Vail’s apology for long lines during massive storm earns praise from local businesses, leaders
Despite frustration with operations, some welcomed Vail Mountain COO Beth Howard's apology
Vail Mountain COO Beth Howard apologized Wednesday for last weekend’s long lift lines and other problems at the resort.
Howard’s statement thanked Vail Mountain employees for their hard work during storms that dropped 38 inches of snow in just 48 hours.
She also thanked guests for their patience in lift lines that, in some cases, lasted for two hours.
She also apologized for “any experience that was less than ideal.”
Howard’s statement noted that the line at Gondola One in Vail Village started forming two hours before the lift opened. The line was cleared by 10 a.m. Feb. 7, she wrote.
On Feb. 8, the line quickly grew at Chair 5, the only way out of Sun Down and Sun Up bowls.
Howard’s statement also included a vow to improve the company’s communications with guests, including an upgrade to the Epic Mix app to accurately reflect lift line waiting times.
Mike Brumbaugh was out of town last weekend, but he heard plenty about the valley’s big storms and the on-mountain problems it caused.
Brumbaugh, the owner of Venture Sports, said his phone, and those of his travel companions, were “blowing up” with reports from friends as far away as Europe.
At the Venture Sports store near Gondola One, a number of customers rented gear for the day, came back an hour later and asked for a refund.
Those refunds were given, but Brumbaugh added, a number of customers blamed the store.
At Buzz’s Boards in Vail Village, owner and longtime local Buzz Schleper said he talked to a number of customers frustrated with several terrain closures on the mountain.
Those customers said Vail Resorts should have had other lifts open, Schleper said.
“I explained it was for avalanche mitigation — they didn’t care,” Schleper said. “They were so mad about the lines they didn’t care.”
But, he added, “You’ve got to put safety first.”
Howard’s statement noted that Vail’s ski patrol used a “record amount” of explosives to clear slide zones on the resort.
Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey said she noticed several holes from the avalanche mitigation work.
“They were bombing places I’d never seen,” she said.
Wadey noted that she heard plenty of frustrated chatter from guests and business owners.
From the mountain, “I texted someone I work with and told him ‘things are falling apart up here — brace for impact on social media.’”
But, she added, it takes some work to sort through social media posts and comments.
Time to move forward
“We need to filter to true critical feedback,” she said. “It was a crazy day. Let’s learn and move forward.”
The photos of monstrous lift lines told only part of the story, Schleper said. Schleper said he went up on Vail Mountain in the afternoon, after the biggest of the lines had cleared. He also stayed on the front side of the mountain.
“It was one of my top five days in Vail, and I’ve been here since 1970,” he said.
Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer was on Vail Mountain Saturday. He also participated in a Wednesday ski day with people around the region who work for Alpine Bank. Romer said he talked with people from Steamboat Springs who reported lengthy lines Saturday at that resort.
Romer said he appreciated Howard’s statement.
“It was a nice thing,” Romer said. “It was appropriate and honest.”
Romer noted that Howard didn’t have to issue a public apology for the operational fumbles over the weekend.
“When I was out there on Saturday, I saw a number of people from the senior leadership team out there, directing traffic, shoveling snow …”
While Howard’s statement noted that Vail Mountain went to “all hands on deck” status during the storm, Wadey wondered if the valley’s employee shortage might have had something to do with some of the delays in getting operations running smoothly.
“Vail Resorts is like every other business,” Wadey said. “When you need all hands on deck and don’t have employees, that slows things down.”
With that, Wadey noted that the weekend’s big snow was unusual.
“This doesn’t happen every day,” Wadey said. “We operate the rest of the season pretty well … we need to cut ourselves some slack.”
And, Romer said, the short-term criticism shouldn’t have many long-term effects.
“I think our brand appeal and guest experience is stronger than a once-a-decade event,” he said.
And, Schleper added, he has an idea for the next time crowds start to form at Chair 5.
“Let’s get my son’s (Johnny) band down at Chair 5 so people can have some music,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.