Vail Mountain’s Beth Howard reports ‘off the charts’ excitement, energy for resort’s 60th season |

Vail Mountain’s Beth Howard reports ‘off the charts’ excitement, energy for resort’s 60th season

Both the town and Howard express interest in renewed collaboration and communication between entities

Ali Longwell
Vail Daily
Skiers and riders make turns on Vail's Opening Day on Nov. 11.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

VAIL MOUNTAIN — It was all positivity and excitement in an operations update from Vail Mountain’s Chief Operating Officer Beth Howard during Tuesday’s Vail Town Council meeting.

Howard spoke on the early season hype, some persisting hiring challenges, and hope for the future both on the mountain and with the resort and town’s relationship.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had an early season like this and it just has all of us energized and excited for what’s to come,” Howard said.

Vail Mountain opened this year on Friday, Nov. 11, with 100 acres of terrain. This start is expected to serve as a model for the resort’s future, according to Howard.

“We think this earlier opening and a commitment to open as much as possible for both villages helps drive the business and is a positive for the overall guest experience. And this will be our goal in future seasons as well,” she said.

With a reported “really strong run with snowmaking and just a continuous boost from Mother Nature,” Howard reported that as of Tuesday the mountain had 98 inches of snow (compared to 54 inches at the same time last year), 1,200 acres of terrain open (compared to 350 last year at the same time), and through Dec. 5, average temperatures that are 8 degrees colder than last year.

With the recent storm systems, more terrain is coming online. The mountain opened Avanti, Pickeroon, Lodgepole Ledges and Berry runs on Tuesday. Vail Mountain spokesperson John Plack told the Vail Daily on Tuesday that Highline Express should be open by this weekend. However, more snow is needed for the Back Bowls, Howard reported.

“We still need another strong storm or two to get the Back Bowls open. Some areas have really great coverage and yet other areas need more snow,” she said. “The good news is we have back-to-back snow cycles coming all this week and early next.”

In an OpenSnow report, Meteorologist Sam Collentine wrote that a “weak storm” might slide over Colorado on Friday night, a prelude to “another strong storm set to arrive on Monday, Dec. 12.”

This snow is also needed for the trails and terrain services by Vail’s two new lifts — Game Creek and Sun Down — to open. According to Howard, the mountain has continued to make good progress on the lifts.

“These lifts are on track to open later this month in conjunction with good conditions on those trails,” she said.

Also still opening are the restaurants across the mountain. So far, Howard reported that Two Elk opened three weeks ahead of schedule, with Mid-Vail, Buffalo’s, The 10th and Eagle’s Nest also open.

More restaurants are expected to open “as we get closer to the holiday period,” Howard added.

With the season underway, Howard reported that hiring was still the mountain’s “top priority.”

“While we are not done hiring for the winter season yet, overall staffing is trending positively to last season,” she said, adding that hiring efforts “continue to be limited by our lack of affordable housing.”

Still, Howard remained positive about the prospects for hiring this season.

“We believe our investments into our employees this past year have made a huge difference and we’re feeling confident going into the season,” she said.

As the mountain approaches its 60th anniversary on Dec. 15, Howard spoke to the events and activations for this celebratory year. This includes the re-introduction of ice bars, whiskey collaborations with 10th Mountain Whiskey as well as the return of the National Brotherhood of Skiers for its 50th-anniversary summit in February.

“All of this is an effort to celebrate our 60th milestone season and it will hopefully feel nostalgic to many; we really want to bring back the fun, so we are committed to that,” Howard said. “This is a moment for all of us to reflect on the past 60 years and chart our course for the next 60.”

Charting the future

This path ahead, Howard noted includes “plenty of opportunities for the resort and the town to work together.”

“We are focused on being a good partner to you on council and across our community,” Howard said. “This community wouldn’t operate smoothly without our close coordination and I appreciate our continued partnership, the great town staff that we work with day in and day out, and collaboration across so many areas.”

On Tuesday, during its afternoon session, the Town Council also discussed the future of the town’s relationship with not only Vail Mountain but also with the resort’s parent company, Vail Resorts, as part of its drafted Steward Vail plan. This plan charts a 10-year strategic plan to create a balance between how the town’s tourism economy connects with the community, supports businesses and connects with the environment — and to create thriving conditions for all.

Vail Council members reviewed the first two pillars of the plan on Tuesday afternoon. And as part of the first pillar — known currently as “be better together” — the plan set an objective for the town to create a shared agenda with Vail Resorts on mutual concerns.

“The town of Vail and its top employer are in an unprecedented time of conflict, stemming from a close council vote to spare bighorn sheep grazing grounds from development into housing for Vail Resorts’ workers,” the draft plan reads. “Despite these current difficulties, the town of Vail and Vail Resorts have far more to gain than lose over the next 10 years by coming together in a spirit of collaboration.”

Some of the shared concerns and interests cited by the plan include reducing carbon emissions, maintaining hospitality, integrated marketing efforts as well as expanding housing, child care and transportation options.

One of the solutions offered by the plan was for the town to consider engaging in discussions with other major Vail Resorts destinations.

“There could be a real opportunity to consider engaging in discussion with these other places in part to shape a more productive relationship with Vail Resorts, but also to share best practices, to share solutions that have been tried elsewhere and proven and move your communities together,” said Cathy Ritter, who helped drive the Steward Vail project as the Better Destinations principal. “You’re in this unique community by being a Vail Resorts community and there are definitely learnings to be had.”

However, the majority of the council on Tuesday did not support this idea, citing a more pressing need for a personal, collaborative relationship as well as individualized solutions with the resort company.

“We need to identify the verticals in which we work with Vail and focus on those; we don’t need to create, in my opinion, a support group to talk about our problems,” said Council member Barry Davis. “I think that’s a very slippery slope when the relationship we need to focus on is here.”

Mayor Pro Tem Travis Coggin said that with its own challenges, the town didn’t need to adopt other towns’ problems.

“Vail’s issues are Vail’s issues and I want to sit down with VR and figure out a better way for us to sit down with VR and talk about our issues,” he said. “Everyone is a little unique.”

Council member Jonathan Staufer also spoke to the importance of maintaining this uniqueness.

“I think this also points to part of the problem, which is every one of these communities — Park City, Breckenridge, us — they’ve all developed as their own communities, they all have their own culture and they’ve been put upon by Broomfield to all act the same and lose that culture to a certain extent. That becomes some of the problem,” he said.

Overall, council members expressed that certain elements of the relationship with Vail work well — specifically, the day-to-day relationships and operations.

“We operate day to day with Vail Resorts very smoothly,” said Council member Jen Mason. “Of course, it can always be better, but there is no reason for us to look outside our community. We can’t even do the same things that Beaver Creek does, and they’re 12 miles down the road. They both function so differently.”

The challenge, then, most council members agreed, was the fractured relationships in Broomfield, where Vail Resorts is headquartered.

“I think there’s a cultural disconnect between here and Broomfield,” said Council member Pete Seibert. “The people that we work with up here have, for the most part, been here for a long time and we all know each other and we know what we’re trying to get done.”

The solution, Seibert added, should be first to sit down with the “Broomfield group” and “try to map some of this out and really have some real discussion about it and try to make some progress together on some of it.”

And while the council agreed more partnership and discussion were needed, they acknowledged it might be challenging to establish. In expressing his skepticism, Seibert said “if past is prologue, it’ll be a challenge.”

For this reason, Davis said the town needed to be “creative in our efforts to attract robust discussion to the table.”

With challenges expected, Seibert added that perhaps communicating with the other resorts could come as a second option should a more individual relationship and line of communication not be able to be established.

“I think that there’s some commonalities among all of the resorts, that when brought together may help us in accomplishing the goals that we need to, to figure out ways to manage the skier demand, the number of lift ticket sales, to match them up with our capacity here in the village — whether you’re here, Park City or Breckenridge. I think both need to be looked at,” he said.

In her remarks, Howard — who participated on the Steward Vail project team — also spoke to the positive day-to-day relationship and communications between the resort and the town, and cited the importance of maintaining them moving forward.

As part of continued communication between the entities, Howard mentioned in her remarks beginning to meet monthly with Town Manager Russ Forest as well as restarting standing meetings with Mayor Kim Langmaid.

“Let’s make sure we’re making the most of those opportunities and catching up and have that strong connection and open lines of communication, that’s really important to me and how we can connect on a frequent basis on what’s going on,” she said. “I look forward to working and continuing on finding solutions to some of our community’s most challenging matters.”

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