Fast Track to Criticism: Express-lane product in Killington collects complaints, curiosity in the capital region

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An adult Saturday lift ticket in Killington already costs $ 169. And now the Vermont resort’s parent company, Powdr, is rolling out a product that will benefit skiers and snowboarders who can afford to pay even more.

Much like Disney’s Lightning Lane, Powdr’s Fast Tracks product will allow customers to pay additional fees.which will start at $ 49 but will vary depending on factors such as day of the week, snow conditions and customer volumeto pass directly in front of the busiest ski lift lines. While Powdr and Killington say the product will have minimal impact, many Killington regulars and ski enthusiasts say this kind of program screams at the very elitism they hope to push out of their sport. And, for their part, representatives from several New York ski areas say they have no plans to implement such a product, but they are curious to see how it all goes in Killington, which has opened its doors. to Ikon pass holders on November 5, with the K-1 Gondola and Quad North Ridge.

When Powdr announced Fast Tracks in October, the company quickly faced a wave of negative comments, especially from residents of Mount Bachelor in Oregon. we Oregon Senator Ron Wyden even expressed his concerns. Expressways will be available at Killington, Mt. Bachelor, Snowbird in Utah, and Copper Mountain in Colorado.

Northeastern skier Adam Jaber, host of the Out of Bounds outdoor podcast, has been a vocal critic for Fast Tracks.

“I think it’s really stupid. In reality, I just think it’s the wrong direction for the ski industry to get started, ”Jaber said. “It promotes the idea that if you have more money, you deserve to be in the forefront. ”

Jaber said this season, in particular, could be critical for the ski industry, as at the height of pandemic restrictions last winter, outdoor snow sports have seen an increase in participation, even in the face of protocols which have placed a greater burden on the stations and their guests.

For example, the Northeastern ski areas received about 12.252 million visitors last season compared to 11.488 million the previous year, and the Rocky Mountain regions received about 22.638 million visitors compared to 20.107 the previous year, according to the National Association of Ski Areas.

Jaber says the stations rightly want to capitalize on this increase in enthusiasm, but he fears the effect may be to alienate newcomers.

Jaber’s sentiments were echoed by members of the Killington Residents Facebook Group. “It feels like we’re going back to catering to the rich, and who cares about the rest of us? One group member wrote in a thread with nearly 200 comments at the time of writing.

Kristina O’brien posted that Killington tried a similar product a few years ago and that she and her family actually bought the passes before saying the resort gave her their money back. “Within about 45 days of opening, Killington returned our money and stopped it because customers paying full price weren’t happy.”

In an email to The Daily Gazette, Amy Laramie of Killington, director of communications, events and special projects at the resort, said Killington expected minimal impact. “We don’t think the experience will be affected for those who don’t buy Fast Tracks. We’ve had a variation of these fast lanes in a test environment for the past couple of years both as a season pass add-on and as a daily upgrade and it’s been very well received.we really never received any complaints from non-users. We’re dedicated to managing the experience and getting our guests from the parking lot to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible and that’s where limited access comes in.We have found that if we limit the number of Fast Tracks runs daily, everyone gets the experience they want and no one is negatively affected.

Michael Solimano, President and CEO of Killington, wrote in an article on the Killington Locals Facebook feed, that Fast Track passes would be limited in their availability.

“I ask you again today to be confident that we will manage and operate Fast Tracks in a way that will have very little impact on our customers who do not choose to upgrade. We will achieve this by having very limited amounts of Fast Tracks available daily, typically less than 2% of total skiers. It also ensures that those who choose to add Fast Tracks get the most out of their upgrade, ”he wrote.

In a response letter to critics, Powdr co-chairs Wade Martin and Justin Sibley noted that Fast Tracks is not actually a new program.

“The Fast Tracks concept has been in place at our Copper Mountain, Colorado complex for almost 20 years. First introduced in January 2002 for guest accommodation only, the offer was widely available to all those who ski the following season, in February 2003. Since then it has undergone a number of variations and changes. optimizations through customer feedback. Product and experience improvements have been successfully implemented at Copper Mountain and the concept has been extended to other resorts and reintroduced as Fast Tracks, ”the letter said.

The letter says the company does not expect Fast Tracks to disrupt mountain experiences.

“What we have learned from our recent experience with the product at Copper Mountain is that it is used by less than 2% of the total number of daily skiers, largely due to our careful calibration and limitation access to ensure a quality experience for all customers. The product is further managed with elevator loading protocols, which allow rotation between traditional lines, ski schools and expressways. As a result, the impact on ski lift waiting times in our mountains is negligible. “

Stephanie Backes – Director of Marketing at Gore Mountain, a popular area for skiers in the Capital Region – said she worked in Copper Mountain’s marketing department for eight years before joining Gore. Granted, her job was to promote Copper Mountain, but she said she honestly never experienced widespread negativity in response to Copper’s quick pass option.

“I come from a mountain that has offered such a program for many, many years. So it’s interesting to see this reaction happening in the market, ”she said.

She described the expressways at Copper as separate lanes with key elevators that see higher volumes. She said that just like with singles line skiers, fast lane skiers blend into the general line as they approach the lift.

When asked if she had ever seen animosity between skiers and runners in the different lines, she replied, “Honestly, there have never been people yelling at people or becoming bad guys. It has become part of everyday life.

Jaber noted that he had seen comments online in Fast Tracks threads where people said, “We’re going to push people to line up,” but he also said it was probably empty threats.

Backes said Gore and the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates Gore and Whiteface in the Adirondacks and Belleayre in the Catskills, have no plans to implement a program like Fast Tracks. Neither Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam nor Royal Mountain Ski Area in Johnstown in Fulton County, according to a lift supervisor and owner, respectively.

Jaber said one of his concerns was that people who bought season passes in Killington before the Fast Tracks announcement bought a product whose terms have since changed.

Solimano of Killington, in his post, noted that the station would honor full refunds to season ticket holders who are not happy with the Fast Tracks announcement.

Jaber said skiers will likely feel the impact of the Fast Tracks product the most on powder days, when snow quality decreases with more traffic.

“On a snowy day there is a limited amount of good skiing,” he said. “Killington gets a powder day and someone who pays more than you has more access to that terrain.”

For local ski areas and ski shops, the Fast Tracks product is an interesting discussion to follow, but not necessarily entirely relevant.

“I don’t think it makes sense for smaller areas, but I’ll be watching it,” said Jake Tennis, owner of Royal Mountain. “We don’t have lines, and that’s why people come here. No one would pay for [a Fast Tracks-type product] because we don’t have a line. Tennis estimated that Royal’s longest lift lines have guests waiting around five minutes.

Drew Higley, manager / owner of Sports Page Ski and Patio in Queensbury, said he hasn’t heard much about Fast Tracks from his customers. Higley said he sees both sides of the argument.

“Skiing being as expensive as it is, if [skiers and riders] want to make sure they get the most out of the day, pay a little more, I don’t personally see that as a big deal, ”he said. But, he added, “Maybe when you go out and sit in that line and person after person walks past you, you might get a little pissed off.”

Jack Hay, co-owner of Alpine Sport Shop in Saratoga Springs for five decades, also said he hasn’t heard too many complaints about Fast Tracks among his customers. He also said the proceeds would not affect his personal decision to go to Killington, where he said he ski about six times a year. Still, he was sympathetic to skiers and runners who are upset.

“If everyone is buying a lift ticket or a season pass, they should be on an equal footing,” said Hay. “I see it as a grab of money. It’s a big business decision, and most of us middle class people are generally not happy with big business decisions.

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