So the cat is out of the bag. After weeks of speculation, fueled by social media messages like the tweet below…..
….Vail made its big announcement: Next year’s Epic pass will be 20% off across the board.
As someone to whom corporate strategies and financial statements are a complete mystery, I can’t even begin to speculate why Vail decided to do this. They’re a really big company with loads of financial experts, attorneys, and marketing professionals who I’m sure have analyzed the heck out of this, so I’m not even going to go there.
What’s of greater interest to me — and probably to you, too — is the affect that this will have on us, as skiers. We’re the ones who end up choosing which pass to buy, and we’re the ones who will bear the consequences of the price cut, whatever they may be.
So here’s the skinny
There are a variety of Epic Passes available, but in a nutshell, here’s what we’re looking at for the ’21/’22 season:
- Epic Pass: Unlimited access with no blackout dates. Usually $979, now $783
- Epic Local Pass: Access to a number of resorts, without holiday access. Usually $729, now $583
- Epic Day Pass: This new option, coming in May, lets you ski 1-7 days at 29 resorts. A four-day pass now costs $323, which is $81 less than last year. A one-day pass now costs $87, down $22 from last year.
You also get 20% off food and nonalcoholic beverages, 20% off group ski and ride lessons, 20% off gear rentals, and 20% off select on-mountain activities.
There’s no denying this is a killer deal. With day rates in the nosebleed territory of $200 at some resorts, getting an Epic pass is pretty much a no-brainer, if you plan to ski at any Vail resort.
Nonetheless, I have a few questions.
• What will this do to the on-mountain experience? This year we saw crazy lift lines (for more on the causes of those, go here). But if these passes are as wildly popular as I think they’re going to be, will we see more of the mega-lift lines that all of us hate? Will overcrowding become the norm? And will this be exacerbated by the end of reservations and capacity limitations?
• Does this mean other prices will go up, or will services be reduced? If Vail is dropping the price on its season pass products, does this mean they’ll increase prices on other things to make up the shortfall? Will they cut back on things like snowmaking? Will they lay off employees? Will they start charging for parking at their resorts in the East, or raise the rates for parking in the West? Or are they just hoping that volume will make up the difference?
• Will this help bring more people into the sport? Making skiing affordable is hardly a bad thing. For years, people have been saying that the number of skiers is going down; that the high cost of skiing keeps people away, and that not enough new skiers are coming in to replace older skiers, who may be aging out. Will the cheaper lift passes change that? Will we get an influx of newer, younger skiers and riders? Will we see more families?
• What will be the impact on local ski towns? I have no idea what Vail’s long game is, though I’m sure they have one — whether it’s driving everyone else out of business or making sure their resorts are never empty. Maybe it’s getting people from the East to travel to their Western resorts so they’ll spend money there. Whatever the case, it’s certainly not bad for ski communities. Take Vermont, for example. Skiing is a major part of the state’s economy, so we welcome the money that skiers bring in. Will the lower prices have a ripple effect on the towns that surround Vail ski areas? Will it bring in jobs?
• What does this mean for non-EPIC resorts? Competing with Vail’s low prices isn’t going to be easy, especially for the smaller, independent resorts. Yes, Epic is not the only game in town, and not everyone wants the Vail experience. But will it drive enough skiers away from the little guys that they won’t be able to survive? Sure, there are a variety of other passes available. Take, for example, the Indy Pass, which is good for 2 days at each of 63 resorts throughout North America. In ’20/’21, this cost $199 with no blackouts. But is that enough? Will even more small ski resorts struggle and maybe even go under?
What do you think?