While the Vail buyout of Okemo Mountain may be epic to some, it may not be so epic to others in the Black River Valley.
It is wonderful that Vail/Okemo has decided to continue the snow sports program on Okemo this winter, but at what cost to the families of the students who wish to participate in the program?
All Vermont Journal readers have to do is look at two articles in the Dec. 19, 2018 paper to see the contrast with Vail Resorts. I think it is fantastic that Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz and his wife Elana Amsterdam are contributing more than $2 million to support emotional wellness programs on mental and behavioral health, but I have to question the Vail Resorts Corp. decision to charge local schools higher fees for school student participation passes and rentals in this winter snow sports program.
The increased fees to the schools hence falls down to the parents who must pony up the higher fees for their sons and daughters to participate in the Okemo snow sports program. Just look at the Dec. 19 article on page 3A where the Cavendish Town Elementary School had to start a Go Fund Me page to try to raise the increased funds that Vail Resorts is passing onto the schools and parents of students.
Fast forward to the Dec. 26 issue on page 3A where the Mount Holly Elementary School also has started a crowd funding page to raise funds to cover the increased costs.
These increased fees affect all local school programs, which are run solely by volunteers, as there certainly could be a drop in participation by students and volunteers. Vail also cut out the extra free day that Okemo gave to volunteers of these school programs, which allowed many volunteers to use that extra free day to get their kids on the mountain while not cutting into their household budget too much. Volunteers many times give up a day of work to join the school snow sports program only to have that reward of the extra ski day be taken away.
This Okemo school snow sports program has been around for over 50 years as I remember being one of these students in the program back in the late 1960s, early 1970s when Okemo was just a small ski area run by locals such as Dave Rock and others.
Vail should keep in mind that this is sometimes the only opportunity these students have to “get outside.” These increased fees may cause a drop in participation to local families.
Vail needs to take a “small town” community approach when they buyout local ski areas. I have seen similar changes when Vail bought out Kirkwood Ski Area in the California Sierra’s back in the early 2000s and the new changes out in Washington state at Crystal Mountain where they have raised fees and cut out programs to local skiers – skiers that have been around for many years, long before the Vail buyouts.
Vail’s actions of raised fees to locals and their children is causing family budget hardships.