This is a letter sent to the Northstar Resort CEO by mail and by email on Feb 4, 2022. The letter was returned unopened, although addressed to the resort in Truckee. The email was never answered.
My wife and I made reservations to visit your ski resort for three nights, arriving January 28 and departing January 31. These were made on a telephone call to a reservation agent, followed up with email confirmations. We reserved a condominium, Unit 3130 Aspen Grove, with two bedrooms and a fold away bed, so that we could host our son and his wife and 3 year-old daughter. We reserved three-day ski passes and rental skis for ourselves and our son, and a non-skiing gondola pass for our daughter-in law, who is expecting a child in April. Our plan was to spend most of our time at the beginners’ slope teaching our grandaughter to ski, using the “magic carpet” beginners ski lift. We also planned to use the skating rink as an alternative amusement f if she did not want to ski. We paid in full in advance for everything.
As it turned out, our visit to Northstar included many unpleasant and rude surprises that left us both feeling upset. So I am taking the time write about it in detail as a way of just getting things off my chest.
Following instructions that had been emailed to us, we stopped at the check-in house around 10 am Friday morning. A sign said it was closed for the day and that we should call a number posted on the door. A recorded message informed us that the Resort was using “non-contact” check-in and that we should expect to receive an email at 4 pm advising us of the check in procedure. Really? We had no one to ask about parking, how best to get around, procedures for obtaining our ski passes, rentals, etc. We wasted time trying to call. No human being was available to speak to us. We were just standing there in the driveway looking at each other with a feeling that we were on our own, and not exactly welcome.
We decided to drive to the condo. As advertised, it was close to the mountain, so we parked by the door and changed into our ski clothes in the car. I then drove everyone to the drop-off point, took the car back to the condo and walked back up. It was obvious that the condo was empty and the prior occupants, if there were any, had checked out. A functioning “front desk” would have allowed us to use it to change, even if check-in time was later.
At the end of our first day of skiing, the promised check-in email arrived and we let ourselves into the condo. More on that later.
OK, now what? A sign directed us to “Ski Rentals.” We found the shop, and a very nice shop clerk got us all fitted out and confirmed that our rentals were good for three days. He explained that he could not help with ski passes. For that he directed us to the window next door to the ski rental shop. We later learned that this window was for ski school only (not lift passes). However, we were greeted by a friendly clerk who said she could help with ski passes.
The clerk explained that she could not find us in the “system.” Ten minutes went by. The line behind us seemed to be getting longer at an alarming rate. We do not like to be the reason why people must wait to go skiing. Finally, after many questions, repeated computer searches and zero results, my wife said “What if we just buy the passes; can we get a refund once everything is straightened out?” Obviously relieved, the clerk thought this was a great idea. The transaction moved smoothly from that point forward and soon we were in the gondola, headed up the mountain.
Our first day on the mountain was wonderful! Perfect weather and a great time with our granddaughter on the “baby slope.” The adult skiers also enjoyed a few mountain runs.
At the end of the day we made our way to the main ticket office. We met the same friendly clerk who we had seen earlier at the other window. After about 30 minutes we left the office holding new ski passes which, we were assured, were good for our next two days. The refund notice showed up in my email a few minutes later.
Since this letter is full of complaints, I want to pause and say that the ski rental shop and ticket clerks were models of friendliness and efficiency floating in a sea of confusion, ignorance and poor manners.
Day Two, Saturday
On day two we showed up at the gondola to repeat our adventure on the “baby slope.”
My son and daughter-in-law were the first to attempt to go up the mountain. Her “no-skiing” pass worked. My son’s pass was rejected but as he watched his six-month pregnant wife who does not speak very good English get hustled into a gondola, he shouldered his way past the attendant and jumped aboard. Then it was my wife's turn. Her pass was also rejected. She could see our son up ahead. He beckoned her to walk through, which she did. I did not see any of this. When I arrived a few minutes later I got a call from my son on board the gondola who explained what happened. I presented my pass. It was rejected and I asked to speak with a manager. I was directed to a young man who provided the following useful information: there was nothing he could do. I must march to the ticket office, up a long flight of stairs carrying all of my gear, and present myself for examination, which could be lengthy. No, I could not leave my gear behind unattended. I insisted that I was entitled to go up the gondola and was visibly upset. After giving me a humiliating and condescending dressing down, the young man finally handed me a “no-skiing” gondola pass and I was allowed to proceed. If I wanted to get up the mountain in time to watch my granddaughter on the childrens’ slope, skiing would not be permitted.
A few hours later, we were back at the ticket office. We knew we must take time to straighten out the ticket SNAFU. No one was going to do it for us. We were in the office for forty minutes. We were offered apologies, but no refund. The theory was that, instead of going up the mountain without passes, we should have gone to the ticket office and straightened out the problem. Really? And miss the best part of the day? There was no explanation for Northstar’s ski pass screwup that made any kind of sense (something about our “profiles” not being right). Eventually we walked out with lift tickets which, we were assured, would be good for the next day. The sun had gone below the roofline. It was cold. Our planned Après ski by the rink in the afternoon sun was off the table.
Day Three, Sunday
The next day was another beauty. Clear skies and mild temps in the sun. Only problem was, while our son’s pass worked, the ski passes for my wife and me were no good. Smoke was coming out of all four of our ears. The gondola attendants could see it and kept their distance. We were provided with the following useful information: our passes were no good and that to rectify the situation we must remove ourselves from the gondola house (again) and find succor at the lift ticket office. Really? More fumes. More smoke. Finally, a young man appeared out of nowhere and handed us two tickets. These, he assured us, were good tickets. They worked! We were able to catch up with our granddaughter, but it’s hard to really enjoy yourself when so much stress has been added by people who have no ability to address your situation. We wondered where that young man had been yesterday when we needed him! We would have been able to ski!
At the end of our first day of skiing, my wife got the email we had been waiting for. We could check into our condo by entering a secret code into the door lock. After our first day on the slopes we took the shuttle bus to the condo, entered the code and we were in!
We have been renting ski condos for forty years. This one seemed pretty generic: big living room/kitchen upstairs; two small bedrooms and two baths downstairs on the entry level. The promised fold up bed was in the laundry room off the kitchen. Easy.
There were no extra blankets. Temps would be down in the single digits and we thought we would need them. Also, we could not find a blanket or pillow for the pull-out bed. We called housekeeping. We received the following useful information: (1) there are no extra blankets; and (2) there was never any “guaranty” that there will be sheets, blankets or pillows for pull out beds. When I pressed the point that it was going to be cold, and we needed the extra bed, the voice on the other end of line turned frosty: I could take up any complaints with the front desk on the following day. It was indeed very cold. We turned up the heat to 75, but the thermostat was on the second floor and it never got above 55 in the bedrooms, which were on the lower level. Late the next morning I called the front desk (which does not open until 9:30), where I was referred to housekeeping, which did not answer.
Meanwhile, something was wrong in the kitchen. When I came up the stairs on day two, I walked into a large puddle on the kitchen floor. Water appeared to be flowing out of the cabinet below the sink. I called the front desk, and at the end of a lengthy recorded message, there was a number to call in case of an emergency such as no heat. I dialed the number and got a human being who promised to send someone over to check out the water problem.
I mopped up the mess with a bath towel and we settled down to making breakfast. At 10 am a repairman showed up. He quickly concluded there was a leak in the disposal and replaced it with a new one.
At the end of day two, we were resigned to another cold night. The ski ticket SNAFU had left us feeling that we were on our own. I made a brief call to the front desk, but I was merely given the same runaround as before. No blankets. Pound sand. We cooked ourselves a nice dinner and went to bed. We all wore long underwear and socks. When I got up at 2 am to go to the bathroom, it was 52 in our room. I wore my hat when I got back in bed. By 6 am it was 49.
In the morning I stepped into another large puddle when I went to start making breakfast. This time, the water was coming off the countertop, which was flooded. Our son thought it must be the dishwasher, since the previous flooding had followed its use. But how does dishwasher water get above the countertops? I guessed that the culprit was the coffee maker, which might have leaked out onto the counter. We mopped up the mess and decided to wait and see if there was any more leaking before calling the front desk (they made it clear that they now figured we were troublemakers after so many calls).
Our third night was nothing short of awful! We made a nice dinner and retired, clad in long underwear, socks and hats. When I awoke at 11 pm, the temperature was 50. When I woke up again at 3 am it was 45. I went upstairs and checked the thermostat. It was set at 72 but the actual temperature on the second floor was 55. The heat was not working. I called the emergency number but just got a recording. No one called me back. I tried again at 5:30 am (by then it was 42 in my room). I got an answer, but the pleasant young woman could do nothing to help us. Over the following four hours I called four times. Each time I was told that a “message” had been left with the repairman. He never showed up. My wife called the front desk once it opened and complained. She received this useful information: “You have to understand that we are extremely short-handed.” After she hung up I said to my wife: “If they think we need to ‘understand’ something, then they should post a warning on their website.” The website, by the way, is singularly unhelpful if anything does not go according to plan.
There is a gas-fired fireplace in the living room. I turned this on around 6 am. By 8 am the temperature in the room reached 60 (still freezing downstairs). Once the sun got to work the temperature rose to 65 (around 9:30). As mentioned above, the repairman never showed up. No one ever called.
Because of the chaos and discomfort of the previous night, an early departure was not in the cards. Our son would miss a planned business meeting in SF and needed to organize a 3 hour zoom call for 10 am to 1 pm. We thought we would take our granddaughter up to the rink for some skating, and then we would all depart after our son’s call. My wife called the front desk to ask if we could delay our departure until one pm. She was provided with the following useful information: check out time was 11 am and if we were “not out of the condo” by then we would be charged a penalty. She helpfully pointed out that the lock on the door will automatically record our departure time. We were informed that no, Northstar did not have a facility where our son could conduct his zoom call nor did she have any idea where such a facility might be found.
Fortunately, I was able to find a “business center” for my son to use at the Ritz-Carlton. I drove him up to the hotel. It wasn’t cheap, but at least he would not be out in the cold. All the while I was wondering about Northstar’s singularly inflexible procedures.
We cleaned up and packed. Around 10:30 am I started the dishwasher for the last time. Fifteen minutes later, I noticed another flood in the kitchen! Our son had been right. It was the dishwasher: water was pouring out of a fitting on the kitchen sink next to the faucet. It appears that this fitting is some kind of vent for the dishwasher drain hose and it was malfunctioning. I immediately stopped the machine, which stopped the flooding, and mopped up using a towel.
Emotionally, I was tempted to ignore the problem, just as we had been ignored for two days. We were exhausted and about to leave the condo. I called the repair line, which I knew by heart, and advised the unhelpful but very pleasant person on the other the end of the line as to the problem and the precise cause. I also told her to tell the cleaning crew that the dishwasher had not been run, even though it might appear so. She said she would get right back to me. I wondered why she thought she needed to say that. She needed to send a repairman and confirm that my message would get passed on. Since I had her on the line, I asked if the heating repairman was coming. She had forgotten about that problem, but said she would check. I said “never mind.” I never heard another word. We left.
The complaints recorded in this letter are not for the purpose of illustrating relatively minor defects in a ticket reservation system or a rented condo. These things happen. Sometimes, a lot of things go wrong at once. It is Northstar’s reaction to these defects that is infuriating.
The point of this letter is to say that your entire system of communicating with and assisting guests is broken. No one is available anywhere who can coordinate even the simplest response to the smallest problem or inquiry; your many young, friendly attendants are ignorant of how your own systems function and are powerless to do anything except tell guests that there is nothing they can do. The guest is left on his own, while having to navigate a system built on machines rather than competent human beings. In other words, it’s not about the facilities and accommodations, which are good to excellent; it’s about the service, which is terrible where and when it matters.
Northstar is a beautiful place with well-groomed slopes and first-class lifts. For a young person with no children who does not need a condo and is used to dealing with machines rather than people, I can see how it can be a good experience. For seventy-something grandparents and a couple with a young child, it is a difficult environment, and it has left us feeling abused and unwanted.