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Vail, Beaver Creek back in snow cycle just in time for holiday season

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December 12, 2020, 9:44 am
Day 2 at Vail.

Editor’s note: Beaver Creek reported another four inches of new snow Sunday morning for a 14-inch total since Thursday night. Vail saw another couple of inches Sunday for a foot of new snow. More snow is in the forecast Monday night into Tuesday and then again on Friday.

A storm that rolled in Thursday night has deposited 10 inches of new snow at Vail and Beaver Creek as of Saturday morning, with snow continuing into Sunday and more in the forecast for next week – all just in time for the holidays.

As of Saturday morning, there were still reservations available at both resorts next week as forecasters call for more snow on Tuesday and Friday – presumably allowing mountain operations crews to open more ski terrain.

On Saturday at Vail, Chairs 6, 11 and 14 opened for the season, bringing the total skiable terrain up to 785 acres. More snow will mean more terrain.

“On Friday we saw 2-8 inches of snow across Colorado and some mountains (happily) measured more snow than I expected,” Opensnow.com meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote Saturday morning. “Now on Saturday, snow will ramp up by late morning and continue through Saturday evening with 3-10 additional inches. Saturday afternoon and Sunday first chair should be soft.”

The mountains around the Eagle River Valley now appear to be back into a more active snow pattern after a slow start to the 2020-21 ski season and below-average snowpack overall.

“The next storms should be around December 15, 18, and during Christmas week,” Gratz added on Saturday.

At RealVail.com so far this season – due to both the COVID-19 reservation system and the slow snow start – I’ve only clicked into alpine skis and tested out lift-served skiing at Vail twice so far this season – both times over the Thanksgiving break when there was very little available terrain.

I would say the system worked fine, allowing for limits on crowd sizes that seemed reasonable for the low number of runs open. That situation will only get better as we get more snow, and I would say that if you can’t get a reservation for a certain day, you probably don’t want to go anyway given how many people will be on the mountain.

For that reason – and the fact I can take my dogs – I’ve clicked into Nordic skis 13 days so far this season and will soon start clicking into my AT (alpine touring) skis as the snowpack grows.

I’ve made the mental calculation that this is not the season to worry about piling up a bunch of lift-served alpine days. My $750 Epic Pass (after the 20% discount for the abrupt end to last season), is now costing me $375 a ski day – less than most heli or cat-skiing operations (but obviously far less powder so far).

But that per-day cost will keep steadily dropping every time out. For instance, I easily made a reservation for next week when we’ll hopefully have more snow, terrain and fewer weekend warriors, and after my third day the cost will come down to $250 a day. Day 4 will be $187 (below the single-day window price); day 5 will be $150; day 6 will be $125 and so on.

Of course, the big caveat to all of that is the possibility of another sudden shutdown like we saw last March, and the only way that happens is if the state of Colorado implements another code read stay-at-home order the way California just did – shutting down Tahoe ski resorts for the next three weeks.

That’s quite a few ski areas no longer available for reservations on my pass the next three weeks, and other resorts on the Epic Pass are bracing for an influx of California skiers.

If all of those dominoes start falling nationally and for some reason Colorado resorts shut down, I guess that’s where that free pass insurance kicks in. There was quite a bit of handwringing this week over whether a default in that system meant only your core-season reservation days were insured instead of the entire core season, but since I didn’t make any preferred day reservations (only week of), that didn’t seem to be an issue for me.

Hopefully, people can maintain some patience, plenty of distance, keep those masks on and Colorado can avoid another stay-at-home order. That way we’ll all get enough days in and the local resorts will stay open. After all, 800 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are on their way to Vail Health starting next week, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Vail Resorts has acknowledged its reservation system has been far from perfect, but other ski areas that didn’t have the system in place had to delay opening days due to low snow and the crush of demand.

If you’ve been trying to get through to the company with questions about the system or your pass in general, CEO Rob Katz sent out this letter to passholders on Friday:

Letter from Vail Resorts CEO on Customer Service

Within the next few weeks, we will have successfully opened all 34 of our North American resorts from Whistler Blackcomb to Vail to Stowe. So many of our employees across Vail Resorts have spent countless hours helping to prepare for a re-imagined mountain experience this winter, with safety as our collective priority. We developed a new enterprise-wide reservation system to ensure you have the space needed to spread out and stay safe; we implemented extensive safety protocols, including strict face covering and physical distancing requirements; and we debuted free Epic Coverage pass protection to provide a peace of mind during times of great uncertainty. But for all we got right, I would be remiss to ignore where we clearly fell short. Weighing heavily on my mind is the frustration I have heard from too many pass holders and guests regarding their customer service experience with our call centers. If you are included amongst those who have been unable to reach a customer service agent for help, or encountered long call center or chat wait times, I want you to know we have heard you loud and clear. And we agree. It is unacceptable, and I personally apologize to you for your experience. Due to the pandemic, we introduced a lot of changes this season – including pass credits, a reservation system and Epic Coverage – and our call center experienced a more than fourfold increase in the number of guests needing assistance. Despite doubling our staffing and introducing new online chat functionality and other features, our infrastructure was ultimately not designed to handle the volume. It is a huge miss on our part, especially for a company that tries to be an out-front leader within our industry. This is certainly not the fault of our call center agents, who have tried their best to provide great service under difficult circumstances. It is my fault for not ensuring we were better prepared. Here’s what I want you to know moving forward. We are on it. From implementing new backend systems to leveraging demand forecasting, we are committed to upgrading our customer service operation so it meets the standard of our mission to deliver an Experience of a Lifetime to our guests. I wish I could say it will all improve overnight, but candidly, this is going to take some time to get up and running. While we work on this transformation, I want to be transparent that our call center and chat wait times may continue to be longer than normal for the immediate future. Please bear with us, and know that our hard-working team of representatives will get to you as soon as they are able. We have also created several FAQ sites with quick answers to many questions related to reservations, Epic Coverage and resort safety. Make sure you check out the below.
Reservations FAQs Epic Coverage FAQs Safety FAQs (resort-specific safety information is available on each resort website) 
There is no doubt that 2020 has been a uniquely challenging year, but the joy of skiing and riding in fresh mountain air and wide-open spaces remains unchanged. I speak on behalf of the entire Vail Resorts team when I say we are grateful for your continued patience, loyalty and support.  Wishing you all a safe holiday season and a happy New Year.     Rob Katz  CEO of Vail Resorts
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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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