Who’s responsible for those long lift lines on powder days? Take a good look in the mirror | AspenTimes.com

Who’s responsible for those long lift lines on powder days? Take a good look in the mirror

Aspen Skiing Co. president: Local ski pass sales are ‘way, way, way up’

Hundreds of people wait in line to get on the Silver Queen Gondola for opening day at Aspen Mountain on Saturday, November 23, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Next time you are stuck in a long lift line on a powder day at one of the four Aspen Snowmass ski areas, don’t point fingers at Ikoners or destination skiers. Look for your neighbors.

Aspen Skiing Co. says its biggest surge in business has come from Roaring Fork Valley season pass holders.

“I would say in terms of local pass sales, those have gone way, way, way up and that’s the biggest shift that I’ve seen,” Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan told the Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday.

The discussion was an offshoot of the review of Skico’s expansion of Aspen Mountain ski area into the Pandora’s terrain. Commissioner Greg Poschman asked why there have been big crowds at Aspen Mountain on an increasing number of days in recent seasons — with lift lines long enough to dredge up memories of the 1970s.

“Are we seeing more people showing up?” Poschman asked Kaplan.

While Skico’s skier visits have been flat for more than two decades, there are more local customers waiting to leap into action on powder days and weekends, Kaplan explained.

“Overall what we’ve seen in terms of skier days is it’s been a flat line for 25 years,” he said. “We saw some little dips and shifts. When we installed Deep Temerity and opened up into Highland Bowl, you did see some shifting from Aspen Mountain to Aspen Highlands.”

However, Aspen Mountain still pulls in significantly more skiers and riders over the season than Highlands.

“For context, Aspen Mountain does roughly 300,000 skier days per year, give or take. I don’t think it’s ever gone over 315,000, from what I can recall, or under 295,000,” Kaplan said.

Highlands hovers around 200,000 in annual skier days, he said.

Skico’s four mountains typically log around 1.25 million skier visits per season, with the vast majority at Snowmass.

Pass use by locals last season generated more than 50% of Skico’s overall skier days for the first time ever, according to a slide that Kaplan shared with the commissioners. Typically, pass use accounts for about 40% of overall visits.

Last season might have been unusual because of the COVID-19 pandemic when people were seeking ways to get outdoors and more part-time residents spent the full winter in the valley to escape urban areas. However, Skico officials emphatically feel season pass use is the key driver of growth.

Season pass use accounts for even a higher percentage of skier and rider visits at Aspen Mountain. Local pass users have accounted for more than 50% of Aspen Mountain’s skier days since at least the 2011-12 season, according to the information Kaplan shared. Last season, local pass use soared to about 65% of visits to Aspen Mountain. That, Kaplan said, entrenches Aspen Mountain the locals’ ski area.

In a prior meeting with the county commissioners, Kaplan said use of the Ikon Pass isn’t responsible for increasing days of crowding on the slopes. The Ikon Pass is sold by Skico’s sister company, Alterra Mountain Co. It entitles buyers to a certain number of trips to Skico’s four mountains, depending on which pass is purchased.

In Skico’s accounting, Ikon Pass use counts as a lift ticket sale rather than a pass sale, according to Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

Kaplan told the commissioners at the prior meeting that many people using the Ikon Pass at Aspen Snowmass formerly used different pass products, such as the Classic Pass. Therefore, Ikon Pass sales haven’t resulted in a significant net gain in skier visits at Skico’s four areas, he said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Kaplan said Skico is reaching its peak number of skiers at one time more frequently, which he tied to the surge in local pass buyers.

“Our peak days are usually about 20,000 skiers in a day,” he said. “If you have 18,000 across the four mountains, you feel busy but you don’t feel like you’re over the top. When you go over 20,000 you go ‘Oooo.’

“That’s the period between Christmas and New Year’s,” he continued. “We have had more days coming up close to that 20,000 number. It’s happened more on weekends in the middle of the year. That, I think is due to the population growth (in the Roaring Fork Valley) and the growth in the Mountain West.”



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