BARTLETT — According to complaints seen on social media and heard in calls to the press, it’s been a rough start to the season for Vail Resorts, Inc., the Colorado-based ski area giant, which purchased Attitash Mountain Resort in Bartlett and Wildcat Mountain in Gorham as well as Crotched Mountain in southern New Hampshire from Peak Resorts in 2019 as part of a purchase of Peak’s 17 ski areas for $264 million.
Vail officials responded this week to allegations brought forth by some longtime skiers of both Attitash and Wildcat about inadequate snowmaking, lift problems, labor shortage issues and a lack of open skiable terrain so far this low-snowfall season (see related story).
“I’ve been skiing Wildcat since 1966. We want to see Attitash and Wildcat successful. But it’s come to a point where something needs to be said,” said Tony Simone, 76, a retired local educator who lives in Bartlett with his wife, Jenny. “These two mountains are mainstays to the valley — it’s why people come here.”
Along with other local longtime skiers Ed Poliquin, 76, of North Conway, former co-owner of Glen Builders of Bartlett, and retired executive Bill Ballou, 70, of Glen, Simone was interviewed by the Sun this week.
They cited little terrain at both mountains, lift problems with Attitash’s summit triple chair and that Wildcat’s Wildcat Express Summit Quad was not open some days during the busy vacation week.
“I know they had problems with the upper pump at Wildcat, and they only had one trail (off the summit) open for weeks. I don’t know how long they can go like this.” said Simone.
“It’s January now, and the next big weekend is Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend. If they don’t get (more of those summit) trails open, why would you go?” he asked.
He said as a longtime Wildcat skier, he and others are concerned.
“When Vail took over, we were all very euphoric as we thought and hoped they would come in and upgrade everything. Well, I have skied at Vail out west and this is like Attitash and Wildcat are the ‘poor sisters,’ Simone continued.
“There is no long-range game plan, unlike Loon and Sunday River and Cannon. Cranmore is doing a wonderful job. Bretton Woods and Cranmore during Christmas Week had more terrain open, and they’ve faced the same warm temperature and lack of natural snowfall problems. Pass holders are not happy,” he said.
“We want to see them successful — the only reason I am calling the paper is that it’s time for a wake-up call. They’re mismanaging the mountains,” said Simone.
He said he had read news accounts online about how the problems extend to Vail’s Crotched as well.
According to the Concord Monitor, Crotched Mountain has angered some season pass holders by cutting back its operating schedule to five days a week and dropping its Midnight Madness hours.
Crotched, in Francestown, didn’t open at all until Dec. 26 — two weeks after nearby Pats Peak and almost a full month after Wachusett Mountain in Massachusetts — and then suffered a last-minute shutdown for what it said was lift maintenance on Dec. 28, in the middle of school vacation week.
On Dec. 30, Crotched Mountain announced it would not open Mondays or Tuesdays for the foreseeable future, and would shut down by 9 p.m., ending a weekend Midnight Madness program that had long drawn enthusiasts, the Monitor said.
There also been a few critical comments in SnowJournal about Vail’s management of Mount Sunapee, which it bought along with Okemo in Vermont in 2018.
Poliquin said he had been in contact via emails with Bobby Murphy, Vail’s Northeast regional manager and vice president and general manager.
“I rode up the lift at Attitash during Christmas Week, and I asked people if they had bought a day lift ticket and they all said no, they had bought an Epic Pass. I skied three days there and not one person I spoke with had bought a ticket so everyone is buying Epic Passes,” said Poliquin. “And they’re not happy.”
He said when he first met Murphy at Wildcat after Vail bought Wildcat and Attitash three years ago, he told Murphy that he was “thrilled” they had bought it and Murphy said Vail was to come up with ideas of how to improve the mountain. But now Poliquin says he is disappointed and frustrated.
He said he has bought Epic Passes for his family for nearly 20 years.
“Quite honestly, I would like them to send a letter out and tell people buying the Epic Pass what they intend to do for snowmaking and what they have planned to improve lifts … I just feel they are not providing the product and they need to be real straight with customers,” Polliquin said.
“Christmas week they had the Summit Triple and the beginner hill triple along with the snowbelt. Yes, we’ve had warm weather and there is a labor shortage — but how come other areas have been able to provide more terrain?” he asked..
Ballou echoed those concerns, saying as a person who worked in the corporate world during his career in southern New England, it’s about measuring up to give customers the product they expect — and he says Vail is failing in that regard.
“We started skiing Attitash back when we bought our house here in 1989, and that was back when Attitash was really one of the premier places to ski,” Ballou said.
“Both Attitash and Wildcat have gone through several evolutions since then. None of us was terribly happy when Peak bought them but clearly there are a lot of terribly disappointed people, including me, with how things have been under Vail,” said Ballou, who says he like Simone and Poliquin has been skiing at other areas such as Cannon, Bretton Woods, Sunday River and Cranmore.
The solution if Vail doesn’t improve its track record?
All three in separate interviews responded, “Ski somewhere else.”
Meanwhile, in Washington state, Vail is facing a petition signed by more than 28,000 to hold it responsible for Stevens Pass mismanagement. Signers of the petition are calling for 60 percent refunds since 60 percent of the mountain is closed.
Notes that petition, “As Stevens Pass skiers, snowboarders and customers who purchased Vail Resorts ‘Epic Pass,’ we are disgusted with the mismanagement of the ski area, the failure to treat employees well, or pay them a livable wage, and the failure to deliver the product we all paid for and bought with hard-earned money during a pandemic.”
The petition goes on to say “the undersigned also suggest a review of the operator’s agreement pursuant to the special permit issued by the United States Forest Service for operating on the two parcels on USFS property.
“We feel there could be a better operator serving the interests of public recreation on our public lands, especially if Vail Resorts is found to be in violation of the Consumer Protection Act.”