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Is Vail group financially secure?

Discussion in 'Snow Talk' started by coolair, Jul 11, 2020.

  1. Bato

    Bato One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Perisher have been letting quite a few staff ago, a lot of contracts haven't been renewed and quite a few full time staff have been moved to reduced hours.
     
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  2. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Sounds like what happened in N. America in April. Not just for VR, but all ski resorts.
     
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  3. skinavy

    skinavy One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    This is one of the key things VR has. They have a huge pool of data to use to model how people move around the hills, how many use which lifts and when, along with what food they buy and where (who uses the epicpass discount for food and drink, VR now know your favourite beer and what burger you like...) Combine that with some other datasets like weather and calendars for school holidays, etc. and it is a powerful tool for planning everything from lift opening times to what drinks to order.

    And when I said that was what Perisher were doing to determine hill capacity this year I was scoffed at.
     
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  4. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    It's a more than just having the data. There are independent ski resorts not owned by VR that have had RFID for lift access for years. But they don't analyze the data much, if at all. I had a conversation on a lift with someone who was an insider. He was quite clear that while the data was being collected, no one was using it. RFID was only being used to make it harder for people to pass around a season pass or day ticket.

    People thought it was the creation of the Epic pass that made a difference to VR in 2008. But the decision to use custom RFID software and evolution of EpicMix in the following couple of years is a key factor for laying the foundation of VR's business success after the 2008 recession.

    Full disclosure . . . my professional background was as a statistician who specialized in dealing with large databases for public health research. Been retired for a couple decades, but the effort required to make sense of lots of data is the same no matter what software tools are available to do analyses.

    As an example of how one resort can benefit from RFID, consider Mt. Hood Meadows in the Pacific Northwest. It's a day trip area for Portland with 2100 acres. They installed RFID a while back. For 2020-21 they analyzed the past five years worth of RFID data very carefully and modeled assorted approaches for limiting capacity for the normally popular times. The end result was different season pass offerings, day ticket options designed to encourage afternoon skiing, deciding to sell a much lower number of passes, no reservations for passholders, and plenty of communication. I was impressed.

    For more about how Mt. Hood Meadows made their decisions:
    https://www.ski.com.au/xf/threads/usa-2020-21-plans-for-limiting-capacity.88388/#post-4447613

     
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  5. skinavy

    skinavy One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I'm doing work on a safety intelligence system for aviation and we're looking at pulling in everything from spare parts demand rates, safety reports, weather records, manpower strengths of organisations and even coming up with scoring systems for complexity of support arrangements and how good the relationship between maintenance contractors and operators is. Your right many organisations collect data but they do next to nothing with it.
     
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  6. rowdyflat

    rowdyflat One of Us Ski Pass: Gold Ski Pass: Silver

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    Sorry most of that is a gross generalisation.
    Anyone who criticises your rosy view is a ski bum ?
    Well I am one who agrees that Vail is too big and the resorts could become a hybrid of Mc Donalds and Disney, I like the lifts and definitely not a ski bum.
     
  7. Jacko4650

    Jacko4650 One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    . . . and then there's paralysis by analysis. Sometimes this means spending too many resources collecting data without knowing what to do with it; other times sacrificing decent "strategy" because too much time is spend on tactical decisions based on data. I have seen both. I spent many years working on big data and the most important element was being able to convert data into information and then 'insights'. Analysts are a dime a dozen, but good people who can convert data to insights and then operation decisions are rare. I haven't seen Rob Katz's bio, but I dare say he was one of those who could either use data or listen to somebody who could. Kirsten Lynch, Chief Marketing Officer seems to have creds, working with big data from Consumer Packaged Goods companies like Pepsico, Kraft foods etc earlier in her career.
     
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  8. Jacko4650

    Jacko4650 One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    The other thing I might add to using data at Vail (eg: thru RFID gates, credit card spending demographics, customer databases and so on) is that good operational people need to be involved. For example, Perisher suffers badly from "bunching" on some lifts at certain times of the day (eg: Ridge Quad from about 10:00- 12:30). The data will not show this because the RFID gates only permit so many people thru at any point; not show the hundreds of people standing in line, their wait times, nor does it measure their 'satisfaction' levels and subsequent propensity to return. Hence, the use of data to help drive volume whilst still improving customer experiences (eg: different ticket offerings to change crowd times like afternoon passes, season passes for mornings or afternoons-only, weekday-only season passes, discount levels at food & beverage outlets, lower cost lessons at different times of the day etc etc) must be overlaid by people with practical, operational experience.
     
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  9. Chookfooter

    Chookfooter One of Us

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    Not exactly true, if they see people lapping the ridge in 30 minutes when they normally do it in 10, that's a pretty good indication that there is a 20 minute wait in the lift line. Utilising skiers GPS tracking would also help there.
     
  10. skinavy

    skinavy One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Completely agree, one of the things we're strugling with is getting people to define the questions they want answered. A common phrase is ' I don't know what I want but I will know it when I see it'
     
  11. zac150

    zac150 A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    All hills have this info albeit I grant Vail have put more into their web sites and user apps which does make things easier. I think their dashboard is very well designed.

    But all the resorts used the data to open, i believe that is how they opened. Perisher opened to more people as soon as the resorts linked as this changes the average time to ski a run (probably doubles it) which on paper met the requirements. Point is I don’t think they did anything special.

    Having said that I think they used the numbers and analytics of, to allow them to sale closer to the wind so to speak.
     
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  12. zac150

    zac150 A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    whilst I agree on the Vail front being to big, and I don’t always like what they do to ski towns, I am also cautious of bagging a decision or some form of innovation just because it comes from Vail.

    yep I see the benefit of pre booking tables etc, I also it want work for everyone.
     
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  13. rowdyflat

    rowdyflat One of Us Ski Pass: Gold Ski Pass: Silver

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    Monopolies and duopolies rarely work to the good of the consumer. ie Vail .
    Neoliberalism and capitalism work on the principle of the free market and competition being good.
    Generally monopolies allow companies too much market power to dictate esp prices , gobbles up smaller more innovative companies , can become too big to manage and inefficient and if it fails it causes lots of collateral damage.
    Tons of examples Telstra poor customer service , the 4 banks too big to fail , corruption money laundering , Amazon ruining local businesses , google , Facebook, GFC banks on + on.
     
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  14. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    For sure, there needs to be good local operational management. Since the recent acquisition phase of the company began in 2012 VR has a very deliberate strategy for promoting from within when it comes to General Managers and COOs. 2012 saw the addition of Kirkwood in south Tahoe and the first three "urban" resorts in the midwest. Later on came the addition of Stowe, Okemo in Vermont. Most recently, the expansion into the mid-Atlantic (Pennsylvania) and midwest with the buyout of Peak Resorts in 2019.

    The incorporation of new acquisitions in the U.S. have been mixed. Some went quite smoothly, partially because VR put in so many major improvements such as new lifts plus gave people access to a local mountain that also meant an Epic pass for a trip to a destination resort in the Rockies made sense even for families buying for 2-4 people. In other cases, the shift from the way things were done to the VR standard has been rockier. However, I noticed that when Peak Resorts extended east from their base in the midwest there were plenty of complaints too. Especially in PA for the Washington DC and northern Virginia market for the trio of locations that had been owned and operated by Snowtime for a few decades. The transition there isn't complete yet since 2020-21 was the first season completely under Epic. I know of plenty of people in that region who are quite unhappy with VR, but not much different than complaints about Peak.

    I found the Epic by Nature podcasts last year when I started getting more curious about VR. They are hosted by Rob Katz, CEO. A few were about the integration process for acquired resorts.

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/epic-by-nature/id1443033576

    The question by the OP is whether or not VR is financially secure as a publicly held company. Hard to answer it without looking at how VR operates in all regions of the U.S., not just the big destination resorts relatively close to the Pacific coast. No one flies to go ski at Mt. Brighton or Whitetail but the addition of those local urban markets for Epic was a long term strategy that seemed to be working pretty well.
     
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  15. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    If you want to learn more at Rob Katz, check out these articles. Unlike the previous CEO, he actually grew up skiing. He and his wife decided to move to Colorado from New York City soon after the 9/11 attack changed the world. They have kids. Back then Katz was connected to VR because of his previous career in finance and wasn't looking to become the CEO of VR. The VR CEO for the ten years before Katz is now CEO of AMC paying attention to movie theaters.

    The overview from 2018 is a chronology that's a VR press release so has a marketing spin. It helps to put the Epic pass, EpicMix, and acquisitions from 2012-18 in context.

    April 2018
    VR Celebrates Ten Years of the Epic Pass
    https://snowsports.org/vr-celebrates-ten-years-of-the-epic-pass/

    January 2017
    Rob Katz Is the Most Powerful Man in the Ski Industry
    Since becoming the CEO of Vail Resorts in 2006, Katz has led the company in the acquisition of many properties, discounted the cost of season passes, and persuaded his customers to market the brand. What does he have planned next?

    https://www.5280.com/2016/12/rob-katz-is-the-most-powerful-man-in-the-ski-industry/

    2016, soon after the purchase of Whistler-Blackcomb
    King of the Hill: How Vail Resorts Conquered the Ski Industry
    https://www.mensjournal.com/feature...l-resorts-conquered-the-ski-industry-w469851/

    My career after grad school was at a company in the pharmaceutical industry that had 40 people when I started working there. Six years later it had successfully gone public and after a few small and large acquisitions there were 17,000 employees in multiple locations in multiple countries. I know as an insider what mistakes were made. I knew the strengths and weaknesses of the founder and CEO in that era from personal observation. The evolution of a company can be fascinating from an operational standpoint. At least for someone who likes history more than financial reports, which happens to be true in my case.
     
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  16. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    The situation in the USA is quite different than Australia because there are hundreds of ski resorts, as well as hundreds of ski areas that mainly serve locals doing day trips. VR is the only company in the N. American ski industry with a consistent IT infrastructure across 30+ locations, covering both large and small resorts in multiple regions. As I remember, VR forced W-B to completely move to VR software platform(s). It was very messy and stressful from an IT perspective.

    Alterra has 15 resorts but they are operated pretty independently. If you look at any VR website it has a lot in common with other VR locations. If you look across Alterra resort websites, they are unique. I would guess the databases behind those websites would not be easy to integrate.

    Boyne Resorts and Powdr are the other major companies with destination resorts in multiple regions in the USA. What Boyne does at Big Sky in terms of website design is not the same as Boyne Mountain in Michigan or Sunday River in Maine. I would guess the IT infrastructure differs too. This season Powdr websites have more in common because they are using the same parking reservation system, but even for that there are clear operational differences. Killington requires a parking reservation even if just dropping someone off. That's not true for other Powdr locations.
     
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  17. oreo

    oreo One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    :rolleyes:

    Accusing people of not looking at this from someone else's perspective whilst making grand generalisations and swipes...

    Honestly, most ski bums probably travel for pleasure more than the 'holiday' crowd at a ski resort. Ski bum lifestyle is skiing, travelling for skiing, travelling for rock climbing, travelling for rafting, travelling for mountain biking, on a shoestring... It's just not filled with commercialisation, unless you count # in instagram.
     
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  18. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Sorry, guess my comment about "ski bums" touched a nerve. I also mentioned "wanna be ski bums" by which I meant people who would much rather be doing nothing but ski complex terrain all winter but are working hard at full-time jobs and raising families. I'm not in either category. My viewpoint is probably influenced by the American ski forums I've been reading in the last decade. A few are regional forums that include people who rarely fly to ski. Started reading long before I cared anything about Epic resorts since I wasn't skiing in Colorado due to the high altitude and much prefer MCP/Ikon resorts in any case. The intensity of the hate for the company comes thru very strongly at times.

    Think I'll stay away from commenting on anything related to VR as a public company for a while.
     
  19. emkae

    emkae One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Please keep going. You provide valuable insights on the US market that aren’t that easy to get here in Oz
     
  20. Chaeron

    Chaeron Ski-Hike-Blade-Bike-Kayak Ski Pass: Gold

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    Please don’t stop - your posts are highly enjoyable reading! @MarzNC

    please keep posting.
     
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  21. DPS Driver

    DPS Driver A Local

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    Hit a nerve;).
     
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  22. DPS Driver

    DPS Driver A Local

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    RFID as ski resorts has been around for 42 years. Started in Austria.

    From and Australian perspective the first use of RFID tech was in 1987 at Blue Cow.

    I'm not 100% sure which Vail Resort adopted it first but safe to say if was before Katz had anything to do with the company. Vail use RFID, yes, but their reason to utilise that technology wouldn't have been predicated by the data available, it would have been purely for revenue security. In fact, the data lay dormant for many years in most resorts, or at least not properly utilised. Still isn't in most cases.

    Happy to discuss the tech further but probably better in a PM.
     
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  23. skinavy

    skinavy One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I know that in Austria it was used for revenue sharing as individual lifts were owned by different people in some resorts.

    'Ski Bums' getting wound up about resorts being owned by corporations always amuses me. Last I checked ski resorts weren't charities to make people feel good.
     
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  24. Telemark Phat

    Telemark Phat Pass the butter Ski Pass: Gold

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    A signicficnat portion of my favourite hills are owned by their local communities. Bohemia, Bridger and MRG in the US. WH2O is close to community owned in Canada. Japan is full if little hills owned by the local community and Europe is the same with La Grave being the stand out.
     
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  25. skinavy

    skinavy One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    But even those have to at least break even, if not make a profit. Otherwise they end up the way of abandoned hills like these

    https://www.uncovercolorado.com/abandoned-ski-resorts-in-colorado/
     
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  26. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    One thing for sure, VR operations can get the job done when it comes to snowmaking in adverse weather. All four resorts in the northeast managed to open before Thanksgiving. A friend drove north to ski at Hunter and had a good time for a couple days before they were force to close because it was just too warm to keep an early season base intact. In Vermont, most of the other major resorts from Sugarbush south won't open until Dec. 10 because it's been too warm and wet since mid-November. Jay is open, but it's way up there next to the Canadian border.

    Mount Snow is in southern Vermont, with Killington, and Stowe a bit further north. Typically Killington is first to open, with hopes for just one trail from the top of the K1 gondola in late October. So Nov. 25 was announced early on to allow time to build a base for more trails than usual for Opening Day. Stowe delayed from Nov. 20 to Nov. 25. Peak Resorts spent years improving the snowmaking infrastructure for Mount Snow before the VR acquisition.

    Map is from OpenSnow, which has makes it easy to see reports for all Epic locations, as well as other multi-resort passes.

    Nov. 27, Snow Industry News
    Vail Resorts’ Vermont & New York Ski Areas Now Open For Winter Season
    https://www.snowindustrynews.com/ar...ew-york-ski-areas-now-open-for-winter-season/

     
  27. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Here's the article from 2008 that made me start thinking that RFID and EpicMix had as much to do with VR's success from 2008-2012 that led to the acquisition phase outside UT/CO. Have no idea what VR was doing with RFID before 2008, if anything. Solitude installed RFID in 2005, a couple years before Alta. Discovered in 2018 that there is a professional journal for RFID that is based in Europe. Somehow managed to get to a few archived articles.

    Using handheld scanners for the Epic passes instead of requiring gates is one reason VR could implement RFID quickly at newly acquired resorts. Some of the acquisitions weren't final until the fall.

    I got curious about RFID implementation in the USA in 2015. I skied in the northeast for several years when my daughter was in boarding school in that region. At the time, RFID was very rare but that was partially because early implementations didn't work well. More and more resorts in the northeast installed RFID starting in 2016. Some SkiData and some AXESS.

    Boyne Resorts recently had custom RFID designed by Axess to handle dual-frequency UHF. I have no clue why Boyne thought that was worth the effort. But I assume they are glad the implementation was completed before 2020.

    EDIT: another article about the 2008 implementation of RFID by Vail Resorts. It's marketing material by a vendor of RFID card printers.

    2008, Zebra website
    https://www.zebra.com/content/dam/z...-us/pdfs/vail-resorts-success-story-en-us.pdf

     
    #377 MarzNC, Dec 2, 2020
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2020
  28. DPS Driver

    DPS Driver A Local

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    Yeah. It didn't quite happen that way though and the RTP / Skidata solution was adopted by Vail as well. Skidata was the originator of RFID technology for skiing and Axess was a break away from Skidata. The Axess solution now is far more advanced than Skidata. Skidata's main focus these days in car parking. Far more money in that.

    Boyne like the idea of UHF because the read range is greater and it opens up opportunities for other in-resort functionality, ie beacons (not of the avi type). The idea is to broaden the tracking of a guest throughout the entire resort, not just the lifts, so that you can more accurately market to them. In actual fact, Vail were the ones driving the UHF cart with Skidata but when Skidata couldn't get it to work properly, they dropped it. Axess made it work and Boyne are very happy with it.
     
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  29. zac150

    zac150 A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    IMO Vail would probably get as much data from visa and pos systems than from RFID. The data visa can produce for them would indicate spending habits with far more detail including where the spender is from their financial status etc.

    For instance the visa (or MasterCard) data should give a better indication of off hill transactions as well, showing spending on accommodation etc which would add to Vail’s ability to justify rents etc.

    rfid for me is about cost savings, understanding heat maps of skier movement, would help allocate staff as well as maintenance and replacement costs.
     
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  30. Jacko4650

    Jacko4650 One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Quite an interesting video with some reference to Vail and the emergence of season passes. North America focused.

     
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  31. Donzah

    Donzah Pool Room Ski Pass: Gold

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    I see VR is dropping printed trail maps .

    Which a friend of mine supplies for Perisher (and others).
     
  32. Telemark Phat

    Telemark Phat Pass the butter Ski Pass: Gold

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    Epic Promise, reduce waste.
     
  33. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Not that it matters for this thread, but what I've heard is that in general American ski resorts are moving from printed trail maps to apps. A few guys on a regional forum who don't ski Epic resorts brought it up a few weeks ago.
     
  34. Jacko4650

    Jacko4650 One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Like many other trends; waiting for generations to "move on" past the printed dimension (is that a ewfy for die off?). It's a bit like cash no longer being encouraged, VR codes replacing written sign-in forms etc.
    It won't be long before the Trail Maps will be beamed into your virtual reality helmet visor whenever needed.
     
  35. emkae

    emkae One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    A few years ago now, I recall at Falls the trail maps being built into the safety bar on the Towers chair in some kind of cylinder arrangement
     
  36. DPS Driver

    DPS Driver A Local

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    The cynic in me sees it differently. It's a cost they feel comfortable cutting. Not everyone skis with their phone. I hate it but am forced to, on the odd occasion.
     
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  37. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I agree in the case of VR. At the Boston Ski Expo, VR doesn't participate at all. The destination resorts that do from the west clearly use the paper trail maps as part of their marketing. I have quite a nice collection of resorts that might make it onto my bucket list after going for three years in a row.

    The trail maps that are made of stone paper are super cool in my opinion. They don't tear and it doesn't matter if they get wet. The few I've picked up in recent years are going to get kept.
     
  38. MarzNC

    MarzNC One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Alta experimented with the idea. Put it on 2-3 chairs on one of the lifts. But it makes the chairs much heavier. Since Alta opted to even not have footrests, no trail maps either.

    Snowbird has trail maps on a couple lifts on the front side. Very helpful when trying to figure out how to get between drainages.
     
  39. Snow Blowey

    Snow Blowey Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    ANy map on a small screen. Just say nah.
     
  40. chicski

    chicski A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    I’d rather see more trail map signs at the top of lifts. My eyes don’t work well without reading glasses anymore, so both paper maps and on screen not so great.
     
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  41. skiflat

    skiflat Old n' Crusty

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    No surprise there

    Cost cutting in a move to save the planet...

    I hate looking at my phone or trying to stand at a large sign to work out where I want to go next.

    Yeah in Australia, I don't really care but in large OS resorts maps are essential

    Heck print them and charge a $1 environmental levy..

    Thanks Corona
     
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  42. dawooduck

    dawooduck relaxed and comfortable Ski Pass: Gold

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    I do like the idea of 3 x 2hr lessons completed and you receive a free season pass.
     
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  43. teleroo

    teleroo Waiting for winter... Ski Pass: Gold

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    Re trail maps. Yep the printed single use trail maps are quite wasteful. However a printed map at a new and big resort is much appreciated. When I went to Ruapehu, I printed my own map at work on the laser printer and covered it in contact. Lasted the whole trip, folded and unfolded and shoved in pocket multiple times. So I hope they, and resorts more generally, still provide a printable PDF map.
     
  44. Snow Blowey

    Snow Blowey Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    How many paper maps = one contact covered paper map???
     
    art likes this.
  45. skinavy

    skinavy One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    I've been a fan of the trail maps printed on goggle clothes. Multiple uses and you can use them for sunnies, glasses, etc. when not on the hill.
     
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  46. Bato

    Bato One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    First quarter results are out on the 10th, so Friday our time. See what they bring.
     
  47. D-eye

    D-eye Photographer and skier Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    currently $288USD
     
  48. zac150

    zac150 A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    try printing on photo paper, saves on the contact.

    I used to print hiking maps on 6 x 4 photo paper, I kept the original map in a map case and the photos in my pocket for easy navigation.
     
  49. Bato

    Bato One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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  50. teleroo

    teleroo Waiting for winter... Ski Pass: Gold

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    Ouch!!
     
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  51. BlueHue

    BlueHue One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    Not very experienced at reading these returns but they made a net loss of nearly $110 million for 2019 pre COVID?
     
  52. DPS Driver

    DPS Driver A Local

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    "Net Debt was 4.1 times trailing twelve months Total Reported EBITDA" this is a red flag.

    Not an expert in this by any stretch but if the value of their properties was to reduce dramatically for whatever reason then they have some real problems. Those cash reserves won't last too long and the borrowings currently available to them may disappear.

    Not a great position but certainly can be traded out of if conditions allow. It will be interesting to see what the figures look like after the northern season. They've got to get that Net Debt ratio down below 3 and I can't see them using any cash reserves to do that so might be some ski resorts up for sale soon. If so finding buyers might be struggle.