus spread zone
Tim McMahon says he didn’t even know where the Beaver Creek snowstake camera was located when he began hiking up the mountain to place a protest sign in front of it on March 27.
In an interview with the Vail Daily, the former Beano’s Cabin employee said he was horrified by what he saw as an unsafe reaction to the coronavirus infection in Eagle County. He said making hundreds of young and healthy employees — some of whom were certain to be asymptomatic carriers — scramble to get out of one of the country’s most concentrated spread zones would lead to spread in other areas. Lives were potentially on the line, he said, and he felt helpless. So he jotted down some thoughts on a sign.
“I didn’t want to write anything vulgar, I didn’t want to do anything destructive, I just wanted to get a message out of Eagle County,” he said. “So I thought this camera in the national forest was one way to do that.”
Ski town disease
While McMahon sought to highlight Vail Resorts’ actions during the coronavirus, ski areas across the globe were being spotlighted in the roles they played in spreading.
In January, the ski resort town of Contamines-Montjoie in France was among the first areas of Europe where the virus had been identified, and later the ski resort town of Ischgl in Austria was called a ground-zero area in helping usher the spread across Europe. Colorado’s first presumptive positive case was from a skier with recent travel history to Italy visiting Vail and Keystone in late February.
On Feb. 26, as news was breaking that the World Cup ski races in Italy would be held with limited spectators due to the coronavirus, Vail’s biggest winter sports spectator event was getting underway with the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships. The snowboarding event was later cited as the likely origin area for Mexican nationals testing positive upon return to their home country when the state of Jalisco began efforts to retrace the steps of about 400 travelers who visited Vail. A doctor from Australia also made news in his home country when he treated 70 patients after he returned home from Vail in late February and was likely to be infected with the coronavirus.
Amid all the spotlight of people leaving ski towns to infect other areas, McMahon wanted something to be known. Sending people out of the Vail area was a matter of policy.
“It was cheaper and easier to just get everyone out of here,” McMahon said. “It was a bad decision coming from the top.”
And so, McMahon said, he began writing his sign, with the words “10 days to vacate followed” by hand-drawn hashtag terms “#ProfitsOverPeople and #RobKatzMustGo.
News broke of a company-ordered exodus from Vail Resorts properties on March 17. But McMahon said he began to observe an atmosphere of panic on March 15, the day after the ski areas ceased operation. He said he lived near a group of 11 Vail Resorts workers who were all living together.
“On Sunday morning, the 15th, (the workers) all were packing in cars to get to DIA,” he said. “They were told they had to get out.”
Those who didn’t make it to the airport were sleeping in cars or on friends’ couches, McMahon said.
McMahon said days had passed before Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz sent out a clarification email to employees, and it became apparent that the directive for employees to leave was coming from both Eagle County and Vail Resorts.
“All these people were already scrambling and gone,” McMahon said.
McMahon said anyone operating in an HR capacity was no longer available to talk to.
“After all this happened, HR had a sign that said they were closed for 8 days,” McMahon said. “I was never trained to use the portal or any of that. Plus I don’t want to bother my supervisor, the chef who has nothing to do with all of this.”
On the afternoon of March 27, McMahon placed his sign in front of Beaver Creek’s snowstake, which was still broadcasting. The image only made the prime time for a moment, but word soon got out, and the sign spurred massive engagement across the internet, with people supporting McMahon’s sign and its message. When asked, Vail Resorts declined to comment.
A few days later, however, Vail Resorts announced that Katz and his wife Elana Amsterdam announced that the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust would be making a donation of more than $2.5 million to provide support to Vail Resorts employees and the towns where the company operates.
McMahon said he would not be surprised if the snowstake incident spurred the announcement.
“It’s makes me feel great,” McMahon said of the donation. “But the workers won’t get (much) … And it shows (Katz has) made plenty of money from Vail Resorts, while everyone else is making pretty much the minimum amount of money you can make. I made $15.50 (per hour) as an advanced cook at Beano’s.”
With a nearly $100M commitment, Katz and Amsterdam launched the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust in 2017 and the Katz Amsterdam Foundation in 2018, according to katzamsterdam.org.
In 2017, Katz received 304,612 shares of Vail Resorts stock through stock appreciation rights, and sold approximately 114,000 shares, donating the proceeds of about $25M to the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust. He also donated 148,000 shares (valued at about $33 million at the time) directly to the charitable fund. In 2018, Katz exercised his stock appreciation rights once again, leading to another donation of approximately $31 million.
Vail Resorts said that the initial focus of the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust was to focus on eliminating the stigma of mental illness and increasing access to mental and behavioral healthcare.
Furloughed to fired
McMahon was contacted last week by Vail Resorts management, who laid the finger on him. He had been furloughed from his job at Beano’s in March, but was still expecting to come back when the restaurant reopened.
“They said they were 99.9 percent positive it was me based on video,” he said. “They said they didn’t want to get me in legal trouble, they just wanted to know why I did it.”
McMahon said he then admitted to placing the sign there, saying he didn’t regret it, and took a moment to complain about the employee bathroom at Beano’s leaking wastewater for two months.
“I said upper management isn’t anywhere connected to what everyone down here goes through on a daily basis to make this show work,” he said.
He said he was called the next day and terminated.
“My boss called me, he said I’m no longer coming back at Beano’s or any Vail Resorts property,” McMahon said. “He said it was from the sign, straight up. It came down from the top.”