Decision time for Aspen skiers and riders — passes go on sale Wednesday
WHAT ABOUT A BELL PASS?
Some skiers are clamoring for Aspen Skiing Co. to operate the Bell Mountain chairlift on Aspen Mountain full time this season to help spread out crowds, but that’s currently not in the cards.
One commenter on Skico’s Facebook page asked that the Bell lift be operated so skiers and riders have another alternative to riding the Silver Queen Gondola. It would help avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus, he wrote. Another commenter suggested Skico create an “old school special” of $420 for a Bell chair pass with a “free roll of duct tape and a complimentary draft beer very Friday.”
The Bell Mountain chairlift has only operated on sunny weekend days late in the season in recent winters. Skico officials say there isn’t enough demand for the old, slow chairlift to justify operating it more often.
The pandemic apparently won’t be an exception.
“At this point we do not plan to change operations on the Bell Chair,” Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle wrote in an email. “We will monitor how things are going this season and we can make adjustments to that if needed to manage flow.”
Aspen Skiing Co. has been taking a beating on social media in recent weeks over its ski pass options and pricing for 2020-21.
Regardless of how skiers and snowboarders feel about the changes, they will have to make decisions starting Wednesday when Premier Passes with the chamber of commerce discount and new pass products go on sale. Purchases must be made through Nov. 13 to get the lowest prices.
The majority of commenters on Skico’s Facebook page have lamented the loss of options such as the Classic Pass, Double Flex and Flex and have accused the company of price gouging by raising the price of the Premier Pass by $320 with a chamber of commerce discount.
“Skiing and exclusivity just went up another level,” valley resident Maria Wimmer wrote on Skico’s Facebook page last week. “Bring back the Highlands-only ski pass.”
But Tripp Freeman wrote Skico had to make tough decisions due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
“Let’s be honest, short of making March ‘No Texas month’ there’s just about nothing Ski Co. could do in this situation that wouldn’t have someone whining,” Freeman wrote.
Skico officials said the new ski pass strategy is necessary to spread out customers and manage capacity during the coronavirus pandemic. The new options are designed to create the best chance for managing flow and remaining open the entire season. An anonymous Skico worker or workers have tried to answer questions and respond to comments on Facebook, though the nastiest verbal shots are ignored.
Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications, said Tuesday there was confusion among some customers when they initially looked at the new pass options and pricing. However, he believes the options benefit people once they do the math.
Skico has an FAQ page dedicated to ski pass issues on its website. Hanle also urged customers to call and consult with a service agent. They have access to customers’ past pass purchases and how they were utilized. They can provide suggestions on the best options for this season given the usage history, he said.
Instead of the one-day, two-day and new sales of four- and seven-day Classic passes, Skico is promoting the new Valley 7-Pack and Valley Weekday Passes for 2020-21.
“We do not know if the 7-Pack is permanent, but we do plan to sunset the Classic Pass as it exists today,” Hanle said. “There are all sorts of possibilities (with future pass products). We’ll have to rethink everything. It has to work with the mix.”
The Valley Weekday Pass is for residents only. It costs $899 for chamber members and $999 for nonmembers.
The Valley 7-Pack, which can be used any day of the week, is also only for valley residents and costs $399.
Blackout days apply to both passes Dec. 26 to Jan. 2, and Feb. 13 and 14. However, skiers and riders can pay a fee to access the slopes on those days. In addition, days can be added to the passes for a validation fee that will vary through the season.
Skico regularly charged validation fees over the holidays well into the 1990s but eliminated the practice until this year.
The Premier Pass doesn’t have blackout days. The price is $1,799 for chamber members through Nov. 13. That is an increase of $320 from last season’s early-bird price.
A Premier Senior Pass, for ages 65 to 69, is also $1,799 while the Premier Silver, for customers 70 years of age and older, is $649 during the early sale period.
Terri Cowan Ziets wrote on Skico’s Facebook page last week that the increase for the Silver Pass was a “slap in the face to all of us long-time senior devotees and supporters of the local ski culture.”
Matthew Hunt questioned the elimination of the one- and two-day per week passes.
“What’s the reason behind removing flex passes other than trying to get more money?” he wrote. “Yeah, you could get the 7-day local and buy day tickets at 50% off, but that ends up being much more money if you ski 15+ days a season.”
Other commenters said Skico should limit the number of Ikon Pass users if it wanted to manage the flow on weekends and other busy periods. However, the Ikon Passes were sold starting last ski season, so conditions couldn’t be changed.
Dependents of Skico employees also will continue to receive a Premier Pass without restrictions, Hanle said.
Skico’s FAQ page on pass issues is at aspensnowmass.com. Lift ticket prices will be released in late October.
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The Aspen City Clerk’s Office is looking toward the next, next election in 2021 with two council seats and a mayoral race up for a decision, and an added focus on coronavirus safety when early voting begins in February.