Ski programs under fire at Vail Resorts
Ski area operator ends Over-the-Hill Gang at Keystone and Breckenridge
Summit County — When Tim Bourke’s wife died after the couple moved to Summit County, he found solace in a circle of friends he developed when he started skiing at Keystone with the Over-the-Hill Gang every week.
“It helped me get my mind on other things,” Bourke said this week, brushing a few flakes of fresh snow off his goggles before starting down the resort’s Schoolmarm run with some of those newfound friends on a fine powder day.
But this year will be different for Bourke and nearly 200 others who’ve been meeting regularly at Keystone under the auspices of the Colorado Springs-based ski-and-travel organization.
Trying to standardize operations across its four ski mountains, Vail Resorts has told the Over-the-Hill Gang that it can’t run its structured ski program at Keystone and Breckenridge this winter, leaving many of participants bitterly disappointed and feeling like they’ve been banished from the mountain.
“Basically, Vail Resorts kicked the Over-the-Hill Gang guided programs off the mountain. We were told we can’t wear our guide jackets. Most of us in the county are really upset about it,” said Breckenridge resident Evey Statz, who, with her husband, has helped organize local outings the past few years. “We just keep asking ourselves why?”
For Statz and many others, the gang has helped cement lasting friendships.
“It was a godsend for us. We would not have relocated here permanently without the Over- the-Hill Gang,” Statz said, adding that she and her husband have been visiting Breckenridge since 1971. She explained how they didn’t know anyone when they first moved to the area but quickly found supportive and like-minded spirits through the club.
Pat Campbell, chief operating officer at Keystone, said she understands the disappointment among the group’s members.
The resort’s sales staff still is working with the club to find some common ground, she said.
“We reached a point where it wasn’t working on our end,” Campbell said. “Over time, the historically informal program has grown. : We saw more of a divergence from how we handle other groups.”
Large organizations such as the National Brotherhood of Skiers and the Florida Ski Council also frequent Keystone but use resort staff, including ski instructors and guest services, to assist with their programming, Campbell explained.
“The Over-the-Hill Gang is a for-profit operation, and they want to conduct their activities on the mountain for free,” she said.
In particular, officials with the ski company suggest that the Over-the-Hill Gang guides take away business from the ski schools at the resorts.
“The crux of it is, they’re a for-profit group, and we need to treat them like any other group,” said Lucy Kay, Campbell’s counterpart at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
It’s true that the Over-the-Hill Gang International is a for-profit enterprise that makes money by functioning as a travel agency. But the group’s activities at Keystone appear to be noncommercial and generally of a social nature.
The skiers who participate pay annual dues of $90, which entitles them to meet up with their friends and ski in guided groups with others of similar ability.
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It seems like the best celestial events too often happen in the wee hours of the morning, in the cold dead of winter.