Reviewing the News w/ Cody Townsend (Jan 2022) (Ep.202)

On the Blister Podcast, Cody & Jonathan discuss skiing inbounds on touring gear; alpinism, obsession, & our top-5 climbing movies; a recent interview with Vail’s Rob Katz; Jerry of the Day & inclusivity; Eileen Gu & geopolitics; the future of Outdoor Retailer; & what we’re reading & watching.
Eileen Gu trains at Stomping Grounds in Saas Fee, Switzerland (photo by Joseph Roby / Red Bull)

Cody and I discuss skiing inbounds on touring gear; alpinism, obsession, & our top-5 climbing movies; the Storm Skiing Journal’s interview with Vail’s executive chairman, Rob Katz; Jerry of the Day and inclusivity; Eileen Gu and geopolitics; the future of Outdoor Retailer; and what we’re reading & watching.




9 comments on “Reviewing the News w/ Cody Townsend (Jan 2022) (Ep.202)”

  1. For Cody’s (or anyone really) reading list who also likes sci-fi and the cool perspective it throws on things , check out The Expanse book series. It’s got some interesting hypotheticals on the future regarding corporate ethics , poverty/socioeconomic status , interplanetary politics (and warfare) , technology and other things I just can’t think of right now. Plus one of the guys who wrote it apprenticed under George R.R. Martin , who wrote the Game of Thrones books , so you KNOW it’s gotta be on point.

  2. Really enjoyed the conversation about Vail. But I think that Katz is lying about both his claims about cheap pass prices: they help neither diversity nor job retention.

    On job retention: in theory, Katz is right, but it’s not what Vail appears to actually be doing. The model of having multiple resorts and incentivizing people to buy passes before the season does provide Vail a big cushion of money to ride out low tide years at individual resorts. In theory, this would also allow Vail to avoid layoffs/lower hiring numbers at the resort that had a bad snow year. But that does not appear to be what Vail is doing with that cushion of money. Steven’s Pass is the most glaring example, where Vail simply didn’t hire enough staff to open terrain. But go ski Palisades and Northstar on the same weekend. Both are busy, but Northstar is woefully understaffed and it is affecting everything from concessions to open terrain to grooming. Vail appears to have decided that since they already have the money from passholders, they don’t need to further incentivize people to actually go skiing, so they can do the bare minimum to actually keep their resorts running.

    On diversity: cheap passes and expensive day tickets are exactly the opposite of a policy that brings new people into the sport. Season passes are a HUGE investment of money, and are only bought by people who at least believe they want to devote a significant portion of their winter to skiing. Anyone trying skiing for the first time is not going to want to make that commitment. People looking to try skiing drive up to a resort for the day or a weekend, buy day passes, and rent gear. If Vail were serious about getting new people involved in the sport, they would bring back the $20-50 day pass, and drop rental prices. But they are trapped by the need to bring in money before the season, so I don’t see such a reversion coming anytime soon.

    I know you guys have to be diplomatic in this pod, and I think you did a great job of laying out the case without explicitly calling Katz a liar. But Vail is pushing this false narrative hard, (see the NYT article this past weekend) and I think that such blatant fabrications should be called out.

    • Hey Max, I actually did specifically say what Katz said in regards to lower pass prices and diversity increases was a ‘lie’ in the pod and addressed both issues you brought up with the golf analogy. I qualified his statement as a lie because one has to assume he has seen the specific data from the NSAA that has shown diversity in the sport has not increased in terms of race, class or gender in the era of low pass prices. Perhaps he could point out other data, but in publicly available data, one cannot say truthfully that lower pass prices have increased diversity within the sport. In regard to the first point, that may not have been a lie because with the introduction of the Epic Pass, that may have been the intention to increase employee retention alongside the host of other benefits upfront cash flow provides. Plus, he was speaking to the Epic Passes origins there, not the current state of it. But none of us would know unless we were in the board room for those original discussions. The results and practice of what you’re seeing today is more related to current management principles. So to me, it’s not a lie since it could’ve been the original intention, but then with a decade of practice, they may have shifted their employee retention and acquisition practices resulting in what you’re seeing today at many Vail properties.

      • Hey Cody, sorry, I think I missed where you called Katz’s statement on diversity a “lie” (the pitfall of multi-tasking while podding). And you make a good point about his statement regarding employee retention. I just find it highly disingenuous to say that in the face of the fact that Vail’s revenues are way up, but their staffing is down.
        Again, really enjoyed the pod, keep up the good work.

  3. Thinking of Vail and risk management, it’d be curious to compare resort ownership in my neck of the woods. I suspect skiing will disappear around here in 5 to 10 years. It’d be interesting to hear the long term strategy from two sides of this one coin. There’s a small (tiny) resort that has been open for many decades. It’s independent and has really upped it’s bike park game in resent years. I assume it help funds their short ski season. Then there is another resort(s) owned by Vail. No one is particularly happy about their ownership except the previous owners. They don’t have a bike park, and I wonder if their only plan is to milk the next few years as much as they can, and then fold the business as a tax write-off.

  4. Hey Guys, love the podcast and my girlfriend and I enjoy the drive to Whistler a little more when there is a new instalment of Reviewing the News with Cody. We listened to the current episode last Friday night and I had to laugh when it was noted Rob Katz felt Vail was good for Whistler…. and while I appreciated Cody’s take on the liquidation of the local marketing department, I think the dissatisfaction with Vail goes a lot deeper. Perhaps Katz is looking at a balance sheet to support his comment, but from both customer service and mountain operations perspectives there has been a dramatic deterioration from what we were used to with the previous management, even prior to the pandemic.

    Keep the podcasts coming and we are really looking forward to more episodes of the 50 Project.

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