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It was ‘only’ $229 on MLK Day; Pass co-ops ‘here to stay’

18th January 2021 | Craig Altschul

Lift ticket windows -- are they. thing of the past?

Lift ticket windows -- are they. thing of the past?

Copyright: undercover tourist.com

Did you buy a single day lift ticket at Vail or Deer Valley on MLK Day 2021?  Ouch, that hurt. Your wallet is lighter by $229, that is if any tickets were still available and not allocated to those preferred Epic or Ikon pass holders.

Vail spokesperson John Plack brushed off that bruising cost telling the Vail Daily News,“Lift tickets are extremely limited this season as we are prioritizing our pass holders.” So, if you didn’t want to shell out a car payment to ski or ride for the day, Plack says the best value comes with Epic Day Passes which save up to 50 percent off lift ticket prices.

The high cost of skiing has been apres-ski discussion fodder as long as there’s been snow and people wanting to slide on it.

"I can remember the uproar when daily lift tickets broke the $20 barrier,” Jeff Blumenfeld, president of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association and the Lief Ericksen award-winning editor of Expedition News, told OnTheSnow.com. “We’ll never go back to those days, but the passes such as Epic or Ikon lessen sticker shock.” 

‘Sooper’ deals

Years ago — in the 1980s — Colorado skiers in the know were telling their eastern friends who were winging their way west to stop at any King Sooper or City Market grocery store on their way from the old Stapleton Airport up I-70 and pick up discounted day passes. Then, words “epic” and “ikon” had no skiing connotations, except perhaps referring to big powder days. You can still try the supermarket option these days, but supplies are very limited by the ski resorts and you’ll have the best of luck at the beginning and toward the end of the season.

It appears the only real way to avoid breaking the piggybank altogether is to purchase one of an array of pass choices offered by Ikon (Alterra Resorts), Epic (Vail Resorts) and slightly smaller other players like The Mountain Collective (managed by Aspen), Powder Alliance (resorts offering reciprocal tickets), and not to be left out, the Indy Pass (non-affiliated ski areas). 

Coloradoans won’t want to overlook the Gems Card from Colorado Ski Country where this season you could have purchased 2-for-1 (or 30 percent off) at 11 not-so-mega, but equally fun, ski areas. Ikon and Epic have the lion’s share of pass holders, so a shakeout of co-op passes over the next few seasons is possible. Or, not. Your e-mailbox will be exploding with early bird offers shortly and then we’ll know. 

Single MLK ticket at Vail $229  - © screen grab vail.com

Single MLK ticket at Vail $229

Copyright: screen grab vail.com

Passholder has first dibs

National Ski Areas Association President Kelly Pawlak reminds us that “adapting to COVID-19 is shining a strong spotlight on the passholder, providing them with first dibs on one of the coveted spots that the pandemic has forced ski areas to put daily caps on.”

“Even before the pandemic, customers were trending towards season pass products for a number of reasons,” Pawlak told us. “Season passes and frequent skier products are the best value, allow you to ski a variety of mountains and also reward the skier/rider with membership benefits like discounts for friends and early lift access.”

Chris Diamond, a retired ski resort executive who CEO’d at Mt. Snow, Vt. and Steamboat, Colo., wrote about the subject in his recent book, “Ski Inc.,” noting the significant benefits to the ski resort companies as well as to the consumer. The passes, he wrote, bring in substantial capital dollars starting in the spring before the passes are used; the income can smooth out bad snow years; they provide peripheral income in terms of lodging and dining in resort-owned properties; and actually mean reduced liability relief as purchasers sign a waiver stacked in favor of the resorts.

Those who purchase multi-use passes have their very best intentions to make real multi-use out of them. But those who don’t maximize the use let the resorts make up the discounts offered in terms of breakage (ie. customers bought all those ski days but didn’t take advantage of all of them). 

Staying “home”

But, what if you want to ski or ride at your favorite home base and traipsing over the multi-state landscape doesn’t appeal to you and your family. Well, as they say, “there’s an app for that.”

The Epic Pass, for example for the current season, has provisions in its Epic Day Pass program for 1-7 day pass purchases at a 50 percent discount as Vail’s Platt noted as justification for the high window sticker. The Epic Local Pass offers season-long skiing at any of  Vail Resorts-owned ski areas across the country. There are some blackout days and a few limitations at its mega resorts.

Even with the savings, new gripes are ready to crop up. Jeff Blumenfeld has one for starters: "Now that I have my seasons passes, what upsets me more are the parking fees that are starting to creep in. Ski resorts need to start looking into increasing public bus transportation to their areas. That, combined with ride-sharing, makes perfect environmental sense.”

NSAA’s Pawlak is looking down the post-COVID road: “We look forward to putting the pandemic in the rearview and hope that with more remote work schedules we can showcase the perks of booking midweek, non-holiday ski trips for the best pricing and lighter crowds.”

But c’mon. Did you really walk up to the ticket window at Vail or Deer Valley to play on MLK Day?

Fresh tracks at Deer Valley Ski Resort  - © Liam Doran

Fresh tracks at Deer Valley Ski Resort

Copyright: Liam Doran




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