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Maxed Out: A self-serving of humble pie

'Go big or go home is not my motto when it comes to screwing up well-understood facts'
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“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.”

-Robert Burns

Indeed they do. I’m not certain what the scheme of my seventh-grade teacher who made me memorize Robbie Burns’ poem, “To a Mouse,” from which those lines became famous, was, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t to turn me off his work... which it did.

My best laid plans for last week’s column gang aft agleyed—went horribly astray—in spectacular fashion. I’m embarrassed and a bit horrified. I’ll spare you the details of the back and forth editorial exchanges and simply say no one, especially me, meant for it to come out the way it did, suggesting I was ill informed enough to imagine Whistler Blackcomb had the entire summer and much of autumn to do their maintenance to the Blackcomb Gondola.

Go big or go home is not my motto when it comes to screwing up well-understood facts. And even less so for causing them to be printed.

Facts? I hear you say. Yes, facts. While what I write every week is opinion—my opinion—I do actually try to at least sift fact from opinion and get the former right. The latter is mine alone and opinions are like... well, you know, and yes, we all have one.

Facts. Where to start. Whistler Blackcomb (WB) is a big, complex machine. Heck, any single lift is a big, complex machine, as anyone who has ridden one and had it stop partway up—which would be all of us—can attest. Lots of mechanical parts; lots of electrical and electronic parts. Lots of things to break down, lots of things to fix, lots to just do regular maintenance on.

All those complex machines operate within a larger machine—two actually. Winter operations and summer operations. Before someone came up with the brilliant idea of swapping skis in the winter for bikes in the summer, summer ops were a lot easier. Get the few lifts needed for sightseers and camps serviced, inspected and running. Do the others when time permits.

The bike park changed that. The Peak 2 Peak changed that. The added complexity of modern lifts changed that. Getting things done with the least inconvenience was like trading playing chess for playing three-dimensional chess. A lot harder.

But the formal, public announcement of lift closures to facilitate maintenance needed to meet summer operating schedules left much unsaid. In the absence of detail, many people, myself included, jumped to the wrong conclusions.

To add fuel to the fires of outrage, the first week of spring operations saw two significant powder days and more days than that with lift lines reminiscent of the dark days of covid. People—locals, Vancouverites, destination spring skiers who’d booked hotels near the base of Blackcomb—were left fuming. I’ve been told social media was rampant with virtual pitchforks and torches.

In the absence of more detailed information explaining why decisions were taken and the scope of work needed to be completed, people, myself again included, simply assumed the worst of Vail’s centralized corporate management. Since its purchase of WB, Vail Resorts has provided ample reasons to question its decisions and the regard in which it holds people who love and patronize this place.

But some people who both know and care, people who feel personally aggrieved by the reactions and negative feelings directed at Vail/WB, have been forthcoming with solid information I wish I’d had before I wrote last week’s column. It would have been very different. I would have understood the scope of the work they’re doing and the very small window of time in which they have to do it. I still wouldn’t have liked the decision to shut down the Blackcomb Gondola Monday to Friday, but I would have understood why it was taken. I would have known it wasn’t a cynical cost-saving step, an arrogant preference for summer guests over winter guests.

I felt their hurt and their caring, their pride in what they do and their desire for more understanding and less hyperbole from the public... and me. Having spent nearly two decades on the front-line at first Whistler and then Whistler Blackcomb, I know how hard it is to take the full force of guests’ indignation and disappointment over decisions made by people much higher up the food chain.

To them, I apologize. I’ll try to do better in the future.

It is my sincere hope going forward the lines of communication between WB, the media and the public improve. Knowledge leads to greater understanding. We can argue opinion, we can argue policy, we can argue about the best way forward, but it’s pointless to argue fact.

I make a distinction between WB and Vail Resorts here. I believe there exists a genuine care about the public’s perception and satisfaction among the people who work at WB and live side by side with us. I continue to question whether that same care exists at Vail Resorts corporate. I don’t know if that will change, but am hopeful Ms. Trembath, WB’s new chief operating officer, will be able to move things in a better direction.

Several times in the past couple of weeks, I’ve shared a chairlift with people from Seattle who say they generally ski at Steven’s Pass. They report a number of improvements have taken place since the new manager took over in spring 2022. This was after a contentious season that saw frustrated skiers file complaints against Vail Resorts with the state Attorney General’s office for violating consumer protection laws, launch a petition that garnered more than 45,000 signatures, and suggest a review of Vail’s permit to continue operating on US Forest Service lands.

I’m sure many people here would love to share stories with people next season about how our feelings about Vail have improved. Until then, my own feelings about the hard-working teams at WB have improved a lot. Thanks to those who took the time and effort to show me the errors of my way. I’ll try to not gang aft agley in the future.

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