Tom Clyde: Class-action buzzards circle Vail and Alterra
I guess it was inevitable.
The class-action lawsuit buzzards are circling, and suits have been filed against Vail and Alterra demanding partial refunds on last season’s ski passes. The plaintiff claims he would not have bought his Epic pass had he known that the resort was going to close a month or so early. He probably wouldn’t have bought the pass had he known the world was going to stop dead in its tracks, air travel would shut down, the economy would collapse like it hasn’t since the Great Depression, and everybody was hiding under the covers in fear of a dread virus. None of us would have bought under those conditions. But nobody knew.
Nobody is more disappointed with the early closure than me. I’ve deliberately got my life structured so I have the winters off to ski. I generally get 100 days in. A month of closure, when there was no ability to do any work on the ranch because of the snow, and travel elsewhere was impossible, really got to me. It got to everybody. We all feel robbed. We were robbed.
But Alterra and Vail didn’t do the robbing. They didn’t want to close. The early closure cost them a fortune. They’ve had to delay improvement plans, and aren’t sure what, if anything, the summer season will look like. Firing a bunch of great employees who have been there for you all year isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time. They didn’t shut down on a moment’s notice because they thought it was a great business decision. They shut down because the government ordered them to close, and that order was in response to the pandemic that knocked the whole world out of kilter.
More people have died in the U.S. from the virus than were killed in the Vietnam War. Thirty million are unemployed. Millions of small businesses are on life support with a doubtful future. Nobody knows if anybody will get on an airplane for a ski vacation next year. Everything is coming apart. And in the midst of the death and destruction, somebody is suing because he didn’t get full use out of his bargain-priced ski pass. Boo-hoo.
All the Western ski towns were viral hotspots. The plaintiffs in the litigation are basically saying the resorts should have stayed open, broadly infecting both employees and guests, so they could get the maximum use out of their season passes. And then, if they got infected, they would probably sue the resorts for not protecting them from the virus.
Both Alterra and Vail have announced discounts and credits on next year’s passes in recognition of the involuntarily shortened season. The offers are very generous, and while they are good for customer relations, they can only make the financial situation worse. They didn’t need to do it.
The plaintiffs want a partial refund, in cash, for last season’s passes. I’m not sure you get a refund for acts of God. Maybe they should raise that issue with God instead of the resorts. Given the financial hit the ski companies have taken, it really doesn’t seem possible. Or reasonable for something that wasn’t their choice. So I hope the judges involved have the courage to tell the plaintiffs to shut up, put on their face masks, and consider themselves lucky that they aren’t in a New York ICU sharing a ventilator patched together with duct tape, while their business goes broke.
On other fronts, I keep a file of articles that catch my eye, thinking that they might be useful here at some point. I was cleaning it out the other day, and came across a story I’d saved from CNN from June of last year. The story describes a new lifestyle trend of living a simple life at home. The piece begins:
I’m in my happy place. It’s both in nature and insulated from it, like a cabin in the woods. I’m sitting by the golden light of a fireplace in a stuffed chair, under a blanket, with a warm beverage and engrossing book in hand. Music is playing, but it’s slow and quiet. . . . We’ll play an unhurried card or board game and share funny stories. We’ll eat a delicious meal together. It’s snowing or raining, and we watch the weather unfold, go out in it and then enjoy coming back inside again. I don’t need any other distractions in my happy place. I have everything I need to be fully connected and blissed out.
It’s based on a Scandinavian view of life, described by the Danish word “hygge,” which seems to translate as “basking in the joy of doing jigsaw puzzles for 6 weeks isolated from the rest of humanity in the darkness of winter.” My Norwegian grandmother would have loved it. CNN offered it up as the welcome antidote for a high-pressure, fast-paced life.
What a difference a year makes.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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