The Death of the Paper Trail Map? Vail Resorts Will Only Provide Paper Trail Maps on Request

SnowBrains | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Trail Maps… Photo: Dominic Gawel

Vail Resorts has an admirable goal––to eliminate the environmental impact of its operations by the year 2030. The ‘Epic Promise’ initiative, launched in 2017, set out with the goals of zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill, and zero net operating impact to forests and habitat, all by 2030.

“The environment is our business, and we have a special obligation to protect it.”

– Rob Katz, former CEO Vail Resorts

To achieve zero waste to landfill, the company will have to take some drastic measures to totally elimate waste at its resorts, measures that will inevitably impact the skier experience. One of those is significantly reducing the quantity of paper maps printed annually, and making them available only on request at ticket windows.

Last season Vail Resorts limited paper maps at its resorts to ‘help prevent the spread of covid-19’. This season will be no different, although the reason this year will fall under the Epic Promise. And who can argue with trying to make our planet a better place? A statement provided by the company reads:

Vail Resorts is dedicated to protecting the environment and across the company, we are driven by our corporate responsibility platform, EpicPromise. One pillar of that is our Commitment to Zero, our bold goal to achieve a zero net operating footprint – with zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill and a zero net operating impact on forests and habitat by 2030.

With our sustainability goal in mind, this upcoming season, we are reducing the number of printed trail maps we produce, however, limited quantities will be made available to guests at the ticket windows, upon request. Trail maps are also on lift safety bars and signage throughout our resorts.

It’s worth noting that paper trail maps were also limited during the 2020/21 season to minimize the spread of the virus and guests adapted well to using their phones to navigate the mountain.

So, without paper maps, how are visitors expected to find their way around the mountain? There’s an app for that… smartphone, of course. The ubiquitous piece of technology, found in almost everbody’s pocket that is slowly replacing every bit of our lives, will slowly be replacing paper trail maps. Vail Resorts are actively encouraging guests to use its EpicMix app.

We want to encourage guests to view the trail maps through our free EpicMix app on their smartphones when possible. Not only is this a step in the right direction toward being more sustainable, but more guests have become digital natives, often not just using but expecting to use their phones to quickly access information. Many have already joined us in making this true for digital trail maps.

EpicMix interactive trail maps offer functionality that paper maps simply can’t offer including trail and lift status, your precise GPS location (at select resorts), the latest grooming information, mountain web cams, life line wait times and more. It is also important to note that you don’t need WiFi to access our trail maps. You can download them before heading to the slopes.

No more paper trail maps? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that. Credit: Vail Resorts

On one hand it makes sense. Maps on smartphones are more versatile, they can utilize the GPS on your phone and show exactly where you are on the map. They can keep you up to date with grooming reports and lift wait times. But they are also susceptbile to the cold; batteries don’t like the cold, and who wants to get their phone out on a chairlift, remove gloves on a cold day, and risk dropping your $1,000 phone into the white abyss below.

On the other hand, paper trail maps are timeless. They help us find our way around unfamiliar resorts and are a fun souvenir for many. They’re easy to annotate and write on, to relive your day over a drink or two during après. Collecting trail maps is fun—it keeps track of the places you have skied and you can make wall collages with them, they’re a work of art, most produced by a legend of the industry and designed to be big. They don’t run out of battery; they’re easy to hold and look at while keeping your hands in your gloves, and they’re not on a tiny screen that doesn’t give you an easy overview of the mountain(s). They’re part of the skiing experience––and have been for decades.

One unhappy Vail Resorts guest has started a petition asking Vail to reconsider its paper maps decision. Brian Geppert has been in touch with Vail and Beaver Creek, and has received email confirmation that the resorts will not be providing paper maps for the 2021/22 season.

Trail maps will be included in our goal of going paperless, they will be available for download online and on many of the lifts on our mountains. For more information on the initiative please visit https://www.epicpromise.com/environment/commitment-to-zero/.

– Vail Resorts’ email response

The petition, on change.org, states:

Vail has an excellent goal of net zero operating footprint, with goals of zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill, and zero net operating impact on forests and habitat by 2030.

A byproduct of this goal has been to eliminate paper trail maps in lieu of electronic maps on a phone app.  This has already begun at many Vail properties (such as Beaver Creek).  In 2020/2021, no maps were printed under the excuse that they would spread covid.  Now the excuse is the Epic Promise 2030 net zero goal.  Paper trail maps should be exempted from this initiative for several reasons:

1. Paper trail maps improve safety – guiding people away from areas above their ability.  Resort signage isn’t everywhere it needs to be and is often lacking.

2. Paper trail maps are a superior planning tool, allowing one to draw and notate the plan for the day.  You cannot do that with an electronic trial map on the Vail app.

3. Paper trail maps make a great souvenir and advertising method for increasing excitement about skiing.

(Vail says that electronic maps on their phone app are the replacement.  However, that is insufficient because it relies upon a phone which could be dead, a screen that is often too small, and it promotes pulling your phone out into the cold/snow making it more likely to drop it and lose it.)

We should be able to balance the environment with convenience/safety.  If you have to, limit the trail maps to one per person then charge a fee after that.  Please bring back the paper trail map.  

Cutting trail maps helps save on printing costs, environmental impacts, and helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. Cutting out paper maps will help Vail Resorts reach its Epic Promise Commitment to Zero goal.

Does this mean no more trail map wall collages? Will paper trail maps return next season? Let us know what you think!

Does this spell the end for paper trail maps? If the largest ski corporation in the country (world?) can do this, how many others will eventually follow suit? Imagine all the cost savings of not printing hundreds of thousands of trail maps every year.

Of course, we’re 100% behind saving the planet and not contributing to landfill. So, what’s the compromise for those of us still wishing to use paper maps. A nominal fee? Biodegradable paper and ink? And what other paper products at a ski resort will we miss?

monarch mountain, colorado, trail maps, recycle,
Recycle your trail maps at Monarch Mountain, CO. Credit: SnowBrains

This article was updated on 11/13/21 03:40 am PT to include clarification and statements received from Vail Resorts.





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2 thoughts on “The Death of the Paper Trail Map? Vail Resorts Will Only Provide Paper Trail Maps on Request

  1. Well, sounds like the message needs to be consistently distributed across the Vail resorts because Beaver Creek was adamant there are no maps this season. And in regards to Vail claiming that trail maps are on the lift bars throughout their resorts, that is just false. I’ve skied numerous Vail resorts East and West and that is no true. Only the flagship resorts have trail maps on the lifts.

  2. Like a lot of other large corporate entities, saving the planet neatly coincides with cost-cutting. Win-win for the planet and the corporation, not so much for the customer.

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