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Maxed Out: Find the love, Vail Resorts

'No more customer surveys. They’ve gotten out of control...'
Remember groomed runs?

When I lived in the Old Country—Toronto—I’d make a long trek north along Yonge Street to visit a singularly talented chocolatier before Christmas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Yonge Street is touted as the longest street in the world. I don’t know if that’s true, but at 56 kilometres, it’s probably a good idea to pack a lunch if you’re planning to go to its end.

I wasn’t. But I was going far enough north to see the sprawling effects of Toronto taper into something approaching relative wilderness. Out of the city proper, past Thornhill, Richmond Hill, past Aurora and nearly past Newmarket, my destination was a small, nondescript building easy to miss... except for the number of cars parked outside it.

Those in the know knew magic lay within. The particular brand of magic was an alchemical mixture of chocolate, heavy cream, butter and a few odds and ends that came together under skilled hands into a seemingly endless array of truffles. The finest I’d ever had.

I’d buy a dozen or so boxes to pass along to friends and family and share with whomever might drop by for a holiday visit.

And I’d keep one unopened.

The point of keeping an unopened box of truffles was my version of New Year’s resolutions. I never made them because I knew they were either parochial and easily met or aspirational and impossible to meet.

Instead I’d let that box of deliciousness taunt me for the whole month of January. Coveted but untouched. Tempting but off limits. I figured if I could withstand the temptation for the 31 days of January, I could suffer any hardship knowing I had a chance to emerge at the end of it intact.

A cruel irony slapped me in the face every Feb. 1, when I’d open the box and realize even the world’s best truffles had a best-before date.

I’d eat them anyway. Hell, that was the whole point, assuming there was one.

Over the years I’ve weakened, made a few resolutions. It’s almost required of columnists to make resolutions. Last year I made seven. My success rate was not outstanding.

I resolved to be less cynical. Even as I wrote the words I knew that wasn’t likely to happen, absent a lobotomy.

I resolved to fire up my long-shelved Start Smoking seminar to give people suffering from low self-esteem a chance to succeed at something, anything. The one person closest to my heart threatened repercussions too dire to contemplate if I did. So I didn’t.

I may have skied fewer days last year; I’m not certain, since I generally don’t keep count. And I don’t believe I skinny skied more even though that’s a pretty low bar.

Didn’t get sued. Did annoy local elected leaders.

And somehow I didn’t retire. Well, I did suggest it might be a good idea, but it wasn’t well received. My apologies to those whose hopes I’ve crushed.

Given a lacklustre batting average, I’m swinging for the fence this year. I’m only making one resolution.

No more customer surveys. They’ve gotten out of control, and if past experience proves anything it’s that the companies using them don’t pay any attention to my responses.

What started out as a pretty good idea—net promoter scores—has morphed into a cynical exercise whereby companies try to con us into believing our concerns are their concerns. Hey, tell us what you think about your experience in this brief survey!

The notion behind the exercise was to create a quick and easy metric to determine the likelihood a customer would recommend a company or gadget to their friends. Its first derivative followed up the ubiquitous 1-to-10 rating with an open-ended “why” box allowing a few characters to explain your answer.

Fair enough. But the more recent ones go on and on and on until you’ve forgotten your previous answers and suspect they’re just repeating the same questions with a few changed words.

They come too frequently. A call to the insurance company to update a policy was followed by one wanting to know if the agent I eventually spoke to was friendly and knowledgeable. An online purchase I haven’t received yet was followed by another survey. How am I supposed to know whether I’d recommend the company yet?

And then, if the feedback from friends is any indication, there’s the one we all get far too often. You know the one. “Share your thoughts on your recent Whistler Blackcomb experience.”

The only explanation I can come up with for why they keep sending it to me is this: They can’t possibly read what I say and continue to ask my opinion. Truth is, I’m always half worried they’ll cancel my pass if they do read it.

How likely are you to ski at Whistler Blackcomb again? One hundred per cent, 10/10.

How likely are you to recommend Whistler Blackcomb to friends and family? 0/10

Why those scores? Because I live here, and unless I lose the ability to walk or die, I’m pretty sure I’ll ski WB again. That’s why I moved here.

But until WB starts offering value for the price of skiing here, I wouldn’t recommend it. And by value, I mean the whole experience, not just the price of a cheap Epic™ Pass.

It means runs that are fully groomed so skill-challenged skiers and boarders can get down them without being a threat to themselves and everyone within collision range.

It means getting lifts open at a reasonable time of the morning so those who can manage can get up into terrain the skill-challenged are less likely to threaten. Yeah, I know that means patrol might need to start earlier, but having lived through years when it was possible, I know it’s not impossible.

It means having lifts that don’t stop all the time. Whether that comes down to maintenance or more well-organized entry and exit points, anyone who’s skied in Europe knows it’s possible. Funny how many of them mention it as part of their WB experience.

It means actually caring about our guests’ experience. The guest service mantra at WB used to be aspirational—exceed our guests’ expectations. Now it seems more like the old joke, “Guest? I don’t remember inviting you here.”

I hope to ski here until I shuffle off this mortal coil. I hope it gets better. Maybe if I didn’t know it could be better I wouldn’t care. But having lived through better I know what a shame it is to experience what it has become.

Find the love, Vail. Do better.