February 25, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Pierce Sullivan | Illustration by Iris Guo

Since Vail Resorts debuted the Epic Pass in 2008, ski areas under its management have seen a massive influx of crowds. Pass sales have been through the roof, with Vail Resorts reporting a 42% increase in sales in the 2021 season compared to the year before.

To coincide with the skyrocketing sales, Vail has added a staggering number of resorts to its repertoire, with 79 resorts operating under their umbrella as of 2022. However, it seems that this epic growth is finally catching up with Vail: they have not been able to staff enough employees to keep lifts consistently running, and the employees they have on the staff are being vastly underpaid. People are finally starting to notice this trend and are pushing back against the company.

The primary pushback to Vail has come about in a rather unique way: Instagram meme pages. I can’t imagine that a hostile meme page would strike fear into the heart of a Vail Resorts executive. However, with the way that these pages have been able to strike a chord with younger generations, maybe it should.

One of these meme pages, @epicliftlines, began in March 2021 as a way to expose the ways in which Vail Resorts was mismanaging its facilities and mistreating their employees. In the words of the account itself, “when selling a finite product, it is possible to intentionally or unintentionally oversell that product beyond physical and service capacities.”

This meme account began as a way to poke fun at Vail, but quickly became part of a far more serious cause. As the issues of overcrowding and underfunding at Vail’s resorts has become more pronounced, the page has shifted from memes to exposing the extent of the flaws which riddle Vail’s business model. It provides its 46,000 followers with a daily viewing of the heinous lines and closed lifts at Vail Resorts across the country.

Small, independently owned resorts have started taking advantage of this handle as well. On Presidents’ Day 2022, the co-op owned ski area Mad River Glen in Vermont posted a picture of their non-existent lift lines with the caption “the brutal midday scene on a federal holiday” and tagged @epicliftlines.

What began as a small meme account has quickly amassed an outsized influence in mountain towns and the ski industry as a whole. Summit Daily, a news outlet in Frisco, Colo., ran an article in Jan. 2022 on the growing pushback towards Vail Resorts which directly referenced @epicliftlines as a perpetrator of this growing movement.

The effect which @epicliftlines has on the ski industry seemed to have opened the eyes of other small meme pages to the fact that they also have the potential to be harbingers of change. When word that the Park City Ski Patrol Association (PCSPA) was struggling in its negotiations with Vail about pay raises, these smaller accounts saw a unique opportunity.

Thirteen small meme pages formed a collective under the title Niche Outdoor Meme Mafia (NOMM). These accounts are known for their memes of the popular skiing YouTube series “The Fifty Project.” In response to the PCSPA’s negotiations, the collective posted a satirical letter stating that they would go on strike from making any more memes on “The Fifty Project.” The caption of these posts, however, took a much more serious tone.

The caption ended with a plea for help, stating “The Internet without 50 [Project] memes is like a mountain without patrollers – It just doesn’t work. While we love memes, The Fifty Project and skiing, what we don’t love is the degradation of ski towns. Unions are forming at different ski areas around the country as a response to low wages, high cost of housing and the corporate takeovers that have left workers feeling like numbers instead of people.”

These posts reached tens of thousands of people, with some members of the NOMM having upward of 15,000 followers. The posts linked a GoFundMe which was formed by the PCPSA after their union overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike if negotiations failed. Donations skyrocketed and the $100,000 goal was quickly met.

With strike authorization and funds to hold over their employees, the PCPSA suddenly found themselves holding the high ground in the negotiations with Vail. In this new position, they were able to reach an agreement for higher pay with Vail Resorts.

The power held by these meme pages is profound. It seems that serious problems may not always require serious solutions. In fact, these accounts indicate that seemingly irreverent solutions may even be the best ones.

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