Aspen Skiing Co. using new passes to spread crowds, avoid implementing reservation system |

Aspen Skiing Co. using new passes to spread crowds, avoid implementing reservation system

Kaplan: 'Passes and pricing this season are designed to spread people out and enable capacity controls'

Skiers and snowboarders take the Village Express chairlift up during Snowmass Ski Area's opening day on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Dates for the 2020-21 season

Snowmass and Aspen Mountain: Nov. 26 - April 18

Aspen Highlands: Dec. 12 - April 4

Buttermilk: Dec. 18 - April 4

After months of crunching visitor numbers and habits, Aspen Skiing Co. president and CEO Mike Kaplan said Thursday that the company’s new approach to local passes is a way to avoid what he sees as the biggest logistical problem facing this ski season: a reservation system.

Skico announced Thursday a new weekday pass for Roaring Fork Valley residents only, a seven-day pass for locals as well as a $320 increase from last season on the chamber-discounted Premier Pass. Kaplan said this approach is a way to manage the flow of people, not the number on the hill at any given time.

Social-distancing protocols and the balancing-of-visitations approach, he hopes, will avoid a more cumbersome system.

“It’s very much about social distancing and spreading people out in a way in the lift line and on the chairlift, and how to do that in a way that we don’t have those clusters,” Kaplan said in a phone interview after Thursday’s announcement. “We looked at when those occur, where those occur — primarily weekends, primarily Saturdays, those times when ski schools get on the lifts, the patterns at Aspen Mountain (when it gets busy mainly after 11 a.m.). Can we pull back a percentage of that? Twenty percent, 25%, 30% of the clients to make sure we have room. That’s how we looked at it.

“It’s hard to manage a specific number. It’s more managing to the flow.”

He said they have developed the capability for a reservation system, but he feels that method is too difficult across the board, from employees to skiers and snowboarders.

If infection rates increase and there is concern among health officials about volume, Skico would look at implementing reservations.

“If we have to do it, if the (infection) numbers get to a level, in consultation with local public health officials, experts and regulators, and we have to reduce volume further, then that would be our strategy to roll out the reservation system,” Kaplan said.

What it means for local skiers and snowboarders is they have to think hard (and quick) about how they want to play this year. The breaking point is about 22 days on the mountain for the choice between one of the new local options or chamber-discounted Premier Pass.

The chamber-discount prices announced Thursday, and those for non-chamber announced earlier this year, go through Nov. 13. After that, they will increase in different amounts. Also, all passes are refundable before Nov. 20.

“I really encourage everyone to be thoughtful about on what their schedule will be and can be and rethink it given COVID and what’s going on,” said Kaplan, acknowledging that business and school gets done during the week but many schedules have had to become flexible because of the pandemic. “We’ve really tried to develop a pass lineup that rewards people for avoiding those peak times. We just have to manage those times, and we’re doing that via financial incentives rather than a full blackout or going the extreme routes such as a reservation system or like other resorts that have not sold season passes.

“We’re trying to find that sweet spot for everybody and we’re hopeful this will work for most people. That’s our intent.”

The new Valley Weekday Pass is for Monday through Friday and is $899 for chamber members currently, and then $999 after Nov. 13. For Roaring Fork Valley residents who are not connected to a chamber of commerce, the Weekday Pass is $999 and will go to $1,049 in November.

Skico is also introducing a Valley 7-Pack Pass good for seven days during the season, and it is $399 (no chamber discount applies) then $449 after Nov. 13. The 7-Pack can be used for any day of the week, minus the blackout windows.

Both of the new valley passes have blackouts from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 and Feb. 13 and 14. Valley residents must show a local ID; the range stretches from Rifle to Aspen and those along the valley drainage areas.

The Premier Pass with the discount, which comes through membership in the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and other chambers in the valley, will be $1,799 if bought before Nov. 13 and $2,099 after. Last season, the pass was $1,479. Those who had a chamber-discounted premier pass will get a $150 refund from last season, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle confirmed Thursday.

The Premier Pass this season again will include the Ikon Base Pass, which is offered by Skico’s sister company Alterra Mountain Co.

“An unlimited Premier Pass is a great anytime-access pass, but it’s problematic in a COVID-19 constrained world. So, it’s going to be more expensive than in years past,” Kaplan wrote in a letter to the community release Thursday.

The Premier College, Teen and Child passes are going to be discontinued for sale after Nov. 13, but those sold before then will be honored. The season is scheduled to open Nov. 26 at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, Dec. 12 at Highlands and Dec. 18 at Buttermilk.

To account for possible shutdowns because of the pandemic, Skico has an updated refund policy. If the resort shuts down due to COVID-19 for 10 or more days of the season, they will issue refunds, prorated for each day they are fully shut down compared with the published season dates, for all Aspen Snowmass passes, except the Valley 7-Pack and Classic Pass, according to the refund policy.

It also states if Skico goes to a reservation system, refunds will not be issued.

Chamber of commerce discounts extend to Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Employees of companies that are members of the local chambers are eligible for the discounted ski passes with Skico.

Skico is thanking the teachers and some frontline workers who worked during the start of the pandemic and offering a free 7-Pack Pass.

“It has been inspiring to see our valley come together over the past six months, and we owe a huge debt to our essential workers who keep our community going,” Kaplan wrote in his letter. “We’re providing a complimentary Valley 7-Pack to all Roaring Fork Valley teachers. In addition, working with local hospitals and grocery stores, we will be providing the same to select employees who were on the frontlines throughout the pandemic.”

The company announced in May that it would give credits of as much as $250 for the coming season in acknowledgment that last season was cut short. The ski season ended abruptly March 15 when Colorado Gov. Jared Polis ordered all ski areas closed because of the quickly spreading coronavirus. People who purchased a 2019-20 Premier Pass without the chamber discount will receive the $250 credit.

Other refunds from last season, according to Hanle, include: $175 for Double Flex, $125 for Double Flex with the chamber discount, $100 for the Flex, and $90 for the Flex chamber. There are other refunds available.

“We analyzed our visitation very closely by pass. Very few people ski every weekend, whether they buy a Double Flex or Flex (pass),” Kaplan said. “If you look at average visitation and compare it to seven day, you would have to ski a lot of days, way more than the average did, to actually be paying more than the Seven-Day pass plus the at least 50 percent off validation price.

“I think individuals should really think hard about when and how they ski and how they skied in years past and how they can adjust that. And give us a call and we can help you walk through it.”