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Opinion: Sympathy for the Devil

'Bear with me here, as I prepare to drop the hot take to end all hot takes.'
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As opening day 2022 inches nearer in Whistler, is the rhetoric around Vail Resorts becoming too much?

Bear with me here, as I prepare to drop the hot take to end all hot takes.

*stretches broadly, cracks fingers*

Seriously. Get your sunscreen ready because this bad boy is coming straight off the surface of the sun.

*pours a fresh cup of coffee, cues up The Rolling Stones*

Last chance to clear the area. I can’t be held responsible for the hotness of the take that is to follow.

*clears throat*

Still with me? OK, but you’ve been warned—here it is: We should be nicer to Vail Resorts.

*ducks a shoe, but is instantly tarred and feathered*

I told you it was a hot take. But bravery demands sacrifice.

*is hit by an errant brick*

I jest, of course (at least partly… the last time I wrote that we should be nicer to each other I got a 3 a.m. voicemail telling me I am the stupidest person alive, and literally a high-ranking official with the Nazi Party—ah the joys of working for a newspaper).

But as opening day 2022 inches nearer, I have to ask: is the rhetoric around Vail Resorts becoming too much?

The negativity has been building for some time now—dare I say, since Vail Resorts bought Whistler Blackcomb in 2016—but it reached a fever pitch last year, and not just in Tiny Town.

The ski resort behemoth took its lumps early and often in 2021-22, in nearly every market it operates in, as the negative headlines piled up one on top of the other.

Labour shortages, a lack of affordable housing for workers, overcrowding on ski runs, attempts to unionize, petitions calling for change… the breadth of the bad coverage really is impressive when taken together.

(Credit where it’s due: Vail Resorts responded to its year of bad headlines by jacking up the minimum wage at all its properties, and re-committing itself to developing housing for its employees. Not the proverbial silver bullet, but an excellent step in the right direction.)

Here in Whistler, aside from the usual gripes about day-to-day operations, guests mostly complained about sluggish refunds and the mountain operator’s COVID guidelines (both for and against).

Then the big one hit: the announcement earlier this month that Whistler Blackcomb’s (WB) Creekside Gondola/Big Red Express replacement project won’t be ready for opening day on Nov. 24.

*Cue torches, pitchforks*

Let’s get the obvious out of the way.

No matter how WB and Vail Resorts try to spin it, the Creekside delay is nothing short of a customer service disaster, and reading the company’s stated contingency plans sparked a surprisingly wide range of emotions.

First, disbelief: “They’re going to bus people from Creekside to Whistler Village? And those people will get to skip to the front of the line?”

Followed by a sardonic sense of schadenfreude: “Aren’t the people already waiting going to be pissed?”

And finally, empathy: “Wow, this is going to create a tough winter for a whole lot of people.”

I have to say, I was not expecting that last one. And yet, as the furor over the Creekside announcement subsided, there it was: Sympathy for the Devil (or in this case, a multi-billion-dollar ski resort conglomerate).

I must be getting soft in my old age.

I know, I know. Someone out there is playing the world’s smallest violin for all the Vail Resorts executives and their healthy bonuses. I get it. But I also don’t believe genuine human error, or forces beyond our control warrant personal attacks and the outright vitriol people toss around on social media like it’s their God-given right.

And yet, something about our modern society demands absolute perfection, at least in those things that affect us directly. 

Highway construction slowing down your commute? What a bunch of absolute morons! Don’t they know they could do this work at night? Gah!

A wait for a table at your favourite restaurant? Don’t they know who I think I am?

A mistake in the newspaper? This indignity will not stand! Where did you get your journalism degree? An outhouse?

Supply chain impacts delay a key infrastructure project? Idiots! Any potato-brained mush-mouth could have foreseen this problem! If only I was in charge of mountain operations, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Alas.

And so we arrive at one of the simplest, and yet most easily misinterpreted facets of human nature—that we are all, in fact, human, and humans sometimes make mistakes.

For some reason, many like to conveniently ignore this fact, choosing instead to hand wave the vast interconnected network of real-world variables that can (and do) lay waste to the best of best laid plans.

Anger is just easier, and, let’s be honest, more cathartic.

Yes, Vail Resorts is a multi-billion-dollar American company homogenizing hometown mountains the world over. Yes, its customer service leaves much to be desired, and its insistence on top-down uniformity has watered down the guest experience in Whistler. No, as consumers we should not give the company a free pass.

But as we level our valid criticisms we must remember that the people who operate our hometown mountains are locals, no matter who signs their paycheque.

And so I suppose my sympathy lies less with the company itself than with the humans behind the desks and counters, and operating the lifts—the ones who will no doubt bear the brunt of the impatient public’s rage should things go sour this winter.

I’m sure if Vail Resorts had things its way, everything about the mountains would operate smoothly and effortlessly; everyone would get their chosen powder laps without delay; nobody would get hungover from their overly enthusiastic après sessions and burgers and poutine would fall from the sky every Friday afternoon. 

Sadly, here in the real world, perfection is a pipedream. Mistakes do happen, après hangovers are painfully real, and the only thing falling from the sky is boring-ass water.

As an added bonus, the take-home advice here is all-weather and multi-purpose, not solely confined to your feelings about the mountain and its operations.

It could be about your lunch order, or the driver in front of you forgetting to signal.

With very, very few exceptions, nobody screws up on purpose. Telling them how terrible and stupid they are, in the meanest of possible terms, is not helpful for anyone.

Put another way, let’s all just be nicer to each other, yeah?

*is crushed by a piano

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