Dear Thredbo, we need to talk about the lift pass meltdown

Thredbo Resort. Photo credit: Thredbo

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment it turned to hell in a hand basket for Thredbo with the lift pass sale meltdown, played out on social media this week. You’ve got to feel for everyone in 2625 right now. 

Don’t get me wrong, we know how difficult 2020 is for everyone. We understand how hard all the ski resorts, Thredbo included, have worked to actually secure a ski season when it didn’t look like we’d have one, and then create operational plans for their guests. It’s been akin to solving a Rubiks Cube while blindfolded. And drunk. 

We love Thredbo, it’s one of our favourite ski resorts in Australia. The Bluff on a powder day, Deadhorse Gap laps to roadside BBQs, long lunches at Kareela. Thredbo skiers are fiercely loyal and vocal, they wear their Thredbo stickers on their SUVs with pride and you’d be hard pressed to get them to ski anywhere else. Until now. 

When the resort went out first with their operational plans for the season, a lot of it seemed fair given the then strict Covid restrictions. Running the resort at 50% capacity, reserving ticket days to ensure that, social distancing on chairlifts and t-bars. 

This is a pandemic year, anyone who thought they would get full access and full operations was clearly still living in 2019. We don’t blame you, we don’t want to open our eyes each morning in 2020 either. 

Other operational element changes for this season were interesting choices. Accommodation providers were not given priority access for tickets for their guests that had already booked and paid for beds this winter. 

Season Pass Holders would have their passes refunded, and while they would receive some discounts for 2020 tickets purchased, they too, would not have prior access to the pool of $159 day passes that would be released. For non season pass holders those $159 ticket prices would be the same price every day of the season from early to peak to spring and no multi day pass discounts would be offered.

So we asked Stuart Diver to explain the resorts’ decisions during a Covid season and he did with candour and transparency, whether you agree with them or not. 

INTERVIEW: Thredbo GM, Stuart Diver, answers Covid season questions

On Friday, June 5, Thredbo changed the date of the sale pass on their website from 11.59pm on Wednesday to noon on Thursday June 11. The change was made after employing the services of Queue-It, an e-commerce provider used by K Mart during the Covid lockdown. K-mart, too, had problems. 

The e-store was to open to everyone at the same time. All season pass holders trying to get their days with discounts, all holiday makers who had already booked accommodation trying to get their dates, and everyone else who has any money left during a recession to pay the price. There was to be no priority access or VIP pre sale and all the days of the season were to be released at once. Let’s just say that’s a lot of band width, hence employing Queue-it.

The Queue-it platform shuffled everyone at noon yesterday who had been online prior waiting for the sale to start. This was in order to be as fair and equitable to everyone needing tickets via this process as possible. We think that was a good call, though no one had been told about the queue process, so many did unnecessarily rise early to pitch a digital tent at the digital ticket window. 

Despite setting up Queue-it, the site crashed and others were left in the queue for hours at a time with up to 30 000 people in front of them. Many registered their email for a notification when their place was available but didn’t receive that, thanks to the queue demand, until the early hours of the morning and subsequently had to join a new queue upon waking. 

Season Pass Holders, under the belief their names would be automatically registered and discounts applied, soon found out that buttons needed to be pushed (as if enough haven’t been pushed already) to secure them. Then many couldn’t find the button or when they did, found themselves on a blank screen.

While some found the process smooth, but lengthy, others gave up or found their dates sold out by the time they got in, or ended up paying full price for tickets that should have been discounted. 

It doesn’t help that Vail Resorts strategically chose to announce the day before the Thredbo sale, that they would be honouring Epic Australia Passes with unlimited skiing from July 13. Nor that Mt Buller announced they would be giving those with accommodation booked priority when tickets are distributed.

Now social media is filled with livid, once loyal, skiers and snowboarders tearing the Thredbo brand apart. Everyone’s triggered, emotions are hot in this tempestuous recession year, but whatever you do don’t visit the Thredbo Facebook Page without popcorn and a bullet proof vest. It’s brutal in there. 

Thredbo is in serious brand damage control while trying to run a ticket sale that is still in process. For the record there are still dates in August and September available and more tickets will be released over the season so be patient and don’t give up hope. 

Where to from here

It’s pointless suggesting what should have been done, because it’s too late now and, again, it’s not us trying to run a resort during a pandemic. 

So, let’s look at what can be done going forward. 

After all, aren’t we all in this together? 

We did reach out to Thredbo for comment, and were forwarded their official statement.

“Thredbo Resort has been overwhelmed by demand for the first release of 2020 lift passes today and we are thrilled that guests are eager to return to the mountain. At one point we had as many as 25,000 people visiting our online store to purchase lift passes, being the biggest volume we have ever experienced on our Online Store.

These are unusual times; we’ve experienced an unprecedented amount of traffic highlighting we are all ready to get back skiing and snowboarding again this season. We are working hard to ensure everyone is able to purchase their desired passes and we appreciate our guests’ patience as we accommodate everyone under the new Government restrictions.” – Thredbo Spokesperson

The good news is Thredbo started yesterday to address concerns by responding to social comments and messenger conversations. Thredbo will also be refunding the balance of any full price payments made by season pass holders that should have received discounts.

We also believe they may also be refunding (Thredbo Resort only) booked accommodation for those that did not secure the tickets for the dates they had booked but you’ll have to check with the resort on this one.

As for loyal season pass holders now looking to go elsewhere. Perhaps the extra tickets that are going to be released over the season should be offered to them first and discounts offered for 2021 season passes. That would be a start and a good announcement to make as soon as possible. Then, when Thredbo do offer the next rounds of 2020 tickets, also open the sale at 9am and pause the queue overnight from 10pm to the next morning. 

A humble apology and copping it on the chin would also help (**update they have since  offered one via video this afternoon). It’s important to make those who put in the hours and effort to try to ski with them, feel valued and heard. They need to get the community together again and that’s going to take some mea culpa from Thredbo and some leeway from everyone else. 

Hey guys, we understand the past 24 hours have been a frustrating time. We’re currently doing everything we can right now to resolve all the issues, respond to enquiries and continue to sell lift passes. Please check out the address from General Manager, Stuart Diver. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Posted by Thredbo Resort on Thursday, 11 June 2020

We all know that this season was going to be one like no other. That there would need to be sacrifices from some in order to have another season in 2021. 

There are also other ways during the season to thank those with money to ski who have chosen to help the resort survive. Free hot chocolate Wednesday, complimentary fresh baked cookies for first and last chair on Tuesdays, a dedicated car park attendant wiping the snow off your windscreens as you leave. It’s the details that raise a resort above and beyond another and makes customers feel heard and want to return. 

These are a start, there are many tried and tested ways to claw your reputation back during a crisis. Even in the face of ticket horror, it can be done if you read the room and respond accordingly. 

Of course, Murphy will tell you that restrictions will lift by the time peak season hits, but then we never liked Murphy anyway.

We’d love to hear what you think Thredbo should be doing now to get you back onside? So comment below with your ideas.

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Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.