Will an easing of vaccine requirements help Vail Resorts’ employee shortage?

Citing public health and OSHA regs, company stopped requiring COVID-19 shots for employees on July 19

Vail Resorts is no longer requiring employees to have COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment. The company, which saw operational challenges as a result of staffing issues last season, is still strongly encouraging workers to get vaccinated.
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On July 19, Vail Resorts changed its policy to no longer require COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment.

This was due to a number of factors, said spokesman John Plack with Vail Resorts.

“The overall conditions surrounding COVID-19 have improved, public health officials have relaxed many of the public health requirements, and OSHA has withdrawn the vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard,” Plack said.

But the company is still strongly encouraging all of its employees to get vaccinated, Plack added.

“We believe that the COVID-19 vaccine is the way to end this pandemic,” Plack said.

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The company will continue to require daily health screenings for all employees working onsite, as well as comprehensive safety protocols around exposure, isolation and cleaning and disinfecting, Plack said.

“Our goal throughout the pandemic has always been to keep our guests and employees healthy and safe,” Plack said.

Difficult situation

Watching from the sidelines last season, Indy Pass founder Doug Fish said Vail Resorts was in a tough situation.

“They made (COVID-19) vaccines mandatory for all their employees, that was a grand gesture that I applaud personally, but … this is not the year to do that in the ski business,” Fish said in February. “Automatically you take out (a significant portion) of your labor force, and it’s already tough.”

Fish, an Oregon native who worked in ski marketing for decades before founding the Indy Pass, said it was hard to watch the big resorts go through staffing issues while seeing large crowds and people wanting to ski. A large crowd is one thing, Fish said, but when there are lifts that aren’t spinning due to low staffing, then the skiers in those crowds tend to get upset.

The Indy Pass, now in its third season, doesn’t necessarily see a different clientele than Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass (Fish says many Indy Pass holders also own other pass products), but the 105 Alpine and Nordic ski areas to which the Indy Pass offers access are viewed by that clientele as being quite different, as most are independently owned.

But that’s not a totally accurate viewpoint, says Fish, as Vail Resorts also owns a lot of small ski areas that attract the same skiers and, more importantly, draw from the same workforce.

And it’s a workforce that didn’t take too kindly to the order to get a COVID-19 vaccination, Fish said.

“I think (the vaccine mandate) really put them at a disadvantage, but being a leader, they should have taken a lead on something like that,” Fish said of Vail Resorts.

Significant shortage

In an earnings call in March, Vail Resorts CEO Kirstin Lynch said the company did indeed have problems early in the 2021-22 season, and those issues were “primarily driven by being short staffed.”

Lynch said those issues became apparent during the Christmas to New Year’s Day holiday period.

“Available staffing was below targeted levels heading into the holidays,” Lynch said.

A few months earlier, on Sept. 20, the company had announced its winter operating plan, detailing how all employees would be required to have COVID-19 vaccinations “for their safety and protection as well as the safety and protection of guests and resort communities.”

Proof of vaccinations would also be required of guests wishing to access the cafeteria-style restaurants at Vail Resorts’ properties, the company announced.

It was part of a strategy to “continually assess our safety policies as the pandemic evolves, in consultation with health officials and in alignment with government regulations,” Plack said.

Some policies changed throughout the season, like the requirement of face coverings on gondola cars, which were not required in the early season, but started being required on Dec. 28 as a result of a spike in the COVID-19 omicron variant. The mask policy remained in place until Feb. 28.

The employee vaccination policy, however, didn’t change throughout the ski season, remaining in place into the early part of Vail’s summer operations window.

For guests, the company stopped requiring proof of vaccination to access cafeteria-style restaurants with the commencement of summer operations.

“I don’t have an update to share on winter just quite yet, but those are our current safety protocols in effect this summer,” Plack said. “We’ll have more info on this coming season soon.”

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