Howard: Vail is a welcoming place for all
Vail Mountain — and all mountains — should be a welcoming place. Over the past several months I have read numerous pieces perpetuating a troubling narrative of exclusivity and negativity that harms our reputation as a welcoming and inclusive mountain community.
Whether this is your first time to the mountains or if you have lived here your entire life, Vail is a place where you belong. I relocated to this community decades ago, and I am proud of how we have evolved into a world-class destination beloved by so many. Vail is an aspirational and inspirational destination, one that everyone should feel welcome to visit.
Unfortunately, the most notable narrative I’ve heard this season is that Vail Mountain’s experience is too crowded, with blame being directed at the increase in Epic Pass sales this year. This is not true. The facts are that visitation this season at Vail Mountain is down from the 2018-19 season and up only slightly from the 2019-20 season. And peak daily visitation to the resort this season is not higher than previous years.
Our commitment to “Epic for Everyone” is an effort to create a more welcoming entry point to the sport, while also creating stability for our community despite variability in weather or unpredictable events like a pandemic. I remember very well in 2008, when our company introduced the Epic Pass and dramatically reduced the price to ski and ride. There were many concerns locally that this would negatively impact what we stood for.
Fourteen years later, I could not be prouder of the experience we provide across Vail Mountain and across this community, and proud of how we have made the experience more accessible with programs like the Epic Military Pass, Epic Schoolkids Pass, charitable donations to organizations that deliver experiences to underserved and at-risk young people, and yes, our Epic Day Pass as well.
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Did we have challenges earlier this season in the middle of an accelerating pandemic and staffing shortages? We did. But thanks to the hard work and commitment of our employees, our mountain is 97% open, we launched four new guest experiences, we continue to open more food and beverage locations, we have manageable (and often nonexistent) lift lines, and we have vitality in our villages.
We are driving tourism and economic success for this community, and we are providing guests with a mountain experience like nothing on earth.
We understand that this success requires continued investment in the mountain, our people and our community. Next year we have two new high-speed lifts planned for Vail Mountain, and we are proud of the team next door at Beaver Creek who opened up McCoy Park this season.
We are also working on a robust companywide plan for employee wages ahead of next season, to further the momentum from the end-of-season bonus we implemented in January. We are fully committed to invest in more affordable housing for this community to help alleviate our housing crisis and provide more places to live for our employees. We continue to support local non-profits — everything from Vail Veterans to the Eagle River Watershed Council — with millions of dollars in grant money.
I’m proud to be a part of this community, and I’m grateful for all of the wonderful people who welcomed me here 37 years ago. It is imperative for my entire team, as well as our entire community, to welcome others like I was welcomed to the Vail Valley — like you were welcomed when you arrived.
Our community benefits from this growing interest and enthusiasm in our sport, our mountain and our community, and it is never the time to close our doors and say “keep out.” Let’s keep our mountain community an inclusive place for everyone, and secure our long-term success as the world’s premier mountain destination community.
Beth Howard is vice president and chief operating officer for Vail Mountain.