Skico says season ski pass users are ‘out in force’ because of snow conditions
MARCH LOOKS BUSY
While some people feel the slopes have been crowded at times this season at Aspen and Snowmass Village, the latest occupancy report indicates the busiest time is yet to come.
As of Jan. 31, occupancy on the books for March was up nearly 14 percent from the same point last season, according to a report released last week Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations business operated by Aspen Skiing Co.
February was pacing about 4 percent ahead of last season as of Jan. 31, the report said.
Paid occupancy for Aspen and Snowmass Village properties was 76 percent in January, up 2.5 percent from last season.
Aspen isn’t the only ski resort cashing in on a busy season.
As of Jan. 31, the aggregated occupancy at 18 western mountain resorts for November through April was up 6.1 percent compared to the same point last season, according to a monthly report by a travel firm called Innotopia. The lodging performance is tracked by using a sample for companies representing about 30,000 rooms.
The pace of bookings at many resorts picked up in January, when many mountain regions in the western U.S. received abundant snowfall.
The National Ski Areas Association doesn’t track business with its member ski areas at this point in the season, but evidence points to a solid season.
“At a purely anecdotal level, it seems to be a strong season so far in several regions, which can be attributed to snowfall and conditions,” Adrienne Isaac, marketing and communication director for NSAA, said in an email. “Snow is absolutely a main driver of business and this can carry into the next season — people are inspired by the fun they’re having in the current conditions and make advance purchases for next year.”
When trying to figure out why it’s been crowded on Aspen’s ski slopes at times this season, don’t forget to look in the mirror and at your neighbors.
Aspen Skiing Co. officials said local season-pass use has soared this season because of the stellar snow conditions.
“We’re really seeing our pass users out in force,” Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications, said Tuesday. “Pass use is up more than non-pass use.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that pass use is higher than last season, when conditions weren’t very good outside of February. But pass use also is higher than the previous two seasons, when conditions were more typical for most of the season. Skico is a privately held company that doesn’t release exact skier visit information for competitive reasons.
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Chairlift sleuths have pointed to the Ikon Pass as the reason the slopes have been more crowded at the four ski areas of Aspen and Snowmass this season. An underground movement has started pasting stickers around the slopes that say “Stop Ikonisizing Aspen.”
Alterra Mountain Co., a sister to Aspen Skiing Co., started selling the Ikon Pass this season. The Crown family, which owns all of Aspen Skiing Co., is a partner in Alterra.
The adult Ikon Pass includes as many as seven days combined at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk. An Ikon Base Pass includes five days combined to the Aspen-area ski resorts.
There is no doubt that Ikon Pass holders from the Front Range, Steamboat Springs and Winter Park are taking advantage of the Ikon Pass to visit Aspen, Hanle acknowledged. But he said some of those pass buyers had different passes in prior seasons. Some purchased a Classic Pass, good for up to seven days on the Aspen-Snowmass slopes, and others purchased the Mountain Collective, good at a consortium of resorts.
The Ikon Pass also is driving business from outside of the state among skiers who otherwise wouldn’t visit Aspen.
Katie Woodruff of San Francisco visited Aspen with her boyfriend in early February. She typically skis Squaw Valley-Alpine Springs, which are part of the Ikon Pass this year. Purchasing the pass gave them the incentive and opportunity to try Aspen and Snowmass. High lift-ticket prices were a deterrent to visiting before.
“I loved it. I wished we had stayed a little longer,” Woodruff said of her trip to Aspen. “Everybody was so nice.”
They skied one day at Aspen Mountain and one day at Snowmass before heading to Steamboat for three days.
Woodruff said she intends to purchase the Ikon Pass again for next season and revisit Aspen.
One pattern that has developed this season, which may be related to Ikon Pass use, is strong business on Fridays and stronger business on Saturdays, according to Hanle. The numbers taper off a bit on Sundays.
Conditions were particularly crowded at base-area chairlifts at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass on Saturday morning. That fueled rumors that it was a record-setting day on Skico’s slopes. The rumor was unfounded, Hanle said. Saturday did not match busiest days during the Christmas to New Year’s holiday period.
Nevertheless, it was a busy day and it’s been a busy season.
“We’re going to be up strong over last season, because last season was so bad,” Hanle said.
Overall skier visits are up from two seasons ago. Hanle attributed much of the increase to the above-average snowfall and great conditions throughout the season so far.
Klaus Obermeyer, the 99-year-old founder and owner of skiwear maker Sport Obermeyer, is fond of saying snow makes everybody in the ski business look like a genius.
Alterra Mountain Co. aimed to sell around 250,000 Ikon Passes for this season, according to a preseason article by The Colorado Sun. Company officials won’t discuss actual sales.
Alterra announced Tuesday that Ikon Pass sales for the 2019-20 season start March 5. Skiers who purchased the pass this season will get a $30 renewal discount. The pass price is going up $50 from the early-bird price offered last season, so it will still cost $20 more for people renewing.
For this season, the best price was $899 for the adult Ikon Pass with no blackout days and $599 for the Ikon Base Pass, which had a handful of blackout days.
For next season, the Ikon Pass will be $949 if purchased during the early deadline and $919 for renewing buyers.
The Ikon Base Pass will be $649 during the early period and $619 for renewals.
“We are very happy with how skiers and riders have reacted to the Ikon Pass in its inaugural year,” Kristin Rust, Alterra Mountain Co.’s director of public relations, said in an email. “The Ikon Pass is meant to instill a sense of adventure, and we are definitely seeing that pass holders are going to multiple destinations and taking advantage of access to their favorite home mountain plus destinations that have been on their bucket list for years.”
In an interview, Rust said the snow conditions at many resorts in Alterra’s fold have stoked enthusiasm for skiing and provided incentive to purchase a pass for next season.
“Mother Nature has always been the biggest motivator for the next season,” she said. “Snow brings people out regardless of what pass you have.”
Some Front Range skiers who purchased an Ikon are reassessing their options for next season. Julia Paley grew up skiing the slopes of Aspen and now lives in Denver. She purchased an Ikon Pass this year to take advantage of the seven days of skiing it allows at Aspen-Snowmass. She said she will burn through those days before the end of the season. She’s been coming up for weekends to visit family and friends.
However, next season she’s considering going to a Classic Pass or another Skico option. Although the Ikon Pass provides access to resorts such as Copper Mountain and Winter Park, Paley said the traffic congestion on Interstate 70 makes is difficult to go on a day trip. She said she would rather take the whole weekend and travel to Aspen.
Skico’s Hanle said this season is a learning experience in how the new pass options will be used. He believes business would be up for Skico regardless of the Ikon Pass, thanks to the snow conditions. He noted that occupancy reports and anecdotal evidence indicates the ski industry is enjoying a solid season (see factbox).
“We’re not going to whine or complain about increased use,” Hanle said.
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Wayne Hall took a job as an air traffic controller at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2003 thinking he would stay for a short time. Instead he stayed for nearly 17 years and was promoted up to the position of air traffic manager. He reflected on the experience upon retirement.