Aspen, other ski areas duke it out with special passes | AspenTimes.com

Aspen, other ski areas duke it out with special passes

Once upon a time, major ski resorts in Colorado and throughout the West engaged in a shoot-out by one-upping one another with high-speed chairlifts and gondolas.

Now that infrastructure has been modernized, the battlefield of choice is a ski pass that ties several resorts together and provides value for destination skiers and snowboarders who like to travel.

Vail Resorts set the bar with its Epic Pass, good for access to the slopes at 12 resorts it owns or markets as well as six partners in Japan, Switzerland and France.

Aspen Skiing Co.'s four ski areas teamed with 10 other major independent ski areas in Western North America three years ago to offer the Mountain Collective Pass as a countermove to Vail. The Mountain Collective is an unusual joint marketing effort by classic ski areas such as Alta, Utah; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Mammoth, California; Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia; and Aspen.

“Skiing is not a cheap sport. Anything that can help with value is good.”
Sarah Plaskitt, founder of Scout

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Now two of the remaining ski-area giants in Colorado are teaming up with four sister resorts to enter the collective-ski-pass sweepstakes. Intrawest Resorts announced Thursday it's offering what it billed as the "most affordable multi-mountain ski pass in history." The Intrawest Passport allows groups of as many as 16 people to buy a heavily discounted pass that provides six days of skiing at each of six resorts, including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado.

Resorts around the world are now looking at collective passes as a way to entice customers, said Sarah Plaskitt, the founder of Scout, an independent company that produces detailed reviews of ski areas and lodging properties as well as offers bookings.

"This is fantastic in that it encourages skiers to get out and explore a bit," Plaskitt said recently while driving to Aspen to assess some additional lodges for her website, http://www.scoutski.com.

Plaskitt thinks the collective ski passes among multiple resorts are a trend that will continue to grow. It's getting to the point, she said, where a resort "has to be on one of them" or risk losing exposure and, ultimately, business.

It's mutually beneficial, she said, because resorts get the exposure while skiers and snowboarders get discounts.

"Skiing is not a cheap sport. Anything that can help with value is good," she said.

Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, based in Lakewood, said resorts had to create collective passes after Vail Resorts started the Epic Pass.

"It's kind of a reaction rather than a trend," he said.

He said he also views it as a good thing for the industry because it might entice skiers and snowboarders to visit great resorts they otherwise wouldn't consider. It promotes a ski road trip and offers a good price for lift tickets, he said.

"What they're trying to do is create a value proposition for people," Berry said.

That is important in an industry where the businesses are duking it out season after season for essentially the same-sized universe of customers. Skier and snowboarder visits in the U.S. have hovered between 52 million and 58 million per season for the past 20 years, with two surges above 60 million.

Consumers are responding to the value passes. Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said sales of the Mountain Collective Pass have increased each of the three seasons it's been offered, including 2014-15. The number of passes sold isn't released for competitive reasons. Hanle would only say it's "a bunch."

"It's a great value," Hanle said.

The diversity of skiing at different resorts is an obvious advantage of the pass, but what is often overlooked is the value it provides for a visitor coming to Aspen for six to 10 days of skiing, he said. Instead of buying a multi-day pass, Hanle said, the Mountain Collective provides a more economical choice.

Plaskitt did an incredibly detailed comparison of the Epic Pass and Mountain Collective on her website. She examined everything from cost to acres of skiable terrain to numbers of days on the slopes. Each pass has its advantages, she said.

The current price for the Epic Pass is $749, while the Mountain Collective is $389.

The Epic Pass provides 170 days or more of skiing on 32,137 acres of terrain, while the Mountain Collective provides 14 days of skiing on 39,636 skiable acres. The 14 days are split by allowing two days at each of the seven resort groups. The Mountain Collective also provides an unlimited number of day tickets at 50 percent of the window price.

Scout concluded that a destination skier — one who travels for an overnight stay — typically would ski a total of 10 days at three destinations. That produces an average cost of $599 or $59 per day with the Mountain Collective Pass, Plaskitt calculated.

With the same assumptions, the Epic Pass would cost $749, or nearly $75 per day, according to Plaskitt. The advantage goes to the Mountain Collective for the destination skier.

For the local-mountain skier who visits one other resort and skis a total of 30 days, the advantage falls in the Epic Pass' favor. The cost is $749, about $25 per day, while the Mountain Collective would be $1,754, or $58.47 per day, according to Plaskitt's research.

The entire comparison can be found at http://www.scoutski.com/ski-pass.

Plaskitt will have to fire up her calculator again for a comparison now that the Intrawest Passport is out. Here's how Intrawest's pass works: One adult must buy a passport at $599; five additional adults can be added for $499 each; five passes for 13- to 20-year-olds can be added for $299 each; and five passes for children 12 and younger are free.

The passes are good for six days of skiing or riding at Steamboat and Winter Park; Blue Mountain in Ontario; Mont Tremblant in Quebec; Stratton Mountain in Vermont; and Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia.

The pass is aimed to appeal families with three generations of skiers and snowboarders, among other customers, Intrawest said in a statement.

"This pass is a first of its kind in the industry as it changes the rules and allows up to five children, 12 and younger, to ski for free with the purchase of just one Adult Passport," said Intrawest Resorts CEO Bill Jensen.

scondon@aspentimes.com