Passhole or Persecuted? Snowboarder Decries Lifetime Ban From Stowe Mountain | Outdoors & Recreation | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Passhole or Persecuted? Snowboarder Decries Lifetime Ban From Stowe Mountain

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On a snowy November day in 2018, snowboarder Georges Dionne headed to Stowe Mountain Resort and ripped four or five runs.

Then the fun stopped. Several managers approached and ordered him out of a lift line. "You know you're not supposed to be here," one told Dionne, he recalled.

So Dionne, who'd had his season pass revoked the previous year for misconduct but had bought another, went home. Stowe police later called him to say he'd be arrested if he returned to the resort, per instructions from the ski area's management.

The next day, he learned of the biggest bummer. A Vail Resorts employee called to tell him he'd been blacklisted from all of its facilities — 18 ski areas in the United States, Canada and Australia owned by the mega-company that purchased Stowe in 2017. The freeze-out means that Dionne, a marketing manager for Colorado-based Never Summer snowboards, can't demo product at any mountains that are part of Vail Resorts' Epic Pass system, including Vermont's Stowe and Okemo.

The reason? According to Dionne, he used obscenities when he complained about a slow lift in 2017. Seven Days could not independently verify his account because officials at Vail Resorts and Stowe would not answer questions about Dionne's situation, citing customer privacy. Johnna Muscente, Vail Resorts' director of corporate communications, did issue a statement that said the company stands by its decision.

"The safety of our guests and employees is our No. 1 priority," the statement read. "Stowe Mountain Resort and Vail Resorts have zero tolerance for behavior that could put other guests or employees at risk. If a guest uses unsafe or threatening behavior, then we take appropriate actions, which could include revocation of lift privileges or access to our resorts, in order to ensure the safety of other guests and our employees."

Dionne insists he was "not in any way intimidating or abusive." He feels singled out for a punishment too severe for the offense. People have thrown fireworks from the gondolas at Stowe, berated employees and done worse, he insisted. "The ban for life," he said, "I'm not sure if there's anybody else."

The way ski areas police problem behavior can vary significantly from mountain to mountain. Stowe and Vail Resorts post a lengthy responsibility code on their websites advising customers to stay in control, keep off closed trails and respect employees' right to revoke passes when people demonstrate "reckless or inappropriate behavior."

Other resorts have codes, too, but enforcement varies. Once a sanction is meted out, it doesn't necessarily come with an appeal process. The systems allow for personal bias to drive unfair outcomes, Dionne claims: "For some reason, the people at Stowe have it in for me, and the people at Vail don't seem to care."

Dionne believes that Vail Resorts' rules are cookie cutter and unforgiving. The company's purchase of Stowe is leading to "homogenization" and rigidity, he said. "It's a resort," Dionne complained, and yet, "you can't throw a snowball."

Dionne's version of his story, which he's shared extensively in Facebook rants, has generated many responses, including some slamming Vail Resorts. Sympathetic comments include "Vail sucks!" and "#freeGeorges."

Others have shown no sympathy and urged him to "let it go."

Still, both Dionne's supporters and detractors seem taken aback by the concept of a multi-resort pass leading to a multi-resort ban. It's one thing to be booted from the slopes of a Vermont area and another to be banned from mountains around the world, too.

"I can't fathom what Mr. Dionne might have done," said JJ Toland, director of communications at Jay Peak Resort.

Staff there can't recall telling anyone that they were "such a king shit that we never want to see your face on this hill again," Toland continued. "That has never happened."

Occasionally, ski patrollers take away a day ticket or temporarily suspend a pass if a customer is skiing or riding recklessly and ignores requests to stop, he added. Other infractions such as pass fraud — in which a season-pass holder allows someone else to use their pass — also might generate a suspension, because it's theft.

But such time-outs are rare, partly because many pass holders are locals or second-home owners who "don't want to be in the position of being tagged as somebody wanting to steal from their home hill," Toland said. "It's a really respectful culture."

At ski cooperative Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, it's also uncommon for anybody's pass or ticket to be yanked even temporarily, and it's unheard of for management to issue a lifetime ban.

"I guess the only thing we could say is that if you really annoy us, we won't let you drink in the bar," said Eric Friedman, the slope's marketing director.

When a pass is pulled, it's a temporary sanction, and "it's usually for skiing a closed trail or something like that," Friedman added. "But that's the extent of it, and I've never heard of any example that ever went beyond that in my recollection at Mad River."

Next door, at locally owned Sugarbush Resort, management has on rare occasions told someone not to come back. "If we caught someone stealing skis, we would certainly not welcome them back. And we've had that happen," owner Win Smith said.

He can also recall one or two instances in which the resort issued no-trespass orders. "From my memory, it's usually happened when somebody has been threatening," he said. "It's been a real concern that there could be violence."

And while Sugarbush tickets can be purchased under two multi-resort packages, the Mountain Collective and the Ikon Pass, the mountain is still independently owned. Sanctions there do not carry over to other resorts in the system, Smith said.

Meanwhile, Dionne's exile from the entire Epic Pass world stands. Dressed in camouflage-print pants and a flannel hoodie, 52-year-old Dionne looked younger than his age during an interview at Black Cap Coffee & Beer in the town of Stowe. There was no visible gray in his black hair, and Dionne recounted his travails in an alternately comic and outraged tone.

He grew up mostly in Manchester, N.H. After graduating from high school, Dionne moved furniture, learned plumbing and tried various other jobs. He dabbled with standup comedy in Los Angeles and worked as an extra on a few TV shows before concluding, "Mostly you just walk around making no money."

He made his way back east and tried snowboarding at Gunstock Mountain Resort in New Hampshire. Dionne immediately knew he loved the sport and still remembers the date of that first outing: February 19, 2000. "I was in," he said.

He started snowboarding at Stowe and acquired his house on Moscow Road around 2005. He worked as an instructor at the hill part time off and on for several years until 2012. He also picked up the gig as a sales rep for Never Summer, traveling around the East and Midwest. All along, Dionne worked as a plumber on the side.

His trouble at Stowe, he said, stems from a windy March day in 2017. Dionne was riding up the high-speed quad.

Except that the chairlift wasn't so high-speed that day, as he tells it. The cold aggravated old spots of frostbite on his face, and a ride that is supposed to take seven minutes took 15. At the top, he waved the lift attendant out of the glass-enclosed booth.

"He comes out. I'm frozen solid, and I say, 'Can you tell me why this lift is moving so fucking slow?'" Dionne recalled.

Things got worse. A second employee, this one a lift mechanic, came out, and Dionne dropped another f-bomb. He intended to apologize during a meeting with Stowe managers a few days later, but it didn't go well. They had already made up their minds, according to Dionne.

Further, there had been a 2014 incident at Stowe. Dionne had almost punched a skier who, he said, had deliberately skied into him after a dispute in the lift line. And, Dionne admits, when he worked as a part-time snowboard instructor at the mountain, he was known as an "irritant."

The upshot? The epic blackballing.

"If I was a multimillionaire homeowner up at the Spruce Club, there's no way upper management would treat me this way," Dionne sniffed.

Initially, Dionne accepted that Stowe was off-limits after the 2017 debacle. During the winter of 2017-18, he rode at other mountains. And in his sales role for Never Summer, he held demos at various other resorts.

But he got an itch to board at the Vail Resorts-owned ski area Perisher in Australia, where he had worked briefly a decade ago. So last summer, Dionne purchased an Australian version of the Epic Pass and added an option that would allow him to ski Vail's American resorts. After he paid, clerks at Vail Resorts and at Stowe told him there was nothing blocking the pass should he want to use it at the Vermont mountain, according to Dionne. And when he checked in with town police, he learned that the no-trespass order against him had expired.

But when he showed up, he got the boot.

So far, he hasn't gotten a refund for that Epic Pass, another sore point. Worst of all for Dionne? He can't snowboard at the ski area that brought him to Stowe in the first place.

"This is my home," he said dejectedly. "I love that hill."

Correction, January 18, 2019: An earlier version of this story misstated Georges Dionne's title. He is a marketing manager at Never Summer snowboards.

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