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In what feels a little bit like they’re taking their ball and going home, Vail Resorts announced on their third-quarter earnings call yesterday that the lift upgrades originally planned for Utah’s Park City Resort that were vetoed by the city’s Planning Commission in the spring will now be shipped north to become the two newest lift upgrades at Whistler Blackcomb for the 2023-’24 season.
Given the time these types of things can take, it’s not unreasonable that VR decided to put their investments to use on the sooner side rather than letting them sit indefinitely in a storage shed.
The lift infrastructure upgrades at Whistler will be pretty impactful. The Fitzsimons Express will go from a high-speed quad to an eight-person express, and will increase that lift’s uphill capacity by a whopping 73 percent. The Fitzsimons also accesses Whistler’s mountain bike park in the summer—the biggest in the world—making this upgrade a year-round moneymaker.
The other upgrade sees Blackcomb’s Jersey Cream, the busiest lift on that side of the resort, go from a high-speed quad to a six-pack, both easing mid-mountain congestion and increasing uphill capacity by over 25 percent.
“Following approvals and installation, these upgrades will reduce lift line wait times and create easier access and flow for all who visit our beautiful mountains, no matter the season,” said Whistler Blackcomb Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Geoff Buchheister. “Innovation is intrinsic to who we are at Whistler Blackcomb, and this new investment, along with other recent projects including the upgrades of the Creekside Gondola, Big Red Express, and the Whistler Mountain Bike Park expansion, are part of our unending dedication to provide a truly incomparable experience for all who visit.”
Status of Park City Lift Upgrades
So what about the fate of the Park City lifts? Vail Resorts says that they’re committed to sorting out the permit issues that have sidelined the three lift projects. Read all the details in this story and this update, but in a nutshell, the upgrades were granted a conditional-use permit in April.
In June, four Park City residents brought an appeal to the permit under the argument that these upgrades should never have been approved because the resulting improvements to skier flow and traffic would exceed the resort’s Comfortable Carrying Capacity (CCC). Ultimately the Planning Commission agreed and the permit was revoked.
Bluetooth Tech to Replace Physical Lift Tickets
In other news, VR also announced that skiers will be able to store their Epic Passes on their phones starting this winter. The resort will use a hands-free Bluetooth Low Energy technology to scan passes stored in phones as skiers pass through the RFID stations.
“In addition to the significant enhancement of the guest experience, this technology will also reduce waste of printing plastic cards for pass products and lift tickets, and RFID chips, as a part of the Company’s Commitment to Zero [environmental initiative’],” the company stated via press release.
(Don’t worry, you can still get your pass printed if you’re worried about your phone battery dying.)
VR Reports Revenue More Than Doubled
Finally, the company reported profits across all departments. Its net revenue more than doubled (from $128K in 2021 to $348K in 2022), pass sales went up 7 percent (in dollars), and ski school revenue more than doubled year over year. That said, operating expenses jumped over 20 percent due in large part to all the supply chain woes we’re seeing all over the world.
Vail Resort Chief Executive Officer Kirsten Lynch attributed the gains to Covid-related losses in previous years, saying that they were anticipating the increased earnings. “As expected, results for the year significantly outperformed results from the prior year primarily due to the greater impact of Covid-19 and related limitations and restrictions on results in the prior year,” she said.
Lynch also said that she’s optimistic that staffing levels with get back to pre-pandemic days thanks in part to the company’s $175 million investment in increased wages, benefits packages, and other employee perks.