Aspen Skiing Co. data show locals’ pass use is up 53,000 skier days from 2 seasons ago

Travis Andrews skis through powder in the Boomerang Trees on Aspen Highlands on March 8, 2019.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Aspen Skiing Co. provided ticket information Thursday to back its point that increased local season pass use has been the biggest contributor to busier slopes this season rather than the new Ikon Pass.

“Season pass use is through the roof,” Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan wrote in an opinion piece appearing in The Aspen Times today. It’s up 40 percent compared with this point last season, he wrote. Probably more relevant is that season pass use is up 53,000 skier days compared with the 2016-17 season, according to Kaplan. (The entire opinion piece appears on page A16.)

Jeff Hanle, Skico’s vice president of communications, said the 53,000 additional skier days translates into an increase of about 10.7 percent. That is a measure of Premier, Double Flex and Flex pass use.

The comparison with two seasons ago is important because last year was such a poor snow year. Local skiers didn’t hit the slopes as much as usual in 2017-18. This season, the snowpack in the Aspen area is about 140 percent of median and powder days have been frequent.

Big snow years bring out the skiers and snowboarders. “Last year’s frustration has translated into this year’s full-throttled enthusiasm,” he said.

In contrast to season pass use, the use of paid lift tickets — including the Ikon, Mountain Collective and Classic passes — are up only 5,000 skier days compared with the 2016-17 season, according to Kaplan. The Ikon Pass was sold for the first time this season by Skico’s sister organization, Alterra Mountain Co.

The full Ikon Pass offers unlimited skiing at 14 destination resorts under the Alterra umbrella and up to seven days at affiliates. Passholders can ski seven days combined at Aspen Skiing Co.’s Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk.

A less expensive Ikon Base Pass gives passholders five days combined at the four Skico resorts as part of access to 38 resorts.

Ikon Pass use has accounted for 9 percent of Skico’s total business and up to 15 percent on weekends, Kaplan wrote. He said in his piece that he is discouraged by anecdotal evidence this season that local residents have been rude to Ikon Pass users. He noted the Roaring Fork Valley is known for its tolerance. All visitors to the slopes deserve respect, he said.

Hanle said much of the increase in business this season has come after the holiday period. Destination visitors, those coming for an overnight stay, might have been wary at the start of the season because conditions were so bad last season. With the snow, they have come out in droves. There has been several big powder Saturdays this season, when locals and visitors have been lured to the slopes.

Hanle said Skico’s ticket information confirms it’s a combination of locals and “others” driving the business on weekends. The others include Ikon Pass holders.

“The other people are taking all the finger pointing,” he said.

Ikon Pass criticism hasn’t been limited to Aspen. The pass has been blamed in Jackson Hole for a significantly busier ski season. Mary Kate Buckley, the new president at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, wrote a piece in the Jackson Hole News & Guide on March 6 that said the Ikon Pass can’t be blamed for the big jump in business.

“Season to date, local residents make up 39 percent of our total skiers versus Ikon Pass holders, representing 16 percent,” the Jackson Hole executive wrote.

Many of the Ikon Pass holders at Jackson Hole previously used a different pass or lift ticket, she said. When that is taken into account, the Ikon Pass generates an 8 percent incremental increase in skier visits at Jackson Hole.

Like Kaplan, she urged Jackson Hole locals to show patience and support.