In Kansas City, skiers and snowboarders have had convenient access to the slopes since 1986 thanks to Snow Creek in Weston. A string of hot, short seasons, including the one that ends this month, and the sale of the hill to megaresorter Vail in 2019 have led to frustration for some local skiers that may indicate tough times ahead.
Snowboarder Whitney Pickens was thrilled when she bought her Snow Creek sale passes for $613 in early December. After two seasons impacted by Covid and staff shortages, Snow Creek told pass buyers it would revert to a seven-day-a-week schedule and operate until 9 p.m. At the time, Snow Creek’s opening date was set for December 17th. Once the sale closed, Pickens noted that the opening date had been changed to “to be determined.”
Snow Creek didn’t end up opening until Christmas Day. Then, just nine days later, the resort shut down its skiing and snowboarding activities due to rain and warm temperatures. While the tubing hill remained open, the ski and snowboard slopes didn’t reopen for nearly a month. When Kansas City magazine interviewed Pickens in late January, she still hadn’t been able to use her pass that season.
“We were very surprised when we found out that they were opening their tubes, which also requires them to do snow, but not snowboarding and skiing, which is what we do,” Pickens says. Tubes are not included in the season pass price; it’s also more expensive per hour than skiing or snowboarding.
Now, Pickens and her husband are “boycotting” the resort. She even filed a complaint with the Kansas City Better Business Bureau, calling her experience with Snow Creek this year a “scam” and a “blatant robbery.” Snow Creek does not issue refunds for closures due to weather conditions.
Pickens is one of the few Snow Creek customers Kansas City has spoken to and expressed concern about the future of the resort. The chatter on Snow Creek’s social media posts have been scathingly critical at times, even after reopening day.
“Will we ever see a park built the way it was before Vail took over?” wrote one commentator.
“If you’re only 50% open, does that mean your rates will be 50% off?” wrote another.
“I think they make their money in Colorado and I think that’s what they care about,” Pickens says.
Greg Mottashed, the general manager of Snow Creek, said Vail Resorts is committed to providing a good experience. He attributed Snow Creek’s bad start to the season to Mother Nature, noting that this winter has brought “very difficult conditions, including rain.” He said in an email to Kansas City on Jan. 27 that the reason the tubes stayed open while skiing and snowboarding was on break was because the tube hill gets less direct sunlight. He also wrote that “tubing pushes the snow down which has helped preserve the snowpack, while skiing and horseback riding pushes the snow which makes it melt faster in warm conditions.”
Vail Resorts, which is based in Colorado, owns thirty-seven ski resorts in the United States, Canada and Australia. They purchased Snow Creek as part of a larger acquisition in 2019. Vail is known for developing Epic Pass, which has been lauded as a means of making winter sports more accessible. Before the Epic Pass, season passes to individual ski resorts cost around $1,500 or more. Now, winter sports enthusiasts who purchase an Epic Pass can access all resorts for $859. But while the Epic Pass has benefits, it has also scoffed at patrons who notice increased traffic, longer lines, expensive options of on-site food; and concerns about employee treatment and compensation.
“The benefit of purchasing an Epic Pass is that it gives our pass holders options across all of our resorts and gives our individual resorts the corporate stability of membership in a network,” Mottashed wrote.
But some customers fear that Snow Creek will be lost to the large corporate conglomerate in Vail.
“I’m very worried about Vail leaving,” says Dan Nowak, a 30-year-old patron and former employee of Snow Creek. “To them, three hundred feet of vertical is nothing compared to what they have in Colorado or on the East Coast.”
Nowak held a variety of jobs at Snow Creek between 1999 and 2007, including teaching snowboarding, maintaining lifts, and assisting in the installation of water lines for snowmaking. These days he likes to go to Snow Creek with his family. Nowak says it’s clear Vail doesn’t have much going on at the resort. He has noticed, for example, that some snow machines have been removed and not replaced. He has also seen a notable decline in resort employees since Vail took over.
“And that’s where you start to wonder what Vail really thinks of Snow Creek and why aren’t they looking to spend a little more money on the Colorado door,” Nowak says.