Two pass holders at Northstar California are suing over the ski resort’s new charge for parking this season.
The suit was brought by Ronald Code and Steven Kroll, both residents of Crystal Bay, Nevada, and longtime Northstar pass holders, against Vail Resorts Inc., Northstar’s parent company, in U.S. District Court for Nevada. Kroll is also the attorney in the suit.
According to the suit, both Code and Kroll renewed their season passes in April.
The suit argues that a resort pass is essentially a licensing agreement that allows the pass holder to use the resort’s property and its amenities.
In October, the Tahoe-area resort announced that in an effort to curb traffic congestion on the nearby road, it would begin charging $10 on weekdays and $20 on weekends for parking at its Village View parking lot, which had previously been free. Parking is still free at the farther-away Castle Peak parking lot. The resort offers a free shuttle to that parking lot.
“The full impact of this change went far beyond a mere parking realignment,” the suit says.
Vail Resorts (NYSE: MTN) spokesman Russell Carlton declined to comment on the pending litigation.
According to the suit, Code sent an email to the general manager of the resort, explaining that easy access to the mountain has been one of the reasons he is able to keep skiing at the age of 77.
The suit says that in order to get the same experience they had in previous seasons, they would have to pay $2,000 in parking fees over the course of the season, or else they would have to park in the free lot and take the shuttle, which would add significant time and physical burden to the trip before and after they could actually ski.
The suit says that if Code and Kroll had known of the parking change, they wouldn’t have purchased their season passes at Northstar, and would have bought passes at another resort instead.
The suit alleges that Vail sent emails to previous seasons’ pass holders inviting them to renew their passes, without disclosing the planned parking change, even though those plans were in the works at the time. The suit argues that the change “fundamentally alters” the scope of the license between the resort and the pass holders.
The suit says the plaintiffs requested free parking passes, which the resort declined to issue. Hence the lawsuit, which is seeking to force the resort to issue free parking passes.
The suit is also seeking damages of $200,000 each for Code and Kroll, over what it calls Vail’s fraud in the changes to its terms of service without notifying customers.
Code and Kroll concede that if the resort wants to charge for parking, or charge new fees for things that have previously been free, it can.
“But such drastic alterations can only be done with advance notice, not retroactively, so that plaintiffs and the rest of the public have an opportunity to opt out and go elsewhere,” the suit states.
The suit will likely have a hard time succeeding in court, according to an attorney for the outdoor recreation industry.
“While the specifics of Northstar’s marketing and season pass agreement will be important factors in the litigation, generally, it appears that the Plaintiffs will be fighting an uphill battle given that pass-holders will still have the ability to park at the resort for free,” said Leah K. Corrigan, in an email to the Business Journal. Corrigan is a Jackson, Wyoming-based attorney for companies in the outdoor recreation industry.
She said that this was the first case she knew of where a group of pass holders had sued a ski resort, and she wasn’t optimistic about its success.
“The idea that parking is an implied part of the contract is an uphill argument,” Corrigan said.
She said that if it does end up being successful, there would be limited legal implications for other resorts. But she said the industry as a whole will likely be watching this case.
“As a practical matter, this case will likely inform how and when ski areas communicate changes to their season pass programs,” she wrote. “Parking and traffic congestion is a major, and increasing issue for ski resorts, and they will have to use unpopular tools to limit the impacts of these issues on the skier experience.”