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Month: August 2021

Vail’s Female CEO, Epic win or fail?

Vail Resorts now has a female CEO, Kirsten Lynch. After 15 years, Rob Katz has stepped into a new role as Exec Chairperson of Vail’s Board, making way for Lynch to take the helm at Vail – the resort conglomerate that she joined in 2011, she was previously Chief Marketing Officer. I was personally excited about a female leader at Vail, thinking she’d bring personality, passion and a quest for the best individual resort performance to the curated list of 4 dozen top ski resorts in North America.

Lynch is the highest ranking woman in the ski industry. Vail Resorts’ board is now balanced, with five female and five male board members, according to VT Ski & Ride.

Kirsten Lynch claimed to be a passionate skier when taking the helm, but her background was all about rising up through the ranks of Pepsi Co, Kraft Foods and Ford Motor Co., before she launched into the ski biz. And so far, there hasn’t been much notable warm and fuzzy lady’s touch o her operating style. It seems all about revenue and reporting profits to shareholders, more so than bringing quality to passholders.

Vail CEO’s salary? Kirsten Lunch is making $6.2 million, with 83% of her pay as incentive base. So more pass sales, more money in her pocket. Are there any quality components to these incentives shareholders have created? Or is it purely revenue based? Is there a factor for skier experience, because Vail’s complaint desk has been brimming of late over resort crowding, huge lift lines, poor food quality with increased prices, extremely inflated day ticket pricing ($290 a day at Vail!), subpar grooming and snowmaking at certain Vail Resorts, homogenization of Vail’s ski resorts, the list goes on.

Lynch led the charge at Vail Resorts’ to drive revenue through a data-driven approach. She built the company’s analytics and database team, and brought user-ex technology like the Epic Mix, to focus on a season pass push since joining in 2011, the Epic Pass started in 2008. Under Lynch’s direction, Vail Resorts pass revenue has grown from about 500,000 passes sold to 2.4 million. Lynch was part of a surprising decision to lower pass prices for the 2022 season, going instead for volume. Yes, she’s a numbers gal! We’ve watched maximized sales of the EPIC Pass, and many of us have experienced epic crowds?

Vail Resorts now manages 42+ ski resorts, but at its core – its now more of a data and marketing company than a recreation portfolio. Its the Amazon of the ski biz. Think of how Vail has acquired the names,credit card numbers, and behavioral patterns of more than 2.3 mill Epic Pass-purchasers.  

Kirsten Lynch also sits on the Board of Directors for Stitch Fix (SFIX), a publicly-traded eComm fashion company that uses data-driven personalization.

Lynch said “It is an honor to lead Vail Resorts as CEO and build upon Rob’s legacy of re-imagining the mountain experience. I am passionate about this Company, the leadership culture we have built and our 55,000 employees who make Vail Resorts the industry leader. Looking forward, I am excited about the incredible growth opportunities for Vail Resorts.”

But does growth mean quality for the skier and rider? You be the judge.

2020 Hindsight on ski season

Did your ski resort seem more crowded this winter? Yes? Well, I say that’s good news – just the fact that we had a ski season at all is cause for celebration… since Fall 2020 there was only uncertainty.

With Covid 19 on the climb, many resort operators feared they’d not be able to safely open winter 2020- 2021, or that they’d be shut down as a “super spreader ski area” just days after opening.

Well, ski areas opened – and skiers came – in droves, with masks, and tailgate plans (since lodges were mostly closed for apres ski). Skiers were happy to be out, out from isolation, out of quarantine, out of the house and outside, and on the slopes! Mountains, change of scenery and fresh air, healthy activity were a sanctuary for skiers and snowboarders since being shut down, quarantined, mid-March the previous season!

National Ski Areas Association reports 59 Million skier visits 2020-2021, the 5th best season on record EVER! In fact, it was a record season in the Pac NW, and 2nd best in the Rockies. The NSAA has been tracking skiers visits since 1978.

What a year it has been. From utter uncertainty to a top 10 season in participation,” said Kelly Pawlak, NSAA President. “Americans yearned for safe outdoor recreation, and ski areas across the country delivered.” Ski area were open for an average 112 days, up from 99 days in 2019-20 season. “While forced closures impacted many ski areas last season, this year ski areas, for the most part, remained open for their planned season duration.”

Online reservation systems and updated e-commerce facilitated the newly required advance-purchase lift tickets to ensure capacity restrictions. Call it the decline of window ticket and the rise of “touchless sales” since in person sales went from 46% in 2019-20 to 17% in 2020-21. As expected, the percentage of visits from season pass holders rose to 51% from 45% the previous season.

Midweek skiing was up too, 48% of total visits, a 27% increase from the previous season, as more people working from home, and home school students, could manage their own schedule, or play hooky when their boss or prof “no lookie.”

Smaller ski areas too (defined by lift capacity) performed well winter 2020-2021, with people staying close to home for ski trips (due to obvious travel restrictions) but still craving outdoor activity.

Vermont was an exception to Covid ski popularity, due to their strict quarantine rules, skier visits dropped by 40%. Historically 75% of Vermont’s ski area visits come from out of state or Canada (the borders remained closed for the 2020-21 ski season).

Nordic and back-country soared! Some Nordic ski areas saw an increase of 100-600%. That trend is great for the industry, and for fitness. I’ll resist my jokes about Nor-dorks, Nordic and snowshoeing are fantastic winter activities with an easier learning curve, and less expense, you can even ski in your back yard with cross country equipment if you’ve got snow.

Backcountry gear sold out in summer of 2020 as skiers scrambled to get outdoors and ski outside of ski resorts bounds, with doubts that resorts may not open for the season. Unfortunately many newbies went into the backcountry and there were safety repercussions… avalanche deaths hit a high of 37 (as of April 2021), a number not seen since 1918, obviously we have far better safety gear now than a century ago.

New Ski Trends to Emerge from Covid

Multi mountain passes are HUGE, namely EPIC and IKON, such good value for those skiers who plan to ski more than 3-4 days! Yes, that’s putting more skiers on the mountain, no doubt! Vail’s CEO said Vail Resorts sold 2 million Epic Passes for this season! So yes, multi-mountain pass sales are a new norm, for better – value, and worse – more skiers. How many IKON passes sold? That data has been more difficult to find. But the reality is people are skiing more frequently, and multi-mountain passes make that affordable and amortizable. With more skiers telecommuting, they have more free time to ski, and more time to ski midweek, and now that we have the vaccine, skiers will be able to travel and visit more resorts on their conglomerate passes since travel restrictions are lifted.

Reservations for skiing, even advanced paid parking at Snowbird, Killington, Mount Snow, are becoming a thing….was that a Covid incident or a new precedent?

Time slots for skiing? Some resorts are now considering ski by the hour, with RFID ticketing, your ticket might only be valid from 8-10am, or maybe you reserve the afternoon slot for less money (less cord too).

Outsides all day!? Ski areas adapted with outdoor firepits, take-out windows, even culinary food trucks provide more safe outdoor alternatives beyond the indoor banal cafeteria burger, all of which reduces congestion in base lodges. But, your French fries congeal quickly on a snowy ski day! Anwyay, I like that Covid made everyone rethink their approach, maybe the death of the germy handshake, but the rise of some new enterprise.

Summer well ski friends , now that vaccines are flowing, and people are going ..on trips again. I look forward to seeing you on the slopes..maybe we’ll all be skiing without face masks, unless its really cold…lol.

See our other non-ski travel, boating, biking, beaches, surf and sand, drink in hand, at

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