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January 2010

Head for the Pass

Skiers and riders scooped up season's passes in great numbers this year.

Written by Linda Goodspeed | 0 comment

In an effort to overcome a lingering recession and lock in skiers and riders as early as possible, ski resorts around the country slashed prices, extended deadlines, added perks, payment plans and any other value option they could think of. The result has been a dramatic upsurge in pass sales.

Aspen, for example, saw a 30 percent increase in pass sales after cutting prices between $200 and $270. At Pico, Vt., which reduced early-purchase pass prices for a family of four to under $1,000, sales more than doubled.

“Even after prices increased, we’re pacing well ahead of last year,” says Tom Horrocks, communications director at Killington, Pico’s parent.

Killington, which dropped prices only $50, saw a more modest seven percent increase in sales. The good news: “People are buying more unlimited passes, upgrading from midweek or blackout passes,” Horrocks says.

Pass sales more than doubled at Crystal Mountain., Wash., after the resort cut prices by more than $300. “It shows the times,” says Debbie Bailey, ticket sales manager. “People are looking for a great deal. They’re willing to commit to a season pass as long as it’s an excellent deal.”

Even resorts that did not lower prices saw big upticks in sales. “We left prices the same, and didn’t really make a bigger push or change our promotional outlook,” says Chris Riddle, marketing director at Bear Mountain, Calif. Even so, sales rose 36 percent. “I think it’s more a reflection of the economy. People are looking for the best deal, the biggest discount. A season pass is the best discount of all. People know that,” Riddle says.

All About Commitment
You commit to us, we’ll commit to you with a great price. That’s the simple logic behind the season pass. And many areas made it easier than ever to commit.

At Hoodoo, Ore., people can ski all winter long for only $295 (down from $565 last season). Not surprisingly, sales jumped 50 percent.

Mountain High, Calif., promoted its $299 anytime pass on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, and sales ran ahead of last year. “It’s awesome to see the loyalty of the customer base we have here,” says Kim Hermon, marketing manager. “A season pass is their badge of loyalty.”

Season pass sales were also up in the highly-competitive, price-sensitive Colorado market. Vail reported pass sales up 11 percent and revenue up nine percent through December 6. Sales were also up for the Copper/Winter Park Rocky Mountain Super Pass ($399), as well as the Super Pass Plus ($439), which includes six days and Friday afternoons at Steamboat.

“We go head-to-head with Vail on passes, and were really encouraged by our sales,” says Lauren Pelletreau, communication manager at Copper.

Deeply discounted passes are instrumental in moving Colorado’s big front range market, but that strategy doesn’t translate everywhere.

“An Epic pass [Vail Resorts’ $579 unrestricted five-area pass] wouldn’t work here because we have such high usage—about 25 days,” says Alex Kaufman, marketing director at Mt. Bachelor, Ore. “We have to watch demand very closely because of the size of the mountain, and because we have such high usage and people live so close.” Bachelor, which held the line on prices ($799) sets prices to limit pass sales to about 10,000 units. Sales are about seven percent above that this year, Kaufman notes.

One new product at Bachelor this year is the 12-day half-pass, for people living a little farther away. “We had a lot of success with that,” Kaufman says. “It’s a nice mid-range product for us.”

Elsewhere in the West, sales were strong at Bridger Bowl, Mont. At Brighton, Utah, “Pass sales were flat, but that’s good for us,” says Jared Winkler, marketing and PR director. “We’re anticipating a slower year, mainly because of the economy. A lot of people are out of work around here.”

In the East, pass sales were up seven percent and revenue four percent at Okemo, Vt. College passes were up a whopping 43 percent. Sugarbush, Vt., also exceeded budget for season pass sales. Sunday River and Sugarloaf, Maine, which dropped prices $50, had a record spring sale season. Sales were also up at Hunter Mountain, N.Y.

Prices Up, Results Mixed
Not every resort cut or held season pass prices steady. Indianhead, Mich., increased prices five percent and saw sales slip slightly over last year’s record. Buck Hill, Minn., also raised prices slightly, and reported sales even. Camelback, Pa., hiked prices $30 and began selling passes earlier than ever. Sales were up 19.5 percent, but less than its aggressive 33 percent budget projection. Camelback held prices for school groups and parents, budgeted no increase, and saw sales explode—up 65 percent. So much for budgeting.

Cards, Anyone?
For skiers and riders afraid of serious commitment, even at bargain basement prices, ski resorts offered frequency cards. As with passes, many resorts cut prices and loaded up their frequency cards with values, and saw sales take off.

Sales of Hunter’s $39 Big Lift card, which gives holders discounts off tickets and other items, plus a free early season ticket, were up 11 percent. Hunter also sold several thousand of its re-introduced $99 triple play cards.

“People are committing very early to winter snowsports,” notes Brian Czarnecki, Hunter’s director of sales and marketing. “It’s a good omen for the season.”

Aspen sold about 1,500 of its new $299 Escape pass, which allows visitors to purchase an unlimited number of any day tickets for $49 each, about half off the window rate.

“That product is aimed at second-home owners, and people who come for a week at Christmas, spring break,” says Jeff Hanle, PR director. “When people call, we ask what their plans are and get them into the best option.”

Bridger Bowl tried a different value add with its passes this season, throwing in a $50 gift card for every child pass purchased with an adult pass, and $100 for every junior pass bought with an adult pass. “It effectively gives them French fry and cookie money for the season,” says Doug Wales, marketing director. “It’s a good way to do added value without discounting and eroding prices.”

At Sunday River and Sugarloaf, sales of the resorts’ frequent skier card shot up 300 percent after the resorts added a free lift ticket to the offer. The card gives holders 25 percent off weekend and 15 percent off weekday rates. More tellingly, the resorts’ early-rewards program, which trims $100 off lodging packages booked before October 15, were up 24 percent.

“It just goes to show people are really looking for value,” says Darcy Liberty, communications director. “They are very price conscious.”