The Evil Genius of Vail Resorts

Vail resorts logo

I recently bought stock in Vail Resorts.

Here’s a fact I bet most ski bums don’t know: Vail Resorts is a publicly traded company. It is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker MTN. You can buy and sell shares in the company using any online stock-trading tool.

Another fact many skiiers may not know: Vail Resorts owns not just Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek in Colorado, but also Breckenridge and Keystone. The company also owns Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood in California, and plans to combine Park City and Canyons in Utah to reclaim the crown of the largest ski resort in the U.S. next year (the record is currently held by Big Sky Resort in Montana).

Vail Resorts also owns much of the real estate and many of the businesses in the town of Vail. I suspect it is a similar situation near their other resorts.

To put those facts in context: Vail Resorts is a large corporation with well-diversified assets. They are positioned as an industry leader in a luxury market.

10 year MTN stock quote

The stock market is rewarding them.

All while the Vail Resorts empire is built on the backs of employees who are treated like shit.

But the brand standard persists for one simple reason:

Vail Resorts holds employee ski passes as leverage.

A brief word on ski bum culture

“Ski bum” is more than just a fun phrase or an outdated stereotype: it is truthfact. Most of the employees and seasonal workers in a ski town are young folks who are drifting aimlessly, one spot to the next. These people do not have much money, often arriving in town at the start of a season with no savings, no job, and no place to go.

Some Vail Resorts employees I know are still sleeping in their cars.

Vail Resorts is the biggest employer in any of the towns where they operate; they absorb most of these drifters. Jobs are not hard to come by in a ski town. There is an abundance of unskilled labor: maintenance, snowmaking, lift operation, dishwashing, serving, bartending, day-care… the list goes on and on. Vail Resorts is still hiring for hundreds of jobs, and it’s January.

One of the key benefits Vail Resorts provides is a free employee ski pass.

They revoke this pass the moment you quit or are fired.

Vail Resorts stops selling EPIC passes in late November or early December— well before seasonal employees (many of whom arrive broke, remember) will have $800 to spend on a ski pass.

From that moment on, Vail Resorts has their employees in a position of absolute subordination.

Crummy management, long hours, ever-changing shifts, ridiculous overwork? “I can’t quit, they’ll take away my ski pass.”

Game over. Vail Resorts wins. Even if some employees do quit, there is an almost endless stream of naïve applicants waiting to replace them.

Not to say there’s not money to be made working for Vail Resorts, or another ski resort company. There are certainly opportunities, especially in a high-end place such as Vail. Servers and bartenders do particularly well, along with other tipped positions. The generosity of Vail’s clientele usually far exceeds the generosity of Vail Resorts itself. But no matter what you’re making as an employee, your employer is profiting off of you, hugely.

Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz

Vail CEO Rob Katz, proud owner of a face which says: “I am making waaaay more money than I know what to do with.”

If Vail Resorts can provide 30–50 percent discounts to their employees at all Vail-owned businesses and properties (of which there are many in town), what must their profit margin be on the rich tourists who comprise the majority of the town’s population during any given winter?

Vail Resorts must be making astronomical amounts of money.

Actually, as a publicly traded company, you can see exactly how much money they are making by examining their earnings reports. The Vail Resorts investor website is located here. It shows that they are, indeed, making a tremendous amount of money. The 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships should bring in at least a two-year boost to sales and traffic– if this year follows the trend seen in ’89 and ‘99– on top of Vail Resorts’ continuing organic growth and a strong recovery from recession.

I expect to make a good deal of money off of this company.

But that doesn’t mean I believe in them.

Have any stories to share or questions to ask about Vail Resorts? Leave them in the comments.

ADDENDUM: “14 Years Later, Powder Burn Still an Accurate Depiction of Vail” is great additional reading on this subject.

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One thought on “The Evil Genius of Vail Resorts

  1. As a veteran of the armed forces I was hired on as ski patrol as I recently started a seasonal summer job and needed something in the winter season. I had some office work lined up, but to keep my EMT license current and work outside in a setting similar to the teamwork I enjoyed in the armed services I decided to take the plunge. I relocated, signed a lease, and then the promises started to fall through. While Heavenly and the industry enjoy record snowfall and profits the employees took a huge hit. The mountain closes if there is too much snow and everyone is sent home without pay. This happened 5 of the first 6 days of work (mind you, I have to commute to get to the other side of the mountain). They work you hard, digging out tower pads, setting up perimeters, and digging out boundary ropes. Then, as part of my ski test I was tested by an ostentatious English fellow who very narrowly failed my ski ability because my style was too “old school”. This is after over 20 years of skiing and being in prime physical shape, and, to be honest, a better skier than some of the patrollers I skied with the previous week. So, after a couple of weeks I was let go after a 5 minute evaluation. Just like that. So, now I’m out $2,000+ with my lease and gear I ordered for the season based on the assumption that we had an agreement. Way to go Vail. I will never ski at your resorts and neither will my family (after my family has supported the mountains in Colorado for over 40 years).

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