Aspen Times Weekly: A Collective Passion
AS THE SNOW FLIES…
Here is a look at each of The Mountain Collective members based on their distance, as the snow flies, from the front door of Aspen’s Hotel Jerome, as well as the ranking of each resort by SKI Magazine.
TAOS SKI VALLEY, New Mexico
SKI Magazine Ranking #20
The lynchpin in the “new” Taos is the Kachina Peak Lift that debuted last year and opened up the K Chutes and other Highland’s Bowl-like terrain. El Niño is supposed to hit the southern mountains hard and this could be the year for New Mexico’s finest mountain. Scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day.
SKI Magazine Ranking: Alta #29, Snowbird#17
They measure the snow in feet instead of inches in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Stay high in the sky in the iconic Snowbird Resort or live like it’s 1960 in the Alta Rustler Lodge. Either way, powder is the draw. The 78-year history of Alta and the unique alpine ski experience of Snowbird reflect the fierce, independent spirit of the Collective.
JACKSON HOLE, WYoming
SKI Magazine Ranking #5
Both the Super Bowl and Jackson Hole are celebrating their golden 50th anniversaries this year and there may be no better place to watch the big game than in Jackson over the first weekend in February. A Four Seasons Hotel at the base is within a short walk to the most famous gondola in American skiing.
SUN VALLEY, idaho
SKI Magazine Ranking #2
If there were a North American resort that rivals Aspen as home base for the Mind-Body-Spirit utopia it would be Sun Valley. Culture, cuisine and great skiing are hallmarks. The groomers do more with less than any place in the world. The historic Sun Valley Lodge has just undergone a major renovation and soon they will have a Limelight Hotel. If you love Aspen, you’ll feel the same about Sun Valley. This is the 80th anniversary of Sun Valley skiing.
MAMMOTH Mountain, california
SKI Magazine Ranking #24
After a couple of seasons ripped away by drought this could be the year for Mammoth, which opened on Nov. 5 as the first California resort to do so. The famed Cornice at 11,000-feet-plus is the signature slope of the massive resort. Stay away on weekends and use your Collective Pass mid-week to get the most vertical.
SQUAW VALLEY/ALPINE MEADOWS, california
SKI Magazine Ranking #26
The views from the top of Squaw looking over Lake Tahoe are Olympian and worth the trip. Like Mammoth, the area has been hit hard by the drought but there are signs that the pattern is changing. Like this week. The pet friendly Plumpjack Squaw Valley Inn is a refuge in the Sierras.
BANFF/LAKE LOUISE /SUNSHINE VILLAGE, canada
SKI Magazine Ranking: LL #19, SV #12
Beauty and a bargain. Today the Canadian dollar will cost you just three U.S. quarters and that makes a ski trip to the Great White North an unbeatable bargain this winter. But even at full price, the three ski resorts and the two mountain towns in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage site make this one of the great ski destinations on earth.
WHISTLER/ BLACKCOMB, canada
SKI Magazine Ranking #1
What can you say? The biggest and, in the opinion of SKI readers, the best. Over 8,000 acres of skiing with conditions that change with each elevation. One of the most memorable experiences in North American skiing is riding the Peak 2 Peak gondola for over a mile and half across a 1,430-foot ravine from one amazing ski mountain to another.
And the food is not bad either.
SKI Magazine Ranking #2 (In the East)
The only Eastern U.S. member of the Mountain Collective, Stowe, the gem of Vermont skiing, joined this year. Stowe Mountain Resort is the premier winter destination in the East. New restaurants, retail shops, a slopeside lodge and spa, and the Performing Arts Center all complement a storied town that’s quintessential New England.
Some 6,600-feet high in the Snowy Mountains is the peak of the Thredbo Resort. The home mountain for a number of Aspen’s Aussie visitors, it boasts a number of terrain parks and bills itself as the “#1 Family snow resort in all of Oz.”
“Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley is delighted to join the Mountain Collective as the first and only European resort,” says Mathieu Dechavanne, CEO of Compagnie du Mont-Blanc Chamonix. No place else in the world can a skier experience a 360-degree view of all of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps except in Chamomix. A mecca for skiers and snowboarders with its challenging “les Grands-Montets” and “Vallee Blanche” areas, the ski season traditionally stretches into early May.
Valle Nevado, Chile
Valle Nevado offers access to the largest amount of terrain and the most modern lift system in all of South America. Just 90 minutes from the Santiago International Airport, Valle Nevado sits 10,000 feet high in the spectacular Andes Mountains, the second-highest peaks in the world. An interconnect ticket to neighboring resorts opens a staggering 7,000 total acres of varied terrain. Mi sueno.
Hakuba Valley, japan
Eleven resorts in the Japanese Alps are just part of the attraction. How about a 240-year-old Sake Brewery, or a traditional hot soak in an ancient wooden tub for après? And then there are the snow monkeys. The impetus for a ski trip to Japan and Nagano may be the best reason to buy a Mountain Collective Pass.
It began to snow this month and in a ski town that means our collective attention naturally turns to turns. While I believe in monogamy and love our four mountains here in Aspen, a little variety is the spice of life.
Especially during an endless winter.
Fortunately, for those who have wanderlust, there is an option. The Mountain Collective ski pass affords skiers the opportunity to tryst at 14 global ski resorts, including Aspen, on a single ticket.
There are a plethora of season ski passes out there and just about nobody buys a single-day ticket anymore. In recent years the trend has been toward “packages,” where a number of days or a number of family members or a number of resorts are bundled together to provide multi-day skiing at deep discounts.
Perhaps the most popular of these is Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass, which delivers skiing on the Vail Resorts properties (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood) for $806 if you purchase it by Nov. 22. It is estimated that more than 400,000 people will buy some sort of ski pass package from Vail Resorts this year.
That’s all well and good if you are a Vail guy.
But personally I like to be a little more exotic in my travels. While Vail Resorts provides a great “cruise ship” experience, I prefer a yacht. And that is more akin to what the resorts in The Mountain Collective offer. A bit more bespoke. A bit further afield.
The Mountain Collective represents the four corners of the ski world: North, South, East and West. If you are so inclined you can experience premier skiing at 14 resorts in six countries, on five continents, in six states, two provinces and a prefecture — that’s 400 lifts serving 48,800 skiable acres available for your downhill pleasure. Map on following page; story continued page 24 THE SKINNY
Sold online, The Mountain Collective pass (www.MountainCollective.com.) is currently available for $409. It includes two free days of skiing at its 11 member resorts, as well as two days at three affiliate members. That totals 28 days of skiing, which works out to $14.60 per day. Mountain Collective pass holders also get a 50 percent discount on single-day lift tickets in addition to their two free days at each of the member resorts. And, if you are a family, you can purchase kids’ passes to go along for just $99, which have the same privileges. The pass also provides lodging discounts of up to 25 percent for pass holders.
The 10 Mountain Collective Pass members in North America, listed in order of their distance from the front door of the Hotel Jerome, are: Aspen/Snowmass, Taos, Alta/Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, Banff-Lake Louise/Sunshine Village, Whistler/ Blackcomb and Stowe, Vermont. In addition, once the snow melts here, you are welcome to visit your Aussie friends for a summer sojourn at Thredbo in Australia, the Collective’s 11th member.
This year, the Mountain Collective was joined by international affiliates, Chamonix/Mont Blanc in the French Alps, a sister city of Aspen and the European resort with perhaps the closest ties to the Roaring Fork Valley, and, amazingly, by the Japanese resort of Hakuba Valley. These two have linked with Chile’s Valle Nevado, the Southern Hemisphere training hub for a number of national alpine ski teams, to provide the same two-day deal.
The goal of the consortium is obviously to provide a tool for like-minded international resorts to market themselves to a discerning ski clientele that has the means to travel. But there was also an element of play in the founding of the Collective, according to Christian Knapp, vice president of marketing at Aspen Skiing Co., one of the program’s early proponents.
“We set out to build the product we would purchase if we were not in the ski industry,” said Knapp about the origins of the Mountain Collective. “It’s definitely a partnership among resort destinations that resonate with each of us.”
As is the case with most initiatives the Aspen Skiing Co. is aligned with, there is also an environmental element to The Mountain Collective. All pass holders receive a free membership to POW (Protect our Winters), a global community of skiers and riders dedicated to protecting the winters for future generations.
“The Mountain Collective is not only made up of the best places to ski and ride on the planet, but it’s also a group of resorts that share a common set of values,” said Mike Kaplan, president of the Aspen Skiing Co. “We all care about the environment and the mountain way of life and we have devoted our lives to sharing it with all comers.”
Word on how many Mountain Collective passes are sold is top secret. But they are limited and it is anticipated that they will sell out by early to mid-December. On the website there is a living graph that shows the availability of this year’s passes and, as of this writing, it was about half complete.
IS IT WORTH IT?
So is it worth it? With the great distances between resorts, does the $409 pass make for a good deal? It depends on what you want to do. If you were to ski Aspen for a day, Snowmass for a day and then drive to the Taos Ski Valley for two days, the daily lift tickets, without the Pass, would cost you $450 on the high season walkup rates ($139 and $86 respectively). From there on out, you would be looking at half price at each resort for the rest of the season.
Let’s say you have a season pass here and you want to go ski for a week at Whistler/Blackcomb. You can buy a 7-Day pass on the Whistler/Blackcomb website for $495 Canadian right now, with a three-day advance purchase. Seven days using The Mountain Collective pass would set you back the original $409 plus five days at around $50 Canadian (Whistler has yet to set daily rate prices) or around $660 give or take depending upon the exchange rate. Not such a good deal, eh?
But the real value of The Mountain Collective Pass is that wanderlust stuff. If you are a holder of the pass it is like having your passport in the pocket of your ski jacket at all times. It encourages you to keep an eye on snow conditions, on flight prices and on your vacation time so that you might head out on the road for an adventure.
It’s kind of like being a local in 14 different resorts.
Molly Britt and her family of six live in Southern California and have purchased The Mountain Collective passes for the 2016 season. “We love to ski and we go to a bunch of different places. Last year we saved maybe $600 on the passes,” she said. “We go to Aspen twice a year, Utah a couple times a year. We also go to the California resorts so it saves us money with both the free days and the discounts.
“We bought it for the deal. But I also like how it keeps us connected to the other resorts. We have skied in Chamonix and been to Japan. We know that if it is a Collective property, then it is likely a cool property.”
Time for a multi-mountain tryst?
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An accomplished athlete, storyteller and photographer, Rickey Gates shared his story of independence, forming connections, seeking new perspectives, furthering self-awareness, reaching physical and psychological limits and an exploration of our nation at the hometown debut of his documentary “Transamericana”