PARK CITY, Utah — In a wide-ranging interview on The Storm Skiing Journal & Podcast, Rob Katz, who now serves as the Executive Chairperson of the board at Vail Resorts, addressed the wide array of issues the company is facing this season.
Katz was Vail Resorts’ CEO from 2006 until Nov. 1, 2021, when Kirsten Lynch moved into the role. During his tenure, Vail acquired Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons in Utah, Kirkwood, Heavenly, and Northstar in the Lake Tahoe region, and Whistler Blackcomb, the largest resort on the continent.
Support your local news stream and consider becoming a member today.Join Now
In the interview, Katz described the problems this winter as unique, especially with how the Omicron variant spread around Christmas.
He said more than 10% of the company’s employees were out with complications due to COVID-19 during the peak holiday period, and endorsed the decision to give the workforce an end-of-year bonus if they finish the season.
Daily max visitation at its Vail properties is not different than what it has been historically, and overall visitation is below last year, and well below two years ago.
“I think the thought that our Epic Pass sales have led to this crazy crowding is not true,” Katz said.
Vail has sold roughly 47% more Epic Passes compared to last year. Pass prices were reduced by 20% for 2021/2022 season. The company has said a fair amount of the increase derives from customers who previously bought individual lift tickets.
He added, “it’s true that you know, at somewhere like Stevens Pass, if you don’t have sufficient terrain open yet, of course, that has a separate impact.”
Katz said the solution is to invest more in lifts, and he highlighted Vail’s recent plan.
“If we are lowering the price of our product, and selling more, and so more people are coming into the ski industry. Well, I don’t know, I guess I’ve never quite understood. Is that a bad thing?
“Because when I hear people talk about that they don’t want us to lower the price and sell more — well, where were those people skiing before then? And what I sometimes hear is people say, well, no, they want to see the industry grow, but not at their resort, at some other resort.”
“I think the industry, we need to really come to grips with this right, that we can’t shut the door on the outdoors. We need to be willing to bring more people into our sport,” he emphasized.
“We need to keep investing in infrastructure and realize that yes, at peak days, on December 27, a powder day — yeah, there’s going to be some crowds.”
“If that’s the price to pay to keep the sport growing. I think we all maybe need to embrace that a little bit.”
“And by the way, we’ve also really tried to combat things like Jerry of the Day… where people within our local communities like make fun of tourists.”
View this post on Instagram
“If you’re somebody of color, who probably already is going into an environment where they don’t see too many people like them, and they’re not a great skier, and they’re getting made fun of, well, yeah — is it any surprise that we don’t have a huge percentage of communities of color within our guest base? No, not to me, and I think this takes a long time, a lot of work,” he said, referring to racial equity in the winter sports industry.
Discussing affordable housing in mountain communities, he said he’s been surprised at “how many obstacles there have been.” Katz emphasized local NIMBYism, which Cambridge defines as “the behavior of someone who does not want something to be built or done near where they live, although it does need to be built or done somewhere.”
“If you look at my hometown of Boulder… everybody is like, in favor of affordable housing, but doesn’t want affordable housing next to them.” He said he understands local concerns about traffic and the environment, but said communities need to be as aggressive as companies when it comes to securing solutions.