Letter: Does Vail invest in dangerous skiing?
The billboards across Vail marketing the upcoming installation of another six-pack chairlift at Chair 7 have been triggering a thought I can’t get out of my head:
Increasing uphill capacity by 33% also increases downhill volume by 33%. This is beyond our mountain’s safe carrying capacity.
More people going down per hour doesn’t just mean the mountain gets skied out quicker; it means skiers have less space to experience the mountain. Less space increases the risk of collisions. Combine this with factors such as high speeds from overgrooming, GoPro-inspired ego glorification of skiing beyond ability level and Air-Pods-induced oblivion, it feels skiing Vail could be the last experience of one’s lifetime.
Since Rob Katz, a Wall Street guy, became CEO in 2006, it seems that many of Vail Resort’s core values, especially “do right” and “be safe,” are being overlooked. It would be interesting to see some data — a plot of collisions and injuries compared to skier numbers, acreage open and average uphill capacity.
My sense is ski patrol, the folks integral to mountain safety, have been ever more burdened by corporate strategies of high volume Epic Pass sales, six-pack lifts and channeling skiers to flagship resorts. Patrol has risen to the occasion without close to just compensation — this isn’t right, nor is it safe.
There are other approaches Vail could use to support the growing demand for skiing in North America besides increasing skier numbers and deteriorating experience in a finite area of their flagship resorts. For example, skiers can be spread out on more terrain across the country.
What if Vail were to invest capital into the people and communities across all their holdings, so skiers could be spread across a maximum skiable acreage? Would this be “doing right” while “being safe?”