Vail Resorts’ plan to reduce lift lines includes ‘Phone Free Zones’

As part of new operating plan, company is asking skiers to put their phones away as they approach lift terminals

New “Phone Free Zone” signs on Vail Mountain were installed this season as part of a new operating plan aimed at reducing wait times for chairlifts.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

VAIL — It seems like something out of a dark comedy at this point in the season, with an enormous lift line occupying a full page of the Wall Street Journal. But believe it or not, Vail Resorts actually began the 2021-22 season by deploying a new operating plan aimed at reducing lift lines at its North American Resorts.

The press release from Vail Resorts was sent out on Nov. 16, and many media outlets, including this one, ran it in full.

The release touted “new strategies taking effect during the 2021-22 North American season to enhance the guest experience and prioritize its pass holders.”

But just 6 weeks later, elements of the guest experience, which had definitely not been enhanced, were pointed out by Vail Mountain COO Beth Howard in an open letter. Howard acknowledged “Pride Express isn’t running. … Some of our retail stores are closed” and “some of our food & beverage operations have been slimmed down.”

Pride Express opened on Jan. 14. Earl’s Express, the Mongolia Platter and Vail Mountain’s Adventure Ridge tubing are still closed.

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While a compromised experience for skiers and living wages for employees have been cited as concerns, long lift lines have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back this season for guests wanting to express growing frustrations with Vail Resorts’ management of ski areas across the U.S..

A new Instagram account titled Epic Lift Lines quickly garnered more than 30,000 followers this season, and more than 40,000 people have signed a petition out of the Vail Resorts-owned Stevens Pass ski area in Washington, which says lift lines are “out of control to the point where the majority of a day of ‘skiing’ is spent standing in line at one of the few lifts open.”

Phone Free Zones

Prior to the creation of the petition, the November press release from Vail Resorts said the company would be “deploying a new operating plan which includes a significant improvement of how efficiently the company loads lifts and gondolas to reduce wait times, among other operational enhancements.”

But the release did not detail specifics on what the operating plan entails.

On Wednesday, however, Vail Resorts spokesperson John Plack confirmed that one of those operating specifics include a concept called a “Phone Free Zone.”

The signs for the zones in Vail lift maze areas are new for this season as part of the new operating plan, Plack confirmed.

Vail skier Tanner Miller was recently scolded by a line attendant for using his device in the Phone Free Zone at Chair 2 in Vail.

Miller said he couldn’t help but feel slightly insulted as an initial reaction.

“They won’t even let me fight the boredom of their enormous lift line by checking Epic Mix,” he said. “And this is coming from the same resort that equipped the gondola with WiFi.”

Plack said the effort is aimed at the approach to the lift terminals, not the entire lift line.

“In an effort to load lifts safely and efficiently, we are asking guests to put their cell phones away as they approach lift terminals,” Plack said.

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