In Kansas City, skiers and boarders have had convenient access to slopes since 1986 thanks to Snow Creek in Weston. A series of warm and short seasons—including the one coming to an end soon—and the hill’s sale to megaresorter Vail in 2019 have led to frustration from some local skiers that may point to troubled times ahead.
Snowboarder Whitney Pickens was excited when she purchased her on-sale season tickets to Snow Creek for $613 in early December. After two seasons impacted by Covid and staffing shortages, Snow Creek told pass-buyers it was returning to a seven-day-a-week schedule and operating until 9 pm. At the time, Snow Creek’s opening date was set to be December 17. Once the sale ended, Pickens noticed that the opening date had been changed to “to be determined.”
Snow Creek did not end up opening until Christmas day. Then, just nine days later, the resort paused skiing and snowboarding operations due to rain and warm temperatures. While the tubing hill remained open, the skiing and snowboarding hills did not reopen for nearly a month. When Kansas City magazine interviewed Pickens in late January, she had not been able to use her pass yet that season.
“We were very surprised when we found out they were opening their tubing, which requires them to also make snow, but not the snowboarding and skiing, which is what we do,” Pickens says. Tubing is not included in the price of the season pass; 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 Better Business Bureau of Kansas City, calling her experience with Snow Creek this year a “scam” and “blatant robbery.” Snow Creek does not issue refunds for weather-related closings.
Pickens is one of a handful of Snow Creek patrons Kansas City spoke to who said they were concerned about the future of the resort. Chatter on Snow Creek’s social media posts has been sometimes fiercely critical, even after reopening day.
“Are we ever going to see a park built like it was before Vail took over?” one commenter wrote.
“If you only have 50% open does that mean rates are gonna 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 that Vail Resorts is committed to providing a good experience. He attributed the poor start to Snow Creek’s season to Mother Nature, noting that this winter has brought “very tough conditions, including rain.” He said in an email to Kansas City on January 27 that the reason tubing remained open while skiing and snowboarding were paused was because the tubing hill receives less direct sunlight. He also wrote that “Tubing packs down the snow which helped to preserve the snow pack, while skiing and riding push the snow around, which makes it melt faster in warm conditions.”
Vail Resorts, which is headquartered in Colorado, owns thirty-seven ski resorts in the United States, Canada and Australia. They bought Snow Creek as part of a larger acquisition in 2019. Vail is known for their development of the Epic Pass, which has been lauded as a means of making winter sports more accessible. Prior to the Epic Pass, season passes to singular ski resorts cost around $1,500 or more. Now, winter sports enthusiasts who buy an Epic Pass can get access to all the resorts for $859. But while the Epic Pass has benefits, it has also brought derision from patrons who note increased traffic, longer lines, expensive on-site food options and concerns about the treatment and pay of employees.
“The benefit of buying an Epic Pass is that it gives our pass holders options at all of our resorts, and it gives our individual resorts the business stability of belonging to a network,” Mottashed wrote.
But some patrons worry that Snow Creek will get lost in Vail’s large corporate conglomerate.
“I’m very concerned that Vail’s just going to walk away from it,” says Dan Nowak, a thirty-year 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, working lift maintenance and helping install water lines for snow making. These days, he enjoys going to Snow Creek with his family. Nowak says it’s clear that Vail does not have as much vested in the resort. He’s noticed, for example, that some snow-making equipment has been removed and not replaced. He’s also seen a noticeable drop in employees at the resort since Vail took over.
“And that’s where you start to question what Vail really thinks of Snow Creek and why they are not trying to spend a little more money on the gateway to Colorado,” Nowak says.