Vail takes over the skiing world....

Bob Barnes

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Well, with the first snow of the upcoming season already dusting the highest peaks of our mountains here in Colorado, and the recent news of Vail taking over yet another premiere ski resort (British Columbia's renowned Whistler/Blackcomb), I thought it was time to stir up a few more emotions about the state of the skiing world. Anyone who is looking for competent instruction at down-to-earth cost should recognize how difficult it is becoming to find it, largely due to the monopolistic arrangements the Forest Service has allowed resorts to enjoy. The following piece on RMPBS came out in March of this year:




With Vail's reach and influence expanding like the wildfires in California, competition gets thinner and thinner, shrinking the choices for the skiing consumer along with it. Vail's resorts tend to be consistently high-quality and well-cared-for, physically, with great lift service, luxurious lodging, and immaculate snow quality management (read "grooming"). But as the company's pervasive influence on the skiing experience of so many people grows, I think it is increasingly important to keep their business practices and corporate priorities in the public eye. Many probably don't care about this, and that is your prerogative. Many may prefer the reliable, comfortable, and well-known fare at McDonald's too. But for those who are interested, it's worth some discussion. Are they doing it right?

Best regards,
Bob
 

Philpug

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Great and informative report. I agree with everything up to allowing isntructors who are not part of the school to teach at the mountain and not through the ski school. While I am not a Vail loyalist or apologist, I do feel that they paid for the exclusive concession to offer skiing on the "National Forest Land", they also paid for all of the development and infrastructure to make the mountain what it is. Could an indivudual teach privately? I am sure it could happen but the resort would charge a hefty fee for letting them set up shop and teach. @Fair Wages was a member here and quite frankly we felt that he was using the site as a grandstand and after numerous requests to stop, we asked him to leave (not banned) this was in the Northstar Snowboard Incident thread. I am going to personally invite him back and see if he woudl like to have a discussion about this. we will welcome an even and respectful conversation amongst him and the community.
 

Mendieta

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Thank you for the info, @Bob Barnes . I have incidentally heard from friends that Ski Instructors are pretty much abused in terms of how much of the hefty instruction fee actually goes to the instructor. Your tip might feel like it's "no big deal", but it may as well be 50% of what the instructor receives.

Tips or not, I feel like the current situation is bad for everyone. People take fewer or no lessons because of the cost, and instructors are sometimes demotivated or disgruntled (Heck - I've been treated very poorly by the last one I had, for no reason I could tell).

In terms of Vail's increasing power: I think the SEC should look into the situation. I feel like both the industry and the public suffer from one investment group taking over several resorts in the same area. Employees (not just Instructors) have little options, other than "take it or leave it".

I happen to feel more at home in smaller, more mom and pops type of resorts. I like Bear Valley, and love Mt Rose, here in California. I have nothing, fundamentally, against "big business". But I believe competition is really important. It's either that or regulation. You kinda need both to some extent, but I have a preference to lean on the former.

Cheers!
 

Karen_skier2.0

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I would love to see what the US Forest Service's rationale was when they implemented the law that independent ski instructors couldn't set up shop on their land? At first I thought it would be because of some kind of liability reasoning; however, if snowmobiling and rafting classes can be taught, that would seem to be a moot point.

Anyone know when this law was enacted?
 
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Bob Barnes

Bob Barnes

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Before we get too far into the abyss, I wasn't kidding about the new snow! Here's the sunrise view this morning from Aspen's panoramic "Roundshot" camera on the hills just behind my home:

Screenshot 2016-08-24 18.14.46.png


That's Aspen Mountain (Ajax) on the left and Aspen Highlands on the right, framing new-snow-capped Mt. Hayden in the center. Hayden was the Aspen-area mountain initially planned for development as a ski area, but apparently WWII and the death of one of the principal developers changed those plans. It's still a very popular back-country ski mountain.

Let it snow!

Best regards,
Bob
 
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Bob Barnes

Bob Barnes

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Karen_skier2.0--I don't know the answer to your question off the top of my head. The whole history of ski areas with the Forest Service is quite interesting. A very, very good read for anyone who wants to know more is Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment, by Hal Clifford (2003). It's not an easy book to find anymore (I'd be happy to loan out my copy, but I already have, and I don't know where it is!). It is well-researched and well-written and, as it turns out thirteen years later, quite prophetic.

Best regards,
Bob
 

Philpug

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I would love to see what the US Forest Service's rationale was when they implemented the law that independent ski instructors couldn't set up shop on their land? At first I thought it would be because of some kind of liability reasoning; however, if snowmobiling and rafting classes can be taught, that would seem to be a moot point.

Anyone know when this law was enacted?
It would be interesting if it isn't actually a law and it has been just assumed all of these years. You would think that it was in the leasee's contract that they had an exclusive right to all concessions on any resort land but what if there wasn't? What if that was missed, kinda like a land lease renewal in say Park City. Wouldn't it be ironic, that it actually wasn't a law and that any instructors could teach. Just putting it out there.
 

tromano

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In order to operate a Business on usfs land you must own a concession or other permits. So it's really a matter of adding additional concessions. I will say that existing monopolyn holders will surely demand compensation / tie this up with litigation and it will be tax payers footing the bill. If / when additional concessions actually get implemented, then there would be some questions to be answered as to how it would actually work. E.g. Can a resort ban a concession private instructor from the resort?
 

Blue Streak

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It would be interesting if it isn't actually a law and it has been just assumed all of these years. You would think that it was in the leasee's contract that they had an exclusive right to all concessions on any resort land but what if there wasn't? What if that was missed, kinda like a land lease renewal in say Park City. Wouldn't it be ironic, that it actually wasn't a law and that any instructors could teach. Just putting it out there.
Not likely. But those leases are public record. It should be easy enough to get a copy.
The worst case scenario would be for Pugski.com to file a FOIA request.
Go for it!
 

Karen_skier2.0

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Karen_skier2.0--I don't know the answer to your question off the top of my head. The whole history of ski areas with the Forest Service is quite interesting. A very, very good read for anyone who wants to know more is Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment, by Hal Clifford (2003). It's not an easy book to find anymore (I'd be happy to loan out my copy, but I already have, and I don't know where it is!). It is well-researched and well-written and, as it turns out thirteen years later, quite prophetic.

Best regards,
Bob
I have the book, but haven't read it yet. I'll have to get it out and look for some answers later this week.
 

nay

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In order to operate a Business on usfs land you must own a concession or other permits. So it's really a matter of adding additional concessions. I will say that existing monopolyn holders will surely demand compensation / tie this up with litigation and it will be tax payers footing the bill. If / when additional concessions actually get implemented, then there would be some questions to be answered as to how it would actually work. E.g. Can a resort ban a concession private instructor from the resort?
To the extent you own the leasing rights to operate on that land, I would expect you can ban private enterprises from operating under your lease. If we think about this in a non-skiing context, when does somebody ever lease property and then allow competitors to set up tent on that property and then take revenue?

These leases are presumably nothing more than commercial contracts, and I think you'd be a bit insane to not have exclusivity provisions in those agreements as a resort operator. The question of good/bad for the consumer, etc., is in that light really more of an outcome of the process of leasing land for a certain operation.

The question of Vail's influence on the skiing world is to me a demonstration of how vastly superior a well run public corporation is to a wealthy individual or family in terms of developing, implementing, and sustaining a long term market strategy. Outside of anti-trust considerations, it does largely look like a shooting fish in a barrel affair at this point.

I would also note that Vail's strategy is not really skiing at this point. It is four season resort development, and the key properties they are acquiring have one of two features: 1) an established real estate base with on resort amenities (e.g. Park City, Whistler) or 2) a destination tourism population base (e.g. Perisher) that will now travel to a Vail resort on the Epic Pass instead of elsewhere.

I think that a year round Epic Pass is coming very soon. That's your skiing, mountain biking, on mountain adventure centers with ziplines, bungee, etc. all on one pass. The potential market share gain in pulling summer vacation dollars has to far exceed trying to grow skier dollars. This is probably the master strategy for the Epic Pass, because it makes two entirely unrelated seasons very economically sticky.

I may ski on the front range, but I can go to Whistler in summer on my Epic Pass now?
 

Philpug

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I may ski on the front range, but I can go to Whistler in summer on my Epic Pass now?
No. Vail's summer activities will tend to be on a different pass. Example: Northstar. You can have your ski pass but if you go Mountain Biking, it is a different pass and your "Epic Pass" will not work.
 

Tricia

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@Bob Barnes thanks for sharing. I knew some of this was going on and I have some thoughts on wages at VR and how skewed they are, but I need to put them together a little better in my head before I put them down in print.
 

skibob

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No. Vail's summer activities will tend to be on a different pass. Example: Northstar. You can have your ski pass but if you go Mountain Biking, it is a different pass and your "Epic Pass" will not work.
But it will get you a discount . . .
 

Tricia

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@skibob because I work year round I've never used a pass for the summer discount. Have you? How much does it do for you? Just curious.
 

Paul S.

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In terms of Vail's increasing power: I think the SEC should look into the situation. I feel like both the industry and the public suffer from one investment group taking over several resorts in the same area. Employees (not just Instructors) have little options, other than "take it or leave it".
It has happened in the past, but I am not sure the SEC cares about this stuff anymore. Circa 1995 American Skiing Co. was forced to divest itself of Waterville Valley, NH and Mt. Cranmore, NH because of anti trust concerns. It seemed pretty foolish, especially in light of the fact that these were the two smallest areas it owned at the time, and further that it owned Sunday River and later was allowed to acquire Sugarloaf, giving them control of the two largest ski areas in Maine. ASC then went on to acquire several western areas (Steamboat, Heavenly, The Canyons) and at one time owned eleven resorts.
 

nay

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No. Vail's summer activities will tend to be on a different pass. Example: Northstar. You can have your ski pass but if you go Mountain Biking, it is a different pass and your "Epic Pass" will not work.
I was saying that in terms of my belief that a year round Epic Pass is coming, and that this is the long term strategy of the Epic Pass to not just be a ski pass.

It's $89 a day for Epic Adventure in Vail. Just like lift tickets, they have to be assessing demand at window price vs. seasonal commitment, and then seasonal commitment vs. year round commitment.

At this point, it's a bit silly that there isn't a full year option. I think it's because Vail's Epic Adventure is testing the demand and once they have the data it will get patterned and put on a more expensive version of the pass.
 
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