New Ikon Pass will include seven days at Aspen-Snowmass as pass war heats up | AspenTimes.com

New Ikon Pass will include seven days at Aspen-Snowmass as pass war heats up

A new season ski pass designed to rival Vail Resorts' Epic Pass will include seven days of access to the slopes of Aspen-Snowmass and unlimited access to multiple resorts.

Alterra Mountain Co., a sister of Aspen Skiing Co., announced Thursday that its $899 Ikon Pass will provide unlimited access to 12 ski areas and as many as seven days at 13 additional destinations. The pass has no restrictions or blackout dates.

The Ikon Pass will have seven days at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk combined, not seven days at each individual ski area.

A less expensive Ikon Base Pass for $599 provides unlimited access to eight ski areas and up to five days of skiing or snowboardingat 17 destinations, including Aspen-Snowmass. The pass has blackout dates during major holidays.

“(The pass) will bring us some new people and people who haven’t been here for a while.”

— Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co.

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The passes for the 2018-19 season go on sale online starting March 6, and it hasn't been determined yet if the pass prices will increase as next ski season rolls closer, according to Kristin Rust, Alterra Mountain Co.'s director of public relations.

For Aspen Skiing Co., the Ikon Pass presents an opportunity to draw skiers from outside the Roaring Fork Valley. It's not really intended to provide an alternative ski pass for local residents, according to Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

The Ikon Pass provides "a different way to experience our mountains," he said. "(The pass) will bring us some new people and people who haven't been here for a while."

For example, the Ikon Pass provides unlimited skiing at the Colorado resorts of Steamboat, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Eldora (see factbox). Offering those passholders seven days of skiing at Aspen-Snowmass will be an enticing opportunity to check out the area, Hanle said.

Similarly, the Ikon Pass will offer unlimited access at the East Coast resort of Stratton. Now there will be incentive to try Aspen-Snowmass on a trip west, Hanle said.

"We are sort of a bucket list destination along with Jackson Hole and Alta," he said.

Rust said the inclusion of seven days of skiing at destinations such as Aspen-Snowmass and Jackson Hole is an important perk to the pass.

"Aspen-Snowmass is a really desired location," Rust said. "That's a week's vacation for someone."

Skico will continue to offer its full range of passes for 2018-19, including the four- and seven-day Classic Passes, which have been popular with Denver-area residents, Hanle said. Skiers in Denver who want to combine an unlimited pass at Steamboat and Winter Park might prefer the Ikon Pass to Skico's Classic Pass, he said.

Skico's seven-day adult Classic Pass sold for $409 for this season. The Ikon Pass could affect sales of that pass, he said. There will be thorough analysis of pass sales next season and adjustments will be made accordingly, he said.

Rust said the resorts owned by Alterra will announce their individual ski pass offerings in early March. Some resorts will continue to offer options similar to what they did in the past, while others won't, she said.

Alterra was created when the Crown family, owners of Aspen Skiing Co., teamed with KSL Capital Partners in April 2017. They went on a resort-buying binge last year and announced the name and pass earlier this year. Aspen Skiing Co. remains independently owned but affiliated with Alterra.

Lester Crown, patriarch of the owners, said recently the move needed to be made to compete in the ski industry.

Alterra's pass price announcement triggers the ski-pass war that was anticipated with Vail Resorts. Vail sold its Epic Pass for $869 for this season. Its destinations include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado as well as major out-of-state destinations as Whistler-Blackcomb and Park City. Vail hasn't announced the price yet for next season.

Ski-pass affiliations have reshaped the ski industry. Vail started the Epic pass 10 years ago. Other ski-resort operators responded with pass affiliations between companies or individual resorts. Aspen Skiing Co. started the Mountain Collective Pass, which aligned several iconic resorts.

A study for the National Ski Areas Association, a Denver-based national trade association, showed that 41.2 percent of total skier visits in 2016-17 were through season pass usage, according to Kelly Pawlak, president and CEO of the association.

In addition, pass sales were up 11.5 percent nationwide last season, the data showed. The average passholder skied 10 days.

"It is my experience that a single pass at multiple resorts sell more passes and offer the consumer a lower price of entry that truly enables the skier or rider to embrace the mountain lifestyle," Pawlak said. "When you pay for an entire season of skiing or riding, it allows you to pick and choose when and where you want to ski."

Rust said the strength of the Ikon Pass is the diversity of opportunities it presents.

"We believe the consumer is going to win," she said.

Consumers were sending a mixed message Thursday on the Ikon Pass Facebook page. While some people posted thanks for the pricing and options, it appeared that more than half of the hundreds of people who left comments were harsh with criticism.

"Vast majority of people don't need access to 26 different destinations in one season," wrote Kristen Schneck. "The ignorance that went into the planning of this blows my mind."

Extensive criticism came from East Coast skiers who rued the loss of the Max Pass. Rust said she hadn't read the comments and had no response.

One post blamed "Aspen" for ruining Eldora even though the ski area remains independent of Aspen Skiing Co. or Alterra. It has a marketing agreement through the Ikon Pass. Nevertheless, Josh Sheets made the point that the Ikon Pass wasn't doing him any favors on pricing.

"All of a sudden this tiny little classic hill is no longer affordable to average people (i.e. under $150k per year)," he wrote.

This comment was indicative of supporters. "I was so worried for a few months about the status of some of this but I am just going to melt into the floor with how happy I am about the way it turned out," Kellbo Keitherson wrote.

scondon@aspentimes.com

IKON PASS OFFERINGS

Unlimited skiing — Steamboat, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Eldora, Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain, Big Bear, Stratton, Snowshoe, Tremblant and Blue Mountain.

Seven days — Jackson Hole, Big Sky, Killington, Sugarbush, Revelstoke and Deer Valley.

Seven days at each resort operator with multiple ski areas — Aspen-Snowmass’ four mountains, AltaSnowbird, Loon Mountain/Sunday River/Sugarloaf, and Banff Sunshine/Lake Louise/Mount Norquay.

Perks include early booking privileges at CMH Heli-Skiing in British Columbia.

Price $899