Unvaccinated Skier Wants Epic Pass Refund Over Vail Cafeteria Vax Rules

A screen capture from a Vail Resorts video promoting its après ski options.
A screen capture from a Vail Resorts video promoting its après ski options. Vail Resorts via YouTube
Winter is coming, and that's great news for Preston Thomas, who has a regular group of skiing buddies with whom he loves to hit the slopes — and in anticipation of this year's season, all four purchased an Epic Pass, which allows access to Vail Resorts properties, including Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Keystone and the firm's namesake mountain.

But now Thomas wants a refund because of Vail's COVID-19 vaccination policies. The company doesn't require proof of immunization to ski, ride lifts or gondolas, or even dine at outdoor eateries or its affiliated sit-down restaurants. However, such evidence must be presented in order to get grub at what Vail spokesperson Jamie Alvarez calls "our indoor, quick-service restaurants" — the cafeteria-style operations that tend to offer the least-expensive food options.

For Thomas, who's unvaccinated, as are two of his three regular skiing companions, this policy is a deal-breaker. But Vail isn't giving him his money back. "As outlined in the Epic coverage terms and conditions, pass-holders are not eligible for refunds  based on the operating guidelines of our restaurants or because of a vaccine requirement," Alvarez notes.

Vaccine rules at many ski areas across Colorado remain in flux right now. As documented by 9News, for example, inoculation mandates at Arapahoe Basin and Monarch apply only to employees, not skiers.

As for Vail Resorts, Alvarez stresses that "the health and safety of our guests and employees is our top priority. We are fortunate that the core of our business takes place outdoors in beautiful, vast mountain settings. If guests wish to access our resorts to ski and ride this season, a vaccination will not be required. Vaccines will also not be required in outdoor spaces such as lift lines, chairlifts, gondolas, outdoor restaurants and restaurant patios, or in indoor spaces such as restrooms, lodging properties, full-service restaurants, and retail and rental locations."

However, she continues, "we do feel it’s important to do our part to combat the spread of COVID-19 and to keep our guests, employees and communities safe. As such, if guests wish to access our indoor, quick-service, cafeteria-style restaurants, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required for those twelve and older. Consistent with the approaches taken by many other large-scale indoor events and venues, we believe this requirement is necessary given the number of guests using these facilities and the fact that guests will not be wearing face coverings while eating and drinking."

Alvarez adds that "indoor, quick-service restaurants are higher-volume, higher-density locations with cafeteria-style settings and multi-party seating options. We believe this vaccine requirement will reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in these unique settings and protect our guests and their families, as well as employees. Full-service restaurants are more spacious, with party-specific seating, providing natural physical distancing and capacity management."

Thomas, who considers his choice to forgo vaccination a private matter,  doesn't buy this logic. In his view, "It was wrong that Vail issued the policy after the payment for the pass was collected. If we would have been aware of the policy, we would not have purchased the Epic Pass," he says, since "access to and enjoyment of the on-mountain cafeterias was pitched to us as part of our pass and part of the value that we paid for.

"We believe that Vail is treating some customers differently than other customers, and those customers that are being treated differently should have the option of a refund because their experience is negatively impacted and the value they are receiving is reduced," he adds.

Thomas thinks that he and his friends "represent an average ski group. We've got one vaccinated guy and three unvaccinated guys. I think many groups who go skiing together will have at least one member of the group who is not vaccinated for various reasons, which means that Vail's policy could make things frustrating for even vaccinated guests who are traveling with groups."

Resort representatives have informed Thomas that "bathrooms will be available, as well as grab-and-go food and fine dining," he continues. "But cafeterias are more than just food. We ski around fifteen days a year, which means sometimes we end up in really cold weather conditions. If it's incredibly cold, we go into those cafeterias and get lunch, but we also go in for drinks or snacks throughout the day to get out of the cold. Not being able to go into a warm place on the mountain would be rough if there are bad conditions. And we really enjoy hanging out for thirty minutes to an hour at lunchtime in those cafeterias. Who wants to grab food to go and freeze your hands trying to eat on the lift?"

Besides, he adds, "we don't feel like fine dining is an option for us, because fine-dining options at Vail Resorts are way outside of our price point. In fact, it seems unfair that people who can afford fine dining don't have to show a vaccine card."

If no refund is forthcoming, Thomas hasn't decided whether he will use the Epic Pass at Vail, and he's uncertain how many people will agree with his objections. But he warns that the issue could lead to a slippery slope that has nothing to do with snow.

"On this issue, most people agree with Vail, so they're not going to comment on Vail overstepping its bounds," he feels. "But one day, there will be an issue that people disagree with Vail or some other corporation on and it will be too late. We will have given companies the right to weigh in on our personal decisions."

In the meantime, Alvarez wants skiers to know that more changes could be coming.

"The dynamics and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been fast-moving and constantly changing, and we are doing our very best to ensure we align our operating practices to the most up-to-date information and recent developments," she explains. "The surge of the Delta variant in August and September has triggered many new regulatory requirements and changes in business practices, and our hope is to set our winter operating practices with the most recent developments and with enough time for guests to prepare for the winter."

Or to pack a lunch.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts