Skiers and snowboarders wait for a lift at Stevens Pass on Dec. 30. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Skiers and snowboarders wait for a lift at Stevens Pass on Dec. 30. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Vail Resorts makes a management change at Stevens Pass

A new interim general manager, longtime Stevens skier Tom Fortune, will deal with concerns about understaffing and long lift lines.

STEVENS PASS — Lifelong Stevens Pass skier Tom Fortune has taken over as interim general manager at the mountain resort after a groundswell of concern about understaffing, long lift lines and other problems facing employees and customers.

Fortune, whose hiring was announced Wednesday, acknowledged those frustrations in an open letter on the resort’s Facebook page. He said he took the position to “work towards getting the mountain open as quickly and safely as possible” at the ski area on U.S. 2, about a 90-minute drive from Everett.

“Stevens Pass is a complex operation … it always has been,” Fortune wrote in the letter. “That means change will not happen overnight, but I am committed to securing both short-term wins and outlining a long-term roadmap of improvement. With that in mind, I am committed to communicating often, and with transparency.”

After growing up skiing at Stevens Pass, Fortune said, he held leadership roles there and at ski areas in Idaho and California, most recently as the general manager of Heavenly resort at Lake Tahoe.

He replaces Tom Pettigrew, who took the helm at Stevens Pass in September 2018 after serving as a director for another Vail Resorts-owned ski area in Park City, Utah.

Employees and season pass holders have blamed Stevens Pass management and parent company Vail for “dysfunctional” conditions at the ski area since it opened for the winter season on Dec. 15, The Daily Herald has reported.

Roughly half the mountain has yet to open this season, and many of the lodging and food options remain shuttered. (On Wednesday, the entire resort was still closed after a winter storm shut down U.S. 2 and other mountain passes across Western Washington.)

An online petition, which garnered nearly 40,000 signatures in two weeks, called on Vail Resorts to address the problems at Stevens Pass by Jan. 15 or commit to a 60% refund to season pass holders.

The ski conglomerate’s Epic Pass, priced from about $500 to $1,000, offers a range of options for seasonal access to Stevens Pass and dozens of other Vail-owned resorts across North America.

Frustrated customers have filed complaints with the Washington Attorney General’s Office and have accused Vail Resorts of violating consumer protection laws by overselling season passes while failing to keep lifts running at Stevens Pass and some of its other ski areas.

In an email Wednesday to Stevens Pass employees, the company said former General Manager Pettigrew “will be leaving the company, effective today.”

Fortune “will be focused on assessing current operations at Stevens Pass with the intent of implementing a new operational framework,” said Doug Pierini, Vail Resorts’ western region senior vice president and COO.

“We are confident that he will provide the expertise necessary to move Stevens Pass forward,” Pierini said. “Concurrently, a search will launch for a new permanent GM at Stevens Pass. Tom (Fortune) will support the transition once this person is hired, and will ensure a smooth handoff in the process.”

Pierini outlined other steps the company is taking to address employee concerns, including a new end-of-season bonus program and more staff housing to help recruit employees this winter.

His email to staff was shared on Instagram, and a Stevens Pass employee confirmed the email’s authenticity to The Herald.

The employee, a ski patroller who previously expressed concerns, said in a message that she and her fellow patrollers “are relieved, excited and cautiously optimistic about the change in leadership.”

“Tom Fortune has a longstanding relationship with Stevens Pass, both personally and professionally,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her job. “He understands the unique challenges our mountain faces and has experienced the magic our community has to offer first hand.”

In his letter, Fortune said he began working at Stevens Pass as a ski patroller and worked his way up over 20 years, rising to roles including director of operations, before he left in 1999.

“I am glad to be coming home,” he wrote, “even if just temporarily, to support this period of transition at Stevens Pass.”

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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