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After a season of staff shortages, unopened lifts and terrain, limited skiers services, and long lines at many of the Vail Resorts-owned ski areas across the country, many wondered if skiers would drop Epic for Ikon, Indy, or other less-plagued ski areas going into this winter. We now know the answer.
On Wednesday, Vail Resorts announced that skier visits are up 12.5 percent over the same period last year at its U.S. and Canadian resorts. Similarly, lift ticket revenue, a metric that includes season passes, is up 5.3 percent. But the big jump came in ski school profits—up 35.6 percent over last year at this time—and dining, which jumped 58 percent. The latter can certainly be attributed to more robust staffing that’s allowed Vail Resorts to reopen more dining options at the resorts, as well as no longer requiring masks or proof of Covid-19 vaccination to come inside. (Those requirements were dropped last spring and summer, respectively.)
“Increased staffing levels relative to the prior year period enabled our mountain resorts to deliver full operations of lifts and mountain terrain and normal operations of important guest experiences such as our restaurants, lodging, ski and ride school, and rental and retail locations,” said Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Kirsten Lynch.
It’s safe to say that shortfalls of the 2021-’22 season did not scare away Epic Pass holders. The bump could also in part be credited to good early-season snowpack in the West, as well as better staffing throughout the resorts, leading to fewer lines, more open terrain—and better press.
The now-legendary Epic Lift Lines Instagram account, which rose to internet fame by showing Vail’s shortcoming last season with images of massive lift lines and memes lampooning the VR ski experience, has gone dark, with the account owner writing on Jan. 2 that his work is basically done.
“The non-stop flow of reports from November through the Holidays this season makes it pretty clear (to me at least) that this season will be one of mostly weather, base area, and common mechanical breakdown driven issues for lift lines,” he wrote. “And of course traffic. And parking. With equal opportunity among mega resorts. This profile will not be a perpetual re-poster of the mega era basic pile ups.”
Indeed, ski areas seem to have a better grip on moving people, but are hung up on where to put their vehicles, with more and more resorts charging for parking this season, incentivizing carpooling and public transit, and adding shuttles. And this very much applies to the Ikon Pass resorts as well as Epic, with major issues taking place in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, home to the Ikon resorts of Snowbird and Alta.
As for Epic’s increase in pass sales and skier visits so far this winter, Lynch credited better employee coverage and good conditions, but also acknowledged that the ski industry didn’t escape unscathed from the issues that plagued travelers over the Christmas holidays. Guest visitation didn’t hit VR’s projections, Lynch said, due to winter storm airline delays and cancellations and the Southwest software fiasco.
“Based on our significant base of pre-committed guests through advance commitment pass products, strong conditions across our western resorts, and current lodging booking trends, we believe that a portion of the visitation we originally expected over the holiday period will occur later in the season,” Lynch said.
In other words, perhaps the crowds are yet to come.