Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz Says Key to Growth is Reducing Crowds

SnowBrains | | Industry NewsIndustry News
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Rob Katz and some of his Vail Resort troops. Image: Matt Nager

As winter 20/21 approaches its natural end, in sharp contrast to the abrupt end of the 19/20 season, resorts will begin looking back at the successes, and failures, of the ski season that almost never was.

All resorts introduced operational changes to enforce face-covering compliance, socially distanced lift lines and skier capacities, many closed restaurants, and on-mountain lodges, and ticket sales and lessons may never be the same again.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz looked back on the season and how changes introduced and lessons learned could influence future operations at their resorts.

“We’re not going back to the way we did business before. This has been an incredibly challenging year for everyone on every level. We’re coming away with a ton of learnings that we’ll be able to use going forward.”

– Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz

Before Vail released their 20% cheaper Epic Pass for next season, Katz revealed that the company had no plans to continue any reservation systems next season.

“While the reservation system won’t stick around in the same way, it taught us a lot about how to reduce crowding and better manage capacity.”

Much of the technology invested in managing those systems will stick around, helping manage reservations in other areas of the operation, for example, restaurants.

“Everything this year was constricting because of restrictions on social distancing, but we can put these types of policies in place to improve the experience overall.”

Katz’s Ikon rival, Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Co., has also spoken about the future, saying he predicts “guests signing up for spots in a virtual queue for the gondola and being able to purchase goggles in the ski shop while awaiting their turn.” Alterra is committing $30-million to increase its digital offerings, allowing not just virtual lift lines but the ability to “hail” a ski instructor on-demand, as you would an Uber.

As a result of decreased skier capacities at resorts, many are seeing the light that squeezing more and more people into a resort to maximize revenue doesn’t provide the experience that skiers want. Arapahoe Basin in Colorado announced last month that they would continue to restrict pass and ticket visits to “preserve our culture and vibe.” Could this last season be a blessing in disguise for the skiing public?

vail resorts, colorado, lift lines,
Could lines like this at Vail be a thing of the past?

Katz acknowledges this and says the key to growth lies in expanding appeal to a wider variety of customers while also reducing crowds. We’ve all seen pictures of lift-lines at major resorts; how much longer would the paying public pay over $200 each for a day of skiing, then spend most of it stood in lift lines? That’s not great for customer satisfaction scores. And according to Katz, the two are not mutually exclusive:

“One of the reasons the ski business isn’t growing, or isn’t growing fast, is because we have mostly been seeing participation in the White population. Bringing in guests is critical to our bottom line, but that starts with making sure our own company is diverse—and that it’s attractive to people of color.”

In the wake of the global George Floyd protests, Katz spoke out last year, acknowledging that the employees of his company, and the people who participate in the sport we all love, are overwhelmingly white. According to his letter, this is a personal failing on his part, and that he himself has not done enough over the years to address this and make progress.

“The biggest barriers of entry for skiing and riding are cost, access to equipment, and proximity to resorts, which Vail Resorts will continue to address. We need to address the culture of our sport and make our sport and mountain communities more inviting. The company will begin by prioritizing dialogue that acknowledges that changes need to be made and that the company’s next meeting will focus on these issues.”

According to the Bloomberg article, the best way to maximize revenue is to fill chairlifts evenly across the week. Encourage locals––of any background––to ski Monday-Friday. That way, the resort can entertain more guests overall but have them spread out across the week rather than empty slopes mid-week and neverending lift lines at weekends.

It’s been an interesting winter for sure, and when North Americans glance across the pond to Europe, they can be thankful they’ve had a season at all. How the next few winters pan out remains to be seen, but it looks like the ski industry may have changed for good. For the better.


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18 thoughts on “Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz Says Key to Growth is Reducing Crowds

  1. So that’s what a white collar thief looks like. Sells bogus Epic Coverage, takes the profit by not issuing refunds, and gets them to voluntarily never to ski at his resorts again so he can reduce the crowds after stealing your money. Hope he enjoys his diversity in jail since you won’t see it with such high ticket/food/lodging extortion prices.

  2. Rob katz is a wall st. hedgie baby. Follow the bucks. Lower price of pass means more sold means more people on hill, more ski rentals, lessons, and burgers sold equals more bucks. Total nonsense out of his mouth about caring about crowds he just wants crowds all week not just on weekends.

    1. Finally someone who understands the business model. All you dingbats celebrating lower pass prices are just sheep/cattle.

  3. and nowhere near Ikon-ic ic ic hiccup.

    Does Ron Katz even ski?

    or Squa-walpine COO Ron Cohen for that matter?

    Sure would be fun to watch either or shredding the gnar no doubt.

  4. Less crowded? It was more crowded this year than any other. Poor staffing and customer service. Also waiting on my refund.

  5. Only Bail resorts would say skiing is to expensive while being the first to charge $200 for a day ticket and $40 for parking. Absolutely blind to reality

  6. I don’t understand how you lower the cost by 20% , try and maintain profits and reduce lift lines. Seems you need to jack prices sky high so you can make more money off less people. Also how do you encourage locals to ski M-F? Locals have jobs M-F.

  7. After seeing the picture of the long line at Vail it seems to me there needs to be a focus on increasing lift capacity, not looking for ways to bring in more skiers. How can anyone justify $200+ ticket and then spending the majority of the day standing in lift lines.

  8. How about instilling skier etiquette, more yellow-jackets, solving traffic problems of multiple runs ending in wide-open spaces without control of yellow-jackets or SOMEONE, posting cameras at accident-prone spots to record hit-and-runs.
    Do not allow straightlining. Limit jumpers to specific points.
    I have spent two recent seasons in surgery and PT as a result of two hit-and-runs. I was a Vail ski instructor for years. Find a way to make the mountain safe for children, beginning learners, and people who ski in control.

    Anonymous 50-year Vail resident.

    1. Don’t come to the mountain then. It’s an adventure/extreme sport. Maybe you should no longer be participating.

    1. Agreed. We just sold our home in vail because sellers market is insane ! Looks like great timing! Katz getting all woke …. guess our money spent the last few decades was too white! WTH?!!!

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