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Some see Vail Resorts' new Epic Pass as a potential source of more traffic snarls along Interstate 70 and Vail's frontage roads.
Some see Vail Resorts' new Epic Pass as a potential source of more traffic snarls along Interstate 70 and Vail's frontage roads.
By Tom Boyd 
Epic Pass could cause epic headaches for Vail, critics say
Politicians, business leaders fear more traffic, parking shortages and skier-safety issues
By David O. Williams

April 8, 2008 — Kaye Ferry, executive director of the Vail Chamber and Business Association, is not at all thrilled by the announcement last month that Vail Resorts is offering a deeply discounted, unlimited and unrestricted season ski pass good at all six of its resorts next ski season.

Ferry has been blasting Vail's new $579 "Epic Pass" to anyone who will listen, not because she thinks it's a bad business decision to bring more skiers to town, but because of the increased traffic, parking shortages and dangerous crowds on the mountain those additional skiers may cause.

She also argues that a severe lack of workforce housing in Eagle County – home to Vail and Beaver Creek – exacerbated an already critical labor shortage this past ski season, forcing many of her member businesses to operate short-staffed and, in some cases, cut back drastically on hours of operation.

All of this comes in the midst of Vail's billion-dollar-plus redevelopment, with high-end Ritz-Carlton condo projects and Four Seasons hotels springing up like mushrooms. Catering to the fur-clad jet set with swank new real estate and lodging while attracting the brown-bagging masses on the ski hill sends a mixed message, Ferry says.

"They're paying $2,500 a night for a room, and then they're fearing for the lives of their grandkids when they go skiing over Christmas," said Ferry, who also works as a ski instructor at Vail and was struck and injured by a snowboarder last ski season. There have been a record 17 skier deaths at Colorado resorts this season following a skier death at Vail over the weekend.

"Throughout the history of (Vail) we have appealed to exclusivity. The only people we let up there during Christmas are the ones with the big homes and their ski instructors. We had eliminated the Front Range riff-raff, and all of a sudden we're selling a pass that's to the masses."

Chris Jarnot, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain, counters that the new pass is aimed at out-of-state, destination guests who don't typically drive to Vail anyway but instead fly in and use public transportation or private shuttle services. He acknowledges there may be some increase in drive-market traffic as a result of the new pass but feels it will be negligible, and the parking crunch is something the company is focused on fixing anyway.

"It's a bad experience, it's a dangerous experience, and it's not what Vail expects to deliver to its guests," he said of the 40 days so far this season that hundreds of cars have spilled out of Vail's two main parking garages onto the town's frontage roads. "I think it's the weakest part of our experience, but relative to everywhere else, which might be a low bar to get over, I think we're doing all right."

Town councilman Andy Daly, a former president of Vail Resorts who was forced out in a downsizing several years ago, says the new pass will likely increase traffic and negatively impact parking, and he was not happy that the town government was not consulted about the decision. He is fearful a skier walking along the frontage road will be struck by a car.

"There are too many people on the streets, and the risk of somebody being hurt is extraordinarily high, the skier drop-off (temporary parking where drivers can unload passengers) is an absolute nightmare, and there's no definitive plan to deal with it,”said Daly, who wants to see a new parking garage built in the next three years. "We need a really substantive plan to deal with the potential parking impacts."

Economically, Ferry says Front Range skiers tend to jump back in their cars as quickly as possible when the ski day is done, fleeing back over the passes before Interstate 70 turns into its usual weekend parking lot.

"If you talk to the merchants in town, they notice a different customer here and they notice a different spending habit," said Ferry, whose biggest concern is skier safety if the Epic Pass results in more skiers and snowboarders at Vail. Ferry had several ribs broken by a snowboarder who hit her last season, when a number of other instructors began reporting more collisions, unsafe skiing and incidents of "slope rage" at Vail.

Jarnot says the Epic Pass will bring destination skiers to Vail from the company's top markets such as New York, Chicago and Dallas at times of the year when lodging is available, not necessarily during peak holiday periods when lodging is limited and prices are high.

"(Skier safety) is another thing we'll have to pay attention to and address should our volume increase on peak days," Jarnot said. "We can't grow our business in our destination markets on peak days, the limiting factor being the number of hotel beds, so if we're going to grow our skier visits as a result of this decision, they're going to grow at times when all the beds are not full at the moment and the mountain can handle it."

Vail Resorts does not disclose the number of Front Range skiers versus destination skiers at Vail, but in its financial reporting does indicate it sells about 130,000 Colorado Passes each season, mostly to Front Range skiers. Since the company began offering the discounted season passes more than a decade ago, Vail’s skier days have increased from 1,334,939 during the 1998-99 season to 1,608,204 last ski season.

The 2007-08 ski season has already surpassed the record for the most skier deaths in a single season with 17, and more than half of those have occurred at Vail Resorts ski areas. There have been four deaths at Keystone, two at Breckenridge and two at Arapahoe Basin, which Vail Resorts does not own but includes on its $439 Colorado Pass as part of a marketing deal. Over the weekend there was a skier death at Vail to set a new mark for fatalities in a season.

Vail Resorts' Colorado Pass offers unlimited skiing at the three Summit County ski areas – Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin – which are closer to Denver and other Front Range cities. It then includes 10 days at either Vail or Beaver Creek. The Colorado Pass is "blacked out" during busy holidays such as Christmas week and President's Day weekend.

The $579 Epic Pass will have no such restrictions next season, and in addition to Vail Resorts' five Colorado ski areas, will also include its Heavenly ski area in the Lake Tahoe area of California. By contrast, an unrestricted Vail season pass sold for $1,849 this season.

Jarnot says the company's studies and focus groups show Denver and Front Range skiers will likely stick with the Colorado Pass next season and are unlikely to pay another $140 for the Epic Pass, which they say will be more attractive to out-of-state skiers who will come during the holidays and then be more inclined to return for a second ski trip at some other point during the season. So-called "destination" skiers do tend to spend more money when they're in town, company officials contend.

The five Colorado resorts included on Vail Resorts' Colorado Pass were already the busiest ski areas in the state last season with about 5.7 million skier days. That's 45 percent of all the skier days that occurred in the state, which was a new record at nearly 12.6 million skier days statewide. Vail Resorts' share also represents more than 10 percent of all the skier days nationwide (55 million in 2006-07).



Comment on article  9 Comments on "Epic Pass could cause epic headaches for Vail, critics say"


Kurt Koehler — April 9, 2008

The epic parking shortage should be the primary concern of town leaders and Vail Resorts. Vail definitely needs more parking but they are considering a "sell out" to developers of the Lionshead parking structure. Vail needs to add more public parking spaces in town. Simply replacing the existing spaces in the Lionshead parking structure is not enough. If they let developers move into the Lionshead parking structure they will never be able to add the thousands of additional parking spaces needed in the future.


Daniel Woods — April 9, 2008

To Ms. Ferry,

I am one of a large number of Vail property owners who used to be "Front Range Rif-raff." We enjoyed the Vail ski experience and the fact that Vail was a community that was not only the "fur-clad jet set." Alas, I see now that is not the case at least as far as the town of Vail is concerned. As for skier deaths, 14 of the 17 were from out of state or mountain residents--not front range riff-raff. To make the assumption that the mountain should be reserved for the fur-clad jet set to make it safer is absurd!


Mick Sanders — April 9, 2008

To Ms. Ferry:

I too fear for my life when skiing at Vail, not because of the all the front range riff-raff, but because of the all the fur-clad jackasses who feel, because they have paid $2500 a night for a room, can do whatever they feel like on the mountain, and normally can't ski worth a damn anyway.

Maybe Vail should expand a couple more thousand acres, and then they could create a fenced in part of the mountain where they keep the riff-raff, and the fur clad visitors could watch them like they are zoo animals, yet remain at a safe distance so as to not be in harm's way of the ever dangerous front range skier.

Is it next on Ms. Ferry's task list to create visitor only restaurants and bars, or make the riff-raff walk ten feet behind anybody with a fur jacket on?

I see nothing wrong with people who want to pay $2500 per night in a hotel and have a nice ski weekend. However, that does make them Emperor of Eagle County for the time of their stay. Should they be treated with respect, of course, but so should the snowboarder who drives up from Denver on a Saturday morning.

People like Ms. Ferry are an embarrassment to our state. Her arrogance goes against the very basic ideals of skiing. Perhaps her intent was to be as asinine as possible in an attempt to deter the riff-raff from going to Vail. She did being asinine.


ski4life — April 9, 2008

Kurt - I'm pretty sure the developers of Lionshead ARE adding parking, and the mayor has said parking is one of the town's top three priorities. The issue here is that, no matter what, additional parking won't be available by next year, when the anticipated hordes of "Riff-Raff" come storming our castle.
Based on what I saw on the frontage road this year, there is truly no more room to park - even on the Frontage Roads.
What happens when someone drives three hours in traffic to get to Vail, only to find they must park in Eagle-Vail and ride the bus into town to ski our hill?


A. Townie — April 9, 2008

Obviously the powers that be, Jarnot and Katz, know something that we don't. Their "focus groups" tell them so. What many locals do look at is the lack of a work force. Many people work for the "Empire" for a pass, whether it be as a ski school instructor teaching 13 days during peak holiday times, or as a yellow jacket 20 hours a week, roughly two shifts. Trimming the fat may be the underlying theme here, getting rid of the locals who have gone on to bigger things, but still want to ski, and do it for free. I happen to be a piece of that fat, and when I heard of the epic pass for the upcoming year, I signed up within minutes. Adios V.R. I will no longer use you for your pass, locker room, or parking (which will be gone next year anyway). I will no longer work my limited 20 hrs a week, give excellent guest service, directions, tips on avoiding the crowds, and calling in wrecks. And I'm not alone. My last day on the hill I talked with numerous people that will buy the epic pass, ski when they want, and ask for a drink ticket when their stuck on a downed lift for too long. What the "Empire" seems to forget, is that these are the people who love Vail for Vail. The people, views, friendships made, and most of all, the skiing. We will be replaced by all of the people from other countries here on visas, if V.R. can get them in on time. The "kids" who are here out of college for one last hooray before going into the real world. The people who don't mind living in Timber Ridge with 5 of their best friends, rock and rolling all night and partying everyday. The lifties and food service kids who just want to ski. The people who rarely have any guest service skills, and could care less about Vail, the Beav', or the guest. As for the parking, we all know that powder days are gone in Vail, especially on weekends, we would all be fools to think that front rangers won't buy this pass for an extra $140, it just makes sense. Better catch the lift with ski patrol if you want fresh tracks. And I'm willing to bet that next winter we may have our first frontage road accident involving a car and a pedestrian, the odds are just too high. Looks like its time to move to Minturn and ski Ginn's mountain for free. And by the way, thanks Vail Resorts, I'll look forward to your comments on these issues next January.


EastCoast "riff-raff"? — April 10, 2008

"Front Range riff-raff" !!!! I am an over-50, high net worth individual from the East who skied 3 days (at $92/day!) last year at Vail, 3 days at other Vail Resorts and 9 days over 2 trips to Utah. I left plenty of money in Colorado this winter, and hardly consider myself "riff-raff." I had considered buying the new EPIC pass for multiple vacations next winter. I'm also considering a condo/home purchase in Summit County, and the EPIC pass would be an attractive day to get more than 10 days/year at Vail/Beaver. But now, I wonder if some other state might be a tad more inviting to those of us who enjoy and can afford travel, skiing, good food etc, but don't fall into the $2500/night crowd!


keepin it real — September 8, 2008

Everyone that complains about front rangers and destination skiers obviously skis groomers and crap like that. find some stashes ppl! I dont see any gaypers in mushroom bowl and china wall or in any of my stashes. dont even have to see em on the way home if you take the 'mile...


Adam — August 29, 2009

I've got two words for your "Jet-Set", "Fur-Clad", $2500 a night, big spender.... Sonny Bono.


Rich H — September 28, 2009

Hey Vail Snob author,

F$#% you. Front Range Riff-Raff funds a huge % of your town. Suck my Boulder dick.



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