Ski, partners aim to keep foreign skiers with special pass, package

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen Skiing Co. workers decorate the Silver Queen Gondola Plaza for Australia Day Jan. 26. Australia is Skico's top international market. Aussies and other international travelers will be offered a discounted ski pass for 2015-16.
Jeremy Swanson/Courtesy photo |

Aspen Skiing Co. and its lodging partners have teamed up on an aggressive promotion to try to hold their dominance among U.S. ski resorts with Australians and other international travelers.

Skico is offering a discounted pass called the SKI30 through tour operators it works with in overseas markets for the 2015-16 ski season. The pass must be purchased with a minimum of seven nights lodging, and it’s only available through the tour operators. The pass is good for 30 days after its first day of use after Jan. 1. The price is $730, or roughly the same as what a weeklong lift ticket was during the 2014-15 season.

The offer comes at a time when the competition is fierce among resorts trying to lure international skiers and snowboarders. The U.S. dollar is particularly strong right now, so that provides an advantage for Canadian and Japanese resorts.

“Everybody has competitive offers out there,” said Kristi Kavanaugh, Skico’s managing director of Worldwide Sales. “We really have to take our gloves off, and we are.”

Vail Resorts upped the ante in competition about a month ago. It signed a contract to buy Perisher Ski Resort in New South Wales, Australia, for about $136 million. The move was made to sell more season passes and build brand loyalty among customers around the world, Vail CEO Rob Katz said in a statement at the time.

Kavanaugh said the SKI30 promotion was unveiled by Skico and its partners prior to Vail’s announcement. It was a response to the strong U.S. dollar and poor exchange rate, which drove up the price of trips for Australian travelers. The strong dollar is a greater short-term threat to Aspen’s market share than Vail’s purchase of an Aussie ski resort, she said.

“You have to be affordable for people to come three, four weeks at a time,” Kavanaugh said. The price of lift tickets is a small but important part of the package. That’s why deals from the Aspen-Snowmass lodging community are so vital, she said.

SKI30 will be offered in every international market through Oct. 30. While it’s not exclusive to Australia and New Zealand, it’s gotten a lot of attention there because it’s a top market for western U.S. resorts and is Skico’s top international market.

“It’s obviously a market everybody’s looking at,” Kavanaugh said.

Skico and the Aspen-Snowmass lodging community are promoting the resorts harder than ever now that the exchange rate presents a challenge. Representatives of Skico and 12 lodging properties will soon head to Australia and New Zealand to work with tour operators and other travel professionals, meet with media and go direct with consumers at ski shows. Part of the contingent will be there for a month, Kavanaugh said. Other contingents will be at sales shows in other parts of the world.

Ideally, SKI30 will be around for a while, Kavanaugh said, but that will depend on the response from consumers and ever-changing factors such as the economy.

Skico CEO Mike Kaplan had a cleverly veiled reference to Vail in a statement released in overseas markets to promote SKI30.

“Aspen is totally focused on the quality of the vacation, offering an authentic and vibrant mountain experience with slopes that are not crowded with throngs of day or weekend visitors,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Perth Now.