Skiers sue Northstar California resort over parking fees

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  • Northstar California implemented new parking fees at the Truckee area complex
  • The fees could represent significant income for the complex
  • Skiers who renewed their packages before parking fees were disclosed say they were defrauded
  • Northstar’s parent company Vail will not comment on the case

Steven Kroll considers himself more a musician than an athlete.

But it’s as he hurtles down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada on skis that the former traveling folk artist really gets in touch with his mind and body.

“It’s a wonderful self-expression,” Kroll, 79, of Crystal Bay, Nevada, said of skiing.

That’s why the new parking fee at his longtime favorite Lake Tahoe area resort struck such a bitter note with Kroll and his ski buddy Ronald Code, 77, of Crystal Bay.

It wasn’t until after paying to renew their non-refundable season passes that Kroll and Code learned that Northstar California Resort was adding fees for their preferred lot, which could increase their resort visit costs by several thousand dollars. .

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Although the men were just two of Northstar’s countless customers angered by the new fees, they were the first to do something about it.

Costume: Vail Resorts broke contract

They filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the ski area’s parent company, Vail Resorts Inc., had violated their ski pass contract and committed fraud.

“They knew they were going to change the conditions when they sold these passes, but they did not disclose it,” said Kroll, an attorney. “It was a secret until everyone paid.”

Kroll and Code filed the lawsuit Dec. 6 in US District Court in Reno.

They want the court to force Vail to provide free parking at their preferred land for the remainder of the season, more than $ 200,000 in damages each, and reimbursement of court costs.

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Kroll and Code say the damage is necessary to deter Vail, a company valued at nearly $ 10 billion, and other large corporations from using “their superior economic power to intimidate and defraud their customers.”

This is not the first case related to Kroll’s recreation in the Lake Tahoe area.

In 2008, he filed a lawsuit against Incline Village General Improvement District, arguing against restrictions that limited beach access to residents who owned property when the district purchased the land in 1968. Kroll abandoned this fight in 2014 after the Nevada Supreme Court dismissed his appeal.

Russell Carlton, spokesperson for Vail Resorts, declined to comment on Northstar’s lawsuit.

A snowboarder prepares to hit the slopes after parking in the paid parking lot at the Northstar California ski resort near Truckee on January 2, 2020.

Parking is an “essential” part of the ski experience

Kroll said the chase was not limited to parking.

For him and Code, it is about preserving access to an activity during which “the burdens of age are somehow minimized”, and the men “miraculously resume 19 years for a few brief moments, and all. is well in the world “.

As described in court documents, parking fees are central to Kroll and Code’s ski routine.

The $ 10 weekday and $ 20 weekend charge applies to the resort’s Home Run parking lot. For six-day-a-week skiers, this could add over $ 2,000 to the cost of a $ 429 senior pass.

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The terrain provides the fastest and most direct access for customer vehicles to Northstar trails via a gondola that drops off cyclists near a Ritz Carlton hotel at the top of the hill.

Kroll and Code’s ski routine, perfected over decades, is to arrive at Home Run at 8:00 a.m., park, take the gondola to the hotel where they have a coffee, and wait for the ski lifts. start running at 8:30 am, which puts them in the front of the line for those precious first turns.

“We’ve been skiing at Northstar for decades, literally decades,” said Kroll. “Parking is an essential part of the skiing experience.”

A snowboarder rides the Comstock Lift in Northstar, California.

If Kroll, Code and other skiers and snowboarders wish to avoid the charge, they will have to park in the “vast and hilly” parking lot at Castle Peak, which they say is more than two miles below Northstar Village.

From there, customers must take steel stairs in ski boots to access a shuttle bus that drops them off at the village.

Once in the village, people have to walk through the shopping center of restaurants, bars and shops to reach a gondola that goes to a mid-mountain stop where they meet the ski lift line.

They would then need to repeat the routine backwards at the end of the day.

“I like to exert my energy on skiing, not on the slopes,” said Kroll.

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Disclosure and free market capitalism

In court documents and in an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal, Kroll acknowledges that Vail Resorts has the right to charge money for premium parking at Northstar.

What he and Code argue is that the company should have disclosed the new fees before selling non-refundable passes.

Delaying the announcement of the fees until shortly before the opening of the ski season, he said Vail severed his customer contract by remaining “fraudulently silent” until months after the two men and many others have already paid for their packages. Northstar issued a press release on the change on October 1. Kroll and Code bought passes in April, the complaint says.

The scene after the storm at the Northstar California Resort on Friday March 23, 2018.

“This is how the free market works,” Kroll said. “The free market is not the free market when one of the sellers is hiding from whom he is selling an essential fact.”

Earlier notification would have allowed Kroll, Code and other customers to make informed choices about where to spend their money.

“If they had told us the rules were changing… I would have gone somewhere else,” Kroll said.

Complaint: “Shocking and unreasonable provisions”

Beyond the parking fee analysis, the complaint against Vail also targets the detailed “terms and conditions” that the company requires customers to agree to when doing business with its stations online.

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Specifically, the complaint states that the company’s disclaimers state that changes to the terms, buried in the fine print, are sufficient notice to customers and that by using the websites, customers are consenting to the conditions.

Kroll said the wording distorts the meaning of “consent” in a way that is dangerous to the public.

“Letting the meaning of this word be fuzzy in any way has ramifications far beyond the snow-capped slopes of the Sierras,” the complaint says. “It is a word that should not be treated casually in our society, but with deadly seriousness.”

Unilateral deals are a common and unfortunate reality of online business, said Elliot Harmon, director of activism for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

A new layer of snow at the Northstar California Resort on Thursday March 22, 2018.

The non-profit association defends civil liberties in the online world.

While Harmon hasn’t evaluated Vail’s specific terms, he said complaints about terms that put business convenience above consumer rights are common.

“Unfortunately, companies offering users extremely one-sided terms of service

is too common a practice, ”Harmon said. “It’s unfair for companies to offer contracts that are massively stacked against their customers, especially in situations like a click-through deal where the customer doesn’t have the ability to negotiate the terms.

While the lawsuit puts Kroll and Code in conflict with one of North America’s largest ski resort companies, it doesn’t dampen Kroll’s enthusiasm for skiing.

The lawyer and former musician, who in the 1960s toured Africa as part of a folk duo called the Wandering Minstrels, moved to the Tahoe area in 1982.

It was then that he learned to ski and became, in his own words, “pretty good” in the sport, even without great athletic talent.

Over the following decades, his attachment to skiing only grew.

“I just fell in love with it,” he said.

Benjamin Spillman covers the outdoors and the environment in northern Nevada, from ski touring in the Sierra to the latest in the Lake Tahoe ecosystem. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.


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