By Jason Kornfeld, Staff Writer Posted 10 years ago April 27, 2013
Resort Operations: Reopening
With the unusual reversal of seasons this past month, resorts like Vail, Copper and Breckenridge were persuaded by the feet of April snow to reopen. For the last article of the season, I spoke with Liz Biebl and Sarah Lococo of Vail Resorts as well as Dwight Eppinger of Copper Mountain to discuss the reopening process.
What are the deciding factors in order to reopen the resort?
Biebl and Lococo: The most important factors in deciding to reopen Vail for another weekend of skiing and snowboarding this season was the significant amount of snow the resort received near the end of the season, particularly on closing day and the following Monday. We also felt confident about more snowfall in the forecast as well as the feasibility of staffing operations to reopen. Vail received about five feet of snow between Sunday, April 14 – Vail’s originally scheduled closing day – and Sunday, April 21 – Vail’s extended closing day
The main reason Vail decided to reopen. Photo Courtesy Vail Resorts.
Once the decision is made, how do you decide for how long and what terrain you will reopen, and what goes into this decision?
Eppinger: The decision on how much and what terrain we were going to open was first partly forced because we had already started doing maintenance work on some lifts so those areas were not available. Next we looked at an area where we would be able to open all types of terrain for the public and do it in a safe manner.
Biebl and Lococo: Vail decided to extend the 50th anniversary season for one weekend only, thanks to fantastic snow conditions. The amount of terrain and on-mountain facilities we were able to open was largely dependent upon the number of employees that were still around after the official close of the season on April 14 and were available for re-hire.
How many employees are needed to reopen?
Eppinger: This is from the top of my head so it could be a little off. We opened 450 acres, 15 ski patrollers, six to eight lift attendants, two ticket checkers, six lift maintenance, eight groomers, four shuttle drivers, two snow removal, five parking, four to five ticket sellers, four rental/retail, eight to ten food and beverage. This doesn't include accounting, marketing or any other behind the scenes departments (who were also helping fill in the front line positions).
What are the steps in getting ready to reopen?
Biebl and Lococo: After making the decision to reopen for an additional weekend of skiing and snowboarding at Vail, the first step was to re-hire employees, from lift operators and food and beverage positions, to product sales personnel and ticket scanners, to ski patrollers and groomers. With a better idea of staffing capabilities, we could then determine what terrain could reopen, what lifts would run, and what on-mountain dining services would be available for guests. All of this was then communicated to the public as soon as possible. Prior to reopening on Friday, April 19, ski patrol was on the mountain evaluating terrain and conducting the necessary prep work to ensure that all areas of the mountain that were slated to open were ready for skiers and snowboarders.
Vail Patrollers. Photo Courtesy of Vail Resorts.
What’s the most difficult thing about reopening?
Eppinger: I'd say staffing. Most of the hourly employees had already moved on and a lot of the year round staff was already on vacation.
Biebl and Lococo: Ensuring Vail would have enough employees to run the necessary operations to reopen the resort is certainly a challenge. Extending the season an extra weekend was truly a resort-wide team effort that all came together on Tuesday, April 16, prior to reopening on Friday, April 19.
Do the prices of lift tickets remain the same?
Biebl and Lococo: Tickets for Vail’s extended weekend of skiing and snowboarding cost $50. A special $25 ticket was offered to guests holding a season pass to any ski resorts outside of Vail Resorts. Guests were able to apply either of these ticket purchases towards the purchase of a 2013-2014 Vail Resorts Epic Pass or other season pass product.
Eppinger: Ticket pricing was done as normal. We based the price on open terrain and competitive pricing. We did not allow you to apply your ticket price towards next year's season pass. We wanted to keep the products offered as simple as possible to keep the ticket lines as short as possible. Reopening wasn't about making money; we did it because we felt it was the right thing to do for our season pass holders.
Another gopro shot showing the goods. Photo courtesy Vail Resorts.