Vermilion Valley Resort Papers
After a horrible trip to resupply at Vermilion Valley Resort during September of 2012 I wrote the outline of a scathing review condemning VVR as resupply spot for John Muir and Pacific Crest Trail hikers.
This review caused a response from VVR, which I am printing below.
The 2012 VVR Review.
VVR Response to Review:
My name is Vickie and I am Jim's wife. I asked him if I could address some of your vitriol and my responses are below each of your paragraphs.(in italics)
On Wed, Oct 3, 2012 at 5:04 PM, Hiker 1 at TahoetoWhitney <Hiker1@tahoetowhitney.com> wrote:
Hello, I'm Alex Wierbinski, I run the Tahoe to Whitney websites, and I hiked into your resort this Summer during my 5th JMT trip to evaluate your backpacker services for review on the Tahoe to Whitney trail guide and Backpacker's Forum.
I came to VVR after hiking the extra distance caused by the low level of Lake Thomas Edison to pick up my resupply and hopefully rest, clean up, and eat massive amounts of food during a planned two nights stay at VVR. When I come to VVR I come to spend money.
Rather than rest and recover during my first half day at VVR I was constantly abused and insulted by a rude woman named "Olive," and vexed by broken washing machines, dryers, and cold water showers. We're really sorry that you ran into this problem. We have four washing machines at the resort and four dryers. You mention plural but we have no record of multiple washing machines and dryers being broken although it is not uncommon with the use that our machines receive that one might be out of service temporarily. It is an unfortunate reality at a remote resort like ours that repairs sometimes involve a 3 hour trip to Fresno, some turn-around time, and a 3-hour trip back up the hill. As remote as we are, we install, maintain, and service as much as our own equipment as possible, in addition to providing the power for said machines, and occasionally it taxes our small staff especially during the busy season. Early this season we installed a 2nd new water heater in addition to the one that services the hiker showers but had some problems with it initially due to altitude. Again, fixing this involved at least a 6-hour drive in addition to the time it took to replace parts. It sounds like you hit us on the worst possible day and for this we sincerely apologize. We understand the value of a hot shower and clean clothes - and hope that your money was cheerfully refunded.
This first day at VVR was not relaxing at all. After Olive's abuses I chose not to eat dinner due to my anger at being insulted, which was compounded by the failure of all backpacker services. Without going into the myriad of challenges that you obviously cannot appreciate associated with attracting and keeping staff in a remote lodge that caters to often demanding and unappreciative hikers, we DO apologize for the reception you received from Olive. She will not be back. Olive was four years at the VVR and had been a valued employee and well-liked by many customers. We are sorry that your experience with her was not a positive one. Did you at any point ask to speak to a manager?
Not eating was personally counter-productive, as I depend on food at the resupply spots to "fill up my battery." Yet I was so angry at being insulted and abused, and by the defective services and staff that I felt better not spending my money at VVR than eating the food I needed. Thanks for that. It must take a lot of work to maintain such an indifferent and rude staff. We regret that your interaction with Olive made such an impression that you then denied yourself the food and drink that you needed to 'fill up your battery'. We have not have that reaction from the vast majority of hikers who visited the VVR, instead, we heard quite the contrary - that the VVR is, as we intend, a hiker-friendly resort.
This failure of your staff, of the washer and the dryer was followed up by the failure of the hot water. Your staff's response: "Oh, I guess the hot water heater is out again." Yes, that was the appropriate response from the staff member as I have explained above. Not only was there this issue with the new water heater, but we have only the two showers for the multitude of hikers until the new shower building is completed. Hot water is at a premium all summer long and it is something we've been long aware of and are addressing. Jim and I understand the demands on our current hiker showers and that is why we have invested over $100,000 into a new shower building which will be online next year and was built primarily for our hiker clientele. Again, without going into the incredible challenge of running a remote, off-the-grid resort in alternate years of drought and 160% of snowpack, the constant turnover of seasonal staff, and the sometimes incredibly naive expectations of the hiking community we have always strived to satisfy our customers' needs. Again, we sincerely apologize that you seem to have landed here on the worst possible combination of events.
Earlier research during High Sierra hiking trips indicated problems at VVR. During my trips through the North Sierra earlier in the Summer of 2012 hiking season I met a long line of PCT hikers who had unpleasant experiences when they passed through VVR. I found out during my 2012 visit to VVR that these were not aberrations, but indicative of the consistency of poor quality of staff and services at VVR. We beg to differ on this opinion. Our experience has been that hikers who come into the VVR are pleased with our friendly services, our excellent food, our obvious attention to the needs of hikers, and every other aspect of the resort. Your experience does not in any way validate the use of the term "consistency" in reference to poor service. We pride ourselves on the good service we offer to hikers and we receive constant accolades to that effect.
For this reason VVR has lost it's tie for Top Resupply Spot between Tahoe and Whitney to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station and Resort, and has been downgraded from a "don't miss it" resupply stop to Not Recommended as a resupply spot or rest stop for Pacific Crest or John Muir Trail hikers. This seems rather harsh and an overreaction to an abberation, not the norm. Your reaction to your visit here seems out of proportion to your experience.
Your location will still be featured on the Tahoe to Whitney Trail Guide and Forum, but it will not be pleasant for you... This sounds rather ominous - and we are baffled as to why we are on the receiving end of your vitriol.
Hikers are much better off staying on the trail and using Muir Ranch and Reds Meadow as resupply spots, and completely bypassing the rude treatment and poor services at VVR. Again, we regret that you have come to this conclusion and it seems an overreaction to your visit here.
It is my analysis that VVR has transitioned from a resupply advantage for hikers into a place that takes advantage of hikers and must be avoided. Again, harsh words and a huge leap from your experience as described. The VVR is known far and wide as a fair deal, a friendly place, and a reliable resupply stop.
During my 3 visits during the last 6 years it has appeared that actually providing backpacker hospitality has not been high on your priority list. 2006 trip: you were there but not interacting with backpackers. During my 2009 visit you were more involved in entertaining a group of your horse packer friends who rode over from the East Flank of the Sierra than the backpackers, who you virtually ignored, and during my 2012 visit you were physically absent. Providing backpacker hospitality has been high on our agenda since the beginning of our stay here. But backpacker hospitality does not always involve personal interaction with the owner - it is more likely to involve the improvements to the infrastructure, the tailoring of the restaurant and store offerings to hiker needs and tastes, and providing the other services that hiker *and other guests* need and want. Jim cannot and will not always be present to entertain you. He manages a complicated and demanding facility that provides services to fishermen, campers, family reunions, weddings, clinics, hikers, riders and more. You seem personally offended that Jim did not spend time with you and we apologize, but he has a lot on his plate. Backpackers are high on the priority list but only a portion of our clientele.
My previous two visits during the Butch and Peg era were top quality backpacker resupply experiences. What made them such was Butch and Peg's desire to provide the best services and ability to make it happen even as things went wrong. That abiding dedication to service was what made the VVR experience special. That's completely gone now. Oh, and Butch and Peg never had a problem telling a big-headed rude backpacker to blow it out his ass. They just never told all the backpackers to blow it out, as your staff is so ready to do. It's easy to glorify the good ole' days and without diminishing anything that Butch and Peggy provided, there have been VAST improvements to the VVR since those days - in terms of infrastructure, cleanliness, restaurant and store offerings, and lodging - to say nothing of the incredible increase in numbers of hikers that we service in comparison to Butch and Peggy. This year record numbers of PCT and JMT hikers hit the trail and visited the VVR despite the low water and the early removal of the water taxi services.
The captain of the ship is responsible for his crew's attitude and actions, even if the captain can't stay on the bridge... You are incredibly arrogant to make this statement or accusation - whatever it is. You know nothing about the hours that Jim puts in every day of the season, even when he is away from the resort. We strive to instill good customer service skills into each and every employee but ultimately, one cannot control human behavior. And again, we apologize if you were not treated with respect by Olive and she won't be back. You don't mention any other employee, so are you maligning our entire staff based on this one interaction?
Maybe you could get away with being stand-offish while you still had quality staff that could make backpackers feel welcome and well-serviced without the active presence of a "captain" during 2006 and 2009, but that is not the case this year. Your staff is of low quality and character, and must be replaced if you want to survive as a viable business. While we appreciate your opinion, we aren't sure that you are qualified to make this statement. Again, you seem to expect a personal welcome from Jim and again, you have maligned our entire staff but only mentioned Olive. Did someone else treat you with less than respect or make you feel unwelcome? If so, we'll remedy that. But these blanket statements about a staff of 15-20 people seem rash and unfounded.
VVR has dropped from the top of the Resupply Spots to the very worse resupply spot along all the High Sierra Trails and is no longer recommended as a resupply and rest stop along the PCT and JMT by Tahoe to Whitney. We regret that you feel this way but are confident that we remain a trusted, friendly and reliable resupply for both the PCT and JMT.
A global array of backpackers consults with me and the sites every year about their upcoming PCT/JMT hiking plans. I am sorry to say I no longer urge them to stop at VVR for the unique experiences there, but rather to avoid it at all costs. We're so sorry you feel this way but we have a strong international following and will strive to maintain our good reputation.
I brought 3 backpackers with me into VVR this year as I hiked down the JMT who I had convinced along the trail to stop in, feed up, and relax with a beer or two. I am really sorry I misrepresented the situation to these 3 hikers, and brought in a few more hundred dollars that the quality of your services did not merit. That will not happen again, either through the Trail Guide, the Forum, or by words that come out of my mouth.
When I think of VVR now it makes me swear. You have taken a place I loved and ruined it. We're so sorry you feel this way.
VVR has serious staff and services problems that must be ended before I can again recommend it to long distance backpackers on my trail guide, in my backpacking forum, or during my hikes along the High Sierra Trails. Thank you for your input and please, feel free to refer any potential employees with good customer service skills, available for seasonal work, and accustomed to living in a remote, off-the-grid facilty to us for next year.
The poor services and bad attitudes at VVR pissed off a lot of backpackers this Summer that I met on the trail, but you made a real mistake when your staff shit on the reviewer for Tahoe to Whitney. Whoa! Again - you really seem out of line here. We know who was at the resort that weekend and we had there staff whom we cannot imagine insulting you, being rude, or not accommodating your hiker needs. Our two front desk staff that weekend, Karen and Melissa, are both PCT hikers themselves and we cannot imagine that they treated you with anything other than respect and friendliness. Again, if you are broad-brushing our staff based on your interactions with Olive, you are doing our business and staff a huge disservice.
Better luck with your next business venture, Again, how amazingly arrogant on your part to assume that the VVR is not and will not thrive. We do a great job at what we do, we take pride in it and we will continue to offer our same friendly service we've built over the years.
Dear Ms Clement,
I stick by my review in all aspects. Let me clarify a few points.
1> The staff mentioned constant problems with the washing machine during the hiking season. It was clear that the safety switch on the machine lid had been failing all season without remedy. Nice new machines sat in the "Hotel?," but were apparently "off-limits" for hiker use.
2> Low quality staff is not a problem at Echo Lake, Lake Alpine, Tuolumne Meadows, Reds Meadow or Muir Ranch. I strongly suggest you get this critical problem under control.
3> A manager? I tried and tried to get help with the machines and no one gave a damn. Let me rephrase that: no one gave a damn while 3 backpackers faced evening chill without their clothes... after repeated attempts to get the problem addressed Kevin the Chef came out and said "Use the kitchen machines." This seemed to piss off the black cook, even after I explained the situation.
4> Maybe someone would have explained how to get a hot shower instead of blowing me off for wanting a hot shower. I can bathe in cold water at any time on the trail. It appears that you expect I'm supposed to expect broken machines and cold showers at VVR. You sound like your employees...which I suspect is the root of the problem: improper leadership style and goals. That's sad.
5> Yes life is hard, and I'm sorry you are not up to the challenges.
6> You act like I am bullshitting you about hiker opinion I encountered during over a month on the trail earlier in the season. I am not. Complaints were thick among this year's PCT hikers. I'm sorry you are not aware of what people are actually saying about VVR on the trail. I am, and I am reflecting this build-up of negitive experiences at VVR.
7> The food was excellent, and always has been. The Chef was one of the few people who seemed to give a damn. The problem was it was distasteful to eat in the same room with those rude people. I also must mention discrimination. Olive and the other rude waitress fawned over the good-looking young hikers while being offensive at the same time. That's quite a skill. Yet I noticed a significant decline in respect if these people did not find the customer "attractive." I found this age discrimination quite disgusting and indicative of the low quality of these people.
8> "Our obivious attention to the needs of hikers." How can you even say that? You were not even there.
9> Yes. VVR completely failed this review. I did not rest or resupply successfully. In fact I wasted my time and money there and the tens of thousands of hikers who rely on TW for trail guide information are being fully informed of not just the failure of services but of the failure of respect for backpacker culture. Your staff left me cold and wet. It took major efforts to get minor things done. FAILURE.
10> The old rep created by Butch and Peg has worn off. You can't hide behind the past but must sink or swim on what you have created. Your new rep is as an uncaring place that charges lots of money. I.E., you take advantage of backpackers and are no longer an advantage to backpackers.
11> Oh sorry, I forgot that you are the Hilton Hotel and don't have the time to host the facilities you provide. Maybe you can't see the difference, but when problems broke out Peg would take charge, turn to the hiker and say, "We'll take care of you," and then take care of the hiker. Those days of connecting the facilities to the hiker through caring management are over. This seems to be the nut of the problem as I identified earlier, and you are on the side of "absent" management. Good plan. I hope your other "clientel" can make up for your loss of hiker business, for your approach with backpackers is doomed to failure.
12> I disagree. Services have declined. Yes, I am one of those dedicated fans of VVR that hiked in despite the low water. I will never do that again, nor will the thousands of hikers who read my guide and forum. You are living in a bubble. Here's the test: I came to spend money and support VVR, and it took less than ten minutes to completely change my mindset. Impressive.
13> VVR operates like a ship without a captain. Maybe you should focus your business plan to include personal hospitality to connect all of this "work" with a positive outcome for individual hikers. Oh, sorry. I forgot you were busy.
14> You are correct, I expect hikers to be treated like friends. Your responses indicate that is not going to happen during your watch at VVR. You apparently cannot see this was the source of the success of the old VVR. If you don't have those values you can't instill them in staff.
15> I just hiked the whole Sierra after the "over-it" date. I.E., the staffs of all the resupply spots were "over it," and ready for the end of the season. Yet your staff were the only ones down the whole trail who were personally offensive. As I said before, it is not me, but your staff who "are doing our business and staff a huge disservice." I am just reporting on the specifics of the downfall of VVR. You are part of a history, you just cannot see the part you are playing, and where the part you are playing has put VVR. It's the "vision thing."
16> This type of business will not survive without personally connecting the facilities with the hiker, which is not part of your business approach. You seen to think absent, disconnected management will suffice. It will not, and I again predict your approach will fail.
You do not do a great job at what you do, whatever that is, for it is not providing top quality service to backpackers. Let's see if your other "clientel" can make up for what I predict is going to be a significant and continuing drop in hiker business. I would be very surprised if your hiker business is not in a year to year declining death spiral.
Most hikers have personal experiences along the trails. I have public experiences on the trail that are written up, presented, and promoted to the backpacking public. I cut through the claims and expose the reality to a broad hiking-backpacking public, and your words do not match the experiences and services I received at VVR.
That was my problem when i arrived at VVR tired and hungry. It's real easy for staff to kick around a tired, hungry old backpacker.
Now it is your problem. I even removed the link to your site from my sites. Not Recommended.
I am not interested in fighting over the past. I had rated VVR as the top resupply spot between Tahoe and Whitney, a "must stop" experience. You maintained top ratings despite the decline of hospitality at the change of ownership. Now you are the worse resupply spot between Tahoe and Whitney, and not recommended as a stop along the trails at all. Each of these ratings was deserved when assigned.
As a poor backpacking bum who works really hard to stay on the trail and spend my money at places like VVR I feel completely ripped-off. Your response indicates that you are entrenched in the style of management that made this possible, and are not going to directly confront the heart of the issue, which appears to be a mismatch between the personality and goal of the ownership with the requirements of the business.
Oh, and to be honest you cannot "offer the same friendly service" when you are not there...
I consider the loss of VVR as a top notch rest and resupply spot along the PCT and JMT a great loss to the backpacking community, and I hold you responsible for this loss.
You need new glasses and a clean mirror. Your old glasses are rose-colored and your mirror is quite distorted. The "vision thing." Maybe you should get off your high horse and come down to the dirt and personally connect up your resources to backpackers.
Maybe dirty wet clothes and a cold shower will wake you up.
If this pattern of management continues I expect to see VVR on the market in the next few years and I hope someone can bring it back to the best resupply & rest stop for Sierra backpackers.
I see no need to continue this fruitless communication. You are set in your ways, and my recent treatment at VVR has removed you from my personal and public High Sierra resupply list. Neither of these positions appear likely to change.
Though I am repelled by your attitude and astonished by your defense of horrid staff behavior and insufficient facilities I will likely re-review VVR out of duty to my readers. Based on my treatment alone I would never set foot there again but I have an obligation to the hiking public that I take seriously.
Maybe you too should take the hiking public seriously.
Ms Clement Responds:
On 10/4/2012 12:32 PM, Vickie Clement wrote: >
Dear Mr Wierbinski,
> We're so sorry that you feel this way about the VVR. We hope that your future hiking trips are wonderful and rosy. We will keep these emails and post them when asked about your method of communication with a respected resupply facility. We regret that we will not see you at the VVR and we hope that your influence on future hikers is all that you wish it to be. We stand by our business and will continue to offer the same friendly and reliable service to hikers, riders, camper, fishermen and women, day trippers, and more.
> All the best to you,
Thank you Vickie,
Few of my trips work out perfectly. This last trip I was sick and unable to eat during 40 of the hardest miles along the whole PCT. The draining effects of this experience made the food at each resupply spot especially important to attempt to recover from a dramatic loss in weight. But the trail goes on and so do I.
I appreciate your feigned public spirit and in the true spirit of openess I have already published these communications: The Vermilion Valley Resort Papers. This page is well meta-tagged and indexed and available to the general public through the web. I stand behind my review and am promoting it as widely as possible on the web.
I am afraid you have mixed up the important issue here: The problem is not communication with a respected supply facility, but the treatment of backpackers by Vermilion Valley. You have put the cart before the horse.
I am having an effect on the movements of hikers on the long trails. One owner of a PCT resupply spot claims I doubled their backpacker business. Potential JMT hikers from around the world are in constant contact, and I am just getting started on documenting the Southern Sierra for the guide and forum. I expect my effect to dramatically expand as the guide and forum expand, and I am very proud of my "foot by foot" method of reporting on the trails.
As you previously stated, you don't plan on meeting hikers personally, so your statement about "not seeing me" at VVR is clearly insincere.
But that's OK.
June 15 2013
A google groups discussion has broken out concerning my 2012 review, substantially supporting my review of VVR.
You must read my review carefully. I have hiked through VVR 5 times between 1998 and 2012. I have had or seen almost every experience described on the google group, both good and bad.
Since Jim took over the "scale of experiences" has steadily moved from "good" towards "bad" for larger and larger numbers of hikers. This does not "nullify" good hiker experiences, but counterbalances them.
I had such a bad experience in 2012 that it negatively affected my whole trip. It changed my review of VVR from the BEST resupply spot on the trail between Tahoe and Whitney to the Worse resupply spot.
I very rarely have any trips where I describe experiences as "bad." But in this case VVR reached that threshold, and believe me, I can take a lot of abuse. They had to work hard to get this rating.
I have long been a great advocate of VVR.
VVR was a cherished stop along my hikes South. I am one of the few who walk in, generally swinging into Fish Creek South of Reds to visit Iva Bell hot springs on my way over Goodale Pass to VVR.
At Lone Indian Lake you can cut over to the JMT (you can see it) to hike down to the ferry or hike into VVR via Goodale Pass. I walk in over Goodale.
When I get trail guide construction down to there I will depict this route as an alternative to the JMT, for those of you who are looking for new ways to skin that cat.
VVR being jackasses has really screwed up my route options through that part of the trail.
My Iva Bell-Goodale Pass route adds around 20 miles to my trip along with a few thousand extra feet of elevation.
Taking that route option made VVR necessary as well as fun.
Another thought. I was suffering from what I thought were "stomach problems" when I got into VVR. I was 15 pounds under my minimum weight, weak, and suffering greatly. I was having real problems maintaining my minimum 15 miles per day, and it was virtually impossible to squeeze out a mere 17 mile day.
VVR did me justice by kicking me repeatedly when I was down. I was way down, and they abused me. That really really bugs me.
So for those of you who were helped by VVR when you were injured, well, they kicked me when I was down.
At Rae Lakes I had drained all the energy out of my body, and had to do a self-rescue out via Roads End. I was a wreck. I exited the trail at 140 lbs, thirty pounds below my standard operating weight.
It turns out I did 340 miles in 23 days while experiencing heart failure. I was hiking with 13% heart output, considered Heart Failure. Stomach problems were because my heart was not pumping enough blood to live, walk, and eat.
I did "live & walk" until I got down to "live," then was forced to exit under great duress.
Doctors have repeatedly commented, "I don't know how you are alive."
"Because idiots are too stupid to die."
I drug my ass into VVR looking and feeling like death and they repeatedly insulted and abused me while offering pathetic services.
This fact continues to piss me off to this day, and I once loved that place.
Oh, and the food was great, as usual, when I had enough energy to put up with the insults while I ate.