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Colorado resorts use deals to bring in skiers

ASPEN – Even before the lackluster 2011-12 ski season was finished, most Colorado resorts dangled huge discounts on passes for next season to try to lock in customers and raise revenue.

Aspen and Telluride, destination resorts with no direct competition because of their isloated locations, were the exceptions. Otherwise, the competition for passholders was as fierce as ever this spring.

Vail is offering its Epic Pass through April 22 for $659. That pass, available to local residents and out-of-towners, is good for unlimited skiing at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin as well as Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood.



Buyers have to commit by April 22 and put at least $49 down. The balance is due by mid-September.

Vail Resorts’ competitors responded with the Rocky Mountain Super Pass, which offers unlimited skiing next season at Copper Mountain and Winter Park along with six days of skiing at Steamboat for $469. Buyers must put $49 down by June 1 and pay off the balance later in the summer.



Steamboat offers its best discount for an exclusive pass to buyers willing to open their wallets by June 1. The season pass is $959 if purchased by June 1. Buyers must put $99 down and make a final payment by mid-September.

Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain, Crested Butte, Loveland and Winter Park are among the resorts offering super-early discounts to skier and riders willing to commit early.

It’s not just the Colorado resorts that try to lock up business early with a discounted pass for the next season.

“It’s a universal trend,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association.

There’s a quid pro quo going on between resorts and their customers: The customers get the biggest discounts by buying in the spring for the following winter, and the ski areas get an infusion of cash that helps them limit borrowing to make it through the summer, Berry said.

The spring pass sales were an outgrowth of the price wars that heated up among the resorts nearly 20 years ago, he said.

Jerry Jones, a former Colorado ski-industry executive who is now a resort broker, said the spring offerings are another battlefront, along with cheap prices.

“What I really think they’re trying to do is corner the market share before somebody else does,” Jones said.

Vail Resorts has been the most aggressive to lock in skiers and riders with its Epic Pass, he said.

“It’s something that cannot be beat in the ski industry right now,” Jones said.

Aspen Skiing Co. doesn’t have to offer the spring discount pass for obvious reasons – its passholders don’t have other options, Jones said.

The idea of offering a pass in the spring for the following season has been discussed by Skico executives every now and then over the years but dismissed, said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. Skico isn’t competing with other resorts for the same passholders, he said.

“We’re running a different business model,” Hanle said.

A spokesman for Telluride Ski and Golf said pass prices haven’t been set yet for next season by the resort.

Skico announces its pass prices in early August and requires a purchase by mid-September to get the best price on most passes. The best price on a premier pass, with unlimited access, was $1,139 for employees of businesses that belong to a local chamber of commerce and $1,549 for non-chamber members.

Hanle said the lean snow conditions this year won’t affect the price of season passes for next season. No data is available yet, but pass use by Skico customers was likely down this season, according to Hanle.

“Conditions haven’t driven (passholders) out the door every day,” he said.

Skico bases its pass prices on the cost of doing business and the state of the economy, Hanle said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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