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Vermont’s wise response to Vail’s move.

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Vail has entered New England.

And like all their previous moves, there were multiple rounds of responses the industry was waiting for.

  • How would the market react?
  • How would the locals react?
  • How would the industry react?
  • How would other resorts in the area react?

It’s on that last point I’d like to dwell for a minute.

Because usually there’s concern, there’s frustration, there’s a long list of other not so positive reactions by folks in the area to the news of the big bad wold coming to town.

But Stowe has been different. Very different. If there was one sentiment that was present in nearly every local resort’s response, it wasn’t concern, it was optimism. In some cases, even a tinge of excitement.

Take, for example, these two quotes from the Burlington Free Press coverage of the news. The first from Ski Vermont’s Parker Riehle:

“It’s a win-win for Vail and Stowe Mountain Resort. The incredible marketing firepower and awareness Vail will bring to Stowe and the Vermont ski industry … will take them to the next level and assure the future sustainability of that great ski area.”

And the second from Sugarbush’s Win Smith:

“A company like Vail buying into the East is very positive for Vermont.”

An email campaign I received from Sugarbush the day after the news supported this bright outlook with specifics in terms of access and parking and real estate.

And it makes sense, right?

Vail is really, really good at getting people to visit their resorts. And not just people, but new people. People from out of town. People like one of their 650,000+ Epic Pass skiers.

Vail’s model also relies heavily on making sure that when skiers explore multiple resorts in an area they do so at their mountains. But Vail doesn’t own other mountains like they do in Tahoe and Colorado and Utah, so these extra skiers will inevitably end up at non-Vail resorts.

And Stowe’s access is a point of concern for everyone. A narrow highway to the mountain, very limited parking, etc. will all give resorts like Sugarbush a leg up when these skiers do fan out.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this.

We all know Vail can be a tough neighbor partly because they run such a savvy business. But I love the way Vermont saw past the bias some in our industry often feel towards Vail and dispensed with the grumblings we’ve seen in the past. Because, yeah, this will be competition, yeah, Stowe will take a few of their past passholders and guests, yeah, nobody has pockets as deep as theirs.

But it’s also incredible validation for the skiing in their region and a massive opportunity that, if played right, could be huge for Vermont’s ski industry as a whole.

  • Alex Silgalis

    I get the optimistic attitude especially that you should make lemons out of lemonade but I’ve personally seen changes that aren’t particularly pleasant at the Tahoe resorts that are owned by Vail. I hope they sell them off to another company… but one can only hope.

    NOTE: This is purely based on personal experience and observations and could be VERY wrong. Like anything, take it with a grain of salt.

    Looking at Kirkwood:

    The good: Vail has done some amazing things in investing in badly needed infrastructure.
    1. Getting a building built on top of the ridge so that ski patrol can get control work done earlier on some of the steeper terrain.
    2. Finally moving the chairlifts off of diesel powered and connecting it to the power grid.

    The bad:
    When Kirkwood was by itself the lift lines on a powder day were long, but manageable. With the Epic Pass the amount of people that descend onto Kirkwood on a Powder Day is absolutely insane. The car crashes have caused us to not even attempt to visit this resort anymore on a powder day. See how bad it was here:
    From personally getting in 20+ days at this resort a season this year we haven’t even visited Kirkwood. Instead, I’ve purchased a Sierra-at-Tahoe Local Pass so that if I need access to west of the crest powder then we just have to drive to Echo Summit instead of dealing with the traffic to Kirkwood and the thousands of people frothing at the bit.

    In addition, they continue to push the closing date earlier and earlier. It used to be that on a good year they’d even open the lifts for a weekend in July… now Vail is about the bottom line and not about skiing.

    Looking at Heavenly:

    The good: Even in the worst storms they made sure to at least open a few lifts.

    The bad: Year after year Vail continues to reduce Heavenly’s budget. The decisions they are making you can tell are purely based on budget and resource planning. I can’t even remember the resort being at full operation even on a non-wind hold/snow-hold day. For example, Galaxy chair has rarely run during the season and North Bowl Chair is ALWAYS on wind-hold or snow-hold even if winds are only gusting to 30 mph. Finally, from talking to employees the managers treat the staff horribly compared to any of the other resorts around the basin.

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