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Is the Mega-Pass killing the ski industry?

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#1
Very interesting article in Outside Magazine, and it goes along with a lot of the things I've been saying for a long time. I agree completely that the new passes make it impossible for beginner/new skiers; people who may want to try the sport with a day pass or two. The impetus for the big guys is to drive season pass sales, so the day ticket rates are ridiculous. This discourages beginners, which reduces the number of people coming into the sport, which reduces the resorts' customers down the road.

Your thoughts?
 
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Tvan

Angel Diva
#2
In addition to everything @ski diva said, the big passes inhibit exploration by more experienced skiing families as well. For those of us with budgets as well as limited time, the cost and logistics of the big passes mean that we will:

1. Not explore places that are not on the pass... so, not contributing to the overall ski economy outside of resorts on the pass. That leads to contraction in the industry.
2. Not be inviting friends to join us - (even with the friends and family discounts, daily ticker prices are crazy expensive)...also contributing to contraction

It feels like the two “conglomerates” (Ikon and Epic) are trying to corner the market like Barnes & Nobel and Borders tried to do in the book industry. That strategy didn’t work out well for either.

I’ve mentioned my mourning for the loss of the MAX Pass before. What I liked about that pass was that it was not all large destination properties. Having smaller regional areas on the pass meant that we got to explore and support more of the local areas and surrounding towns and businesses, which is much harder to do when yoked to a big pass by time and investment.
 
#3
It must have been this author I heard on NPR's Marketplace yesterday. It was interesting to hear the story on a national (non-ski) platform like that. In any case it's nice to see something that doesn't buy the party line that these corporations are "saving" skiing.

I liked this line:
"Meanwhile, Vail just announced an approximate $180 million commitment to “reimagine the guest experience” by upgrading lifts, on-mountain dining, and other superimportant stuff." It seems like the ski resorts keep trying to convince us they need the revenue to make upgrades (more and faster lifts!) that no one is actually clamoring for.
 

VickiK

Angel Diva
#4
I have generally welcomed the opportunity that a mega-pass brings, and am still 'pro' pass (e.g. I will be buying IKON), but there's definitely a different point of view. It's been interesting learning about it.
 
#5
Anyone that wants to buy a Crystal pass next year has to buy the Ikon. There's no more Crystal pass of any kind. There's nowhere else on it I will go next year, though. We'll go to Sun Valley as usual, using their own ski/stay deal they always have. The places that are next on my list (some of the interior BC ski areas and smaller PNW areas) aren't on any pass. Given my policy of not traveling to stand in lift lines I think the Ikon is probably a great list of spots for me to avoid.
 

diymom

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#7
It seems to me that traveling skiers and frequent skiers near multiple resorts are both well covered by the passes. Beginner skiers can take advantage of first timer packages. Many hills have well priced add on deals for getting out a few more times the same season after you take a first timers lesson.

Then there is everybody else. There are certainly work arounds to try to keep costs down. Used gear. Early pricing for season passes at smaller hills. That’s how my family started out. But for occasional skiers, I can definitely see why skiing is regarded as an expensive pastime.
 

Tvan

Angel Diva
#8
It must have been this author I heard on NPR's Marketplace yesterday. It was interesting to hear the story on a national (non-ski) platform like that. In any case it's nice to see something that doesn't buy the party line that these corporations are "saving" skiing.

I liked this line:
"Meanwhile, Vail just announced an approximate $180 million commitment to “reimagine the guest experience” by upgrading lifts, on-mountain dining, and other superimportant stuff." It seems like the ski resorts keep trying to convince us they need the revenue to make upgrades (more and faster lifts!) that no one is actually clamoring for.
Please send more people to the top of the mountain faster...
... said no skier ever.

And yes, I’m feeling pretty curmudgeonly about this topic. You kids get off my lawn.
 

mahgnillig

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#9
I think Tvan nailed it. I buy an Epic pass every year. I'd like to try other mountains in my area, but I'm not made of money and forking over $100+ just to see what somewhere else is like isn't really a sound financial decision when I can ski at no extra charge at one of the Epic resorts. Consequently, I've never been to half the mountains in Tahoe.

There is also the issue of wanting to ski with friends but not being able to due to pricing. Even with the buddy tickets the prices are pretty high. My friends who ski/board maybe a couple of times a season don't want to pay the buddy ticket price to ski with me, and I don't want to pay extra to go to a different resort to ski with them. One thing Diamond Peak used to do was to offer tickets to pass holders from other resorts at a reduced rate of $40. This was cool because I could justify $40 to ski with my friends. They have since jumped it up to $70, which is harder to stomach.
 

rhymeandreason

Certified Ski Diva
#11
In addition to everything @ski diva said, the big passes inhibit exploration by more experienced skiing families as well. For those of us with budgets as well as limited time, the cost and logistics of the big passes mean that we will:

1. Not explore places that are not on the pass... so, not contributing to the overall ski economy outside of resorts on the pass. That leads to contraction in the industry.
2. Not be inviting friends to join us - (even with the friends and family discounts, daily ticker prices are crazy expensive)...also contributing to contraction

It feels like the two “conglomerates” (Ikon and Epic) are trying to corner the market like Barnes & Nobel and Borders tried to do in the book industry. That strategy didn’t work out well for either.

I’ve mentioned my mourning for the loss of the MAX Pass before. What I liked about that pass was that it was not all large destination properties. Having smaller regional areas on the pass meant that we got to explore and support more of the local areas and surrounding towns and businesses, which is much harder to do when yoked to a big pass by time and investment.
Not exploring new places and not inviting friends is partially true for us on the Epic pass. We ski at PCMR and we are less likely to ski DV or the LCC resorts because it’s an extra cost. But that was also true before the advent of Ikon and Epic. At that time we had a PCMR pass. Very few of our friends have a season pass to any ski area, so we use the buddy passes, which puts PCMR back at less than $100/day.

The new realities of ski behavior today is pushing forward the big passes. Skier visits are flat. The ski season is getting shorter due to climate change. We have come to a time when the children/grandchildren of families who own resorts are choosing whether or not to continue the family business. The rumor was that DV was sold because Mr. Stern’s grandchildren did not want to run the resort. I have no idea how true this was.

Running a ski resort is a labor of love especially in poor snow years, and given the realities, resort owners need the certainty of guaranteed cash inflow in order to plan their year. The mega passes are definitely changing the industry, but what is the alternative? Ski resorts need skiers. Even a premier resort like Jackson Hole was, up until last year, offering half price lift tickets to ANY season pass holder in order to get people on the mountain. To me, that signifies they were pretty keen for business.

Ikon and Epic encompass 20-30 US areas each, and definitely the majority of the larger ones. There are still well over 400 ski areas in US total, so for most people, the mega passes are not a necessity. We live on the east coast most of the time, and our friends who do have season passes, have them at places like Blue Mountain, Camelback, and Hunter. They aren’t destination skiers and they don’t buy mega passes.
 

mountainwest

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#12
Ikon pass traffic in Teton Village/Jackson has also added a significant amount of time to my commute home from work in the winter, which is really frustrating. Lots of other locals are frustrated with the traffic and overcrowding as well. We have the housing crisis issue as well, also with people living in RVs/vans/tents in the forest.
 

RachelV

Administrator
Staff member
#13
Interesting counter-POV in this Colorado Sun article:
https://coloradosun.com/2019/03/12/epic-pass-ikon-pass-lines-aspen-telluride/

The summary is basically that, this year at least, crowding is mostly due to locals (and non-Ikon/Epic passholders) skiing a lot more due to the great snow. Which is not to say that there aren't a lot of downsides to the current consolidation going on, but, for now at least, conditions seem to be a much bigger contributor to crowding.

(Also, I love the Colorado Sun so much, and they're only about 6 months old, so if you're a CO local I think the $5/mo membership is a fantastic thing to support.)
 
#14
The new realities of ski behavior today is pushing forward the big passes. Skier visits are flat.
Except, to the article's point, these passes discourage new skiers (see Skidiva's original post). So they will only solve the problem of flat visits temporarily (which is probably all the CEOs care about anyway). I'm also not sure skier visits were flat at a lot of the resorts that are going on these passes.
 

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#15
Really interesting article in Bloomberg about the IKON and EPIC passes: how they came to be and the impact they're having in the ski industry. Go here.
 
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Jilly

Moderator
Staff member
#16
Wow, their chart is missing 2 of Alterra's Canadian resorts - Tremblant and Blue Mountain. Those 2 are major money makers as they are not far from major urban centers. Toronto and Montreal!!
 

Abbi

Angel Diva
#17
If I didn’t live in Ludlow Vermont in the winter I would have bought another Ikon pass this year. But Epic it was. Last year I had the Okemo midweek pass and the Ikon for traveling. But Epic allows me to travel some, and I saved hundreds of dollars over having two passes. But I do like the Ikon resorts in Utah better. Oh well!
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#18
Although the percentage of Americans who ski is relatively low, the complaints about multi-resort passes at a few major resorts was enough for NPR to do a story in early April on the issue of crowded destination ski resorts. Pretty clear that Ikon was singled out in 2018-19 because it was new given that the MCP has been around since 2012 and the Epic pass started in 2008.

Crowds Linger On The Slopes With Cheaper Ski Pass — But Locals Aren't Happy

" . . .
In fact, Ikon passholders only account for a small increase in the number of visitors at most resorts this season. The biggest reason for the crowds is this season's heavy snow, according to resort owners.

"I think the Ikon pass is somewhat unfairly blamed by some," said Middleton. [GM of Big Sky]
. . ."
 

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