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September 2015

Blue Pages :: September 2015

Epic Number of Season Pass Partnerships... Doubling Down on Uniqueness... When Expenses Trump Exclusivity... Solar in New York... Orange is the New Blue at Silverton... IOC Playing Games in Beijing?

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Epic Number of Season Pass Partnerships
Global access is one heck of a competitive advantage, and a swath of multi-resort companies and independent ski areas have rolled out new season pass partnerships offering just that.

Vail Resorts kicked off the latest round when it acquired Perisher, Australia, and added it to the Epic Pass family. Which now totals 10 resorts, plus bonus days at several other international destinations. In reaction (our word, not theirs), the Mountain Collective added Thredbo, also in Australia, a few days later. More recently, Stowe and Taos joined the Collective, making the pass good at 11 resorts--six U.S. resorts, two Canadian provinces, and Australia, with bonus days at Valle Nevado, Chile, and Hakuba Valley, Japan.

But wait, there’s more! Alyeska is now part of the Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus empire, which provides access to eight resorts, including Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand. And Whitewater signed on to the Powder Alliance, making it the second Canadian resort on the pass along with 12 other U.S. ski areas. On Donner Pass, Sugar Bowl, Woodward Tahoe, and Royal Gorge have partnered on an unrestricted pass for the 2015-16 season. Earlier, the MAX pass came to be; it includes five days at 22 ski areas in the East and West. More partnerships are sure to come.

While the benefit to skiers and riders is obvious, partnerships are good for the entire industry. They market North American skiing on a national and international scale. We suspect they also open up the potential for collaborating on other fronts.

Doubling Down on Uniqueness
According to Google Earth, there’s only one place on the planet called Park City. The same can be said of Salt Lake City. But there’s now more than one branding campaign in Utah using the tagline “There’s only one.”

To be sure, there’s a long list of things that are unique to Utah. But when it comes to winter sports, the Salt Lake County visitor’s bureau thought it had grabbed first chair a year ago when it launched its Ski City USA campaign with the tagline, “There is only one Ski City USA.”

But officials in Steamboat Springs, Colo., a.k.a. “Ski Town USA,” made it immediately clear that there wasn’t room for two municipalities to share such similar monikers. A lawsuit was quickly resolved, and Visit Salt Lake dropped “USA” from its campaign.

Fast forward 10 months, and now it’s the folks from Visit Salt Lake that have taken issue with Park City (the ski area, not the town). When Vail Resorts unveiled the tagline, “There is only one Park City,” Visit Salt Lake quickly pointed out that tagline was already being used in conjunction with its Ski City campaign.

However, Visit Salt Lake quickly opted for the high road, and a lineup of Park City business leaders are ready to piggy-back on Vail Resorts’ marketing efforts.

When Expenses Trump Exclusivity
It’s the closest ski area to many of metro Denver’s 2.9 million residents. Yet the various owners of Echo Mountain still haven’t landed on a business model that will turn the 226-acre area into a sustainable operation. Attempts to be a snowboard-only terrain park and, more recently, a racers-only training center have not panned out.

This season, Echo will once again open its slopes to the general public, and Snow Operating has been hired to implement a terrain-based learning program, two big steps in the right direction. The setting at Echo is perfect; It feels like a playground, a non-intimidating place to learn how to make your first turns. Parents can watch their child’s every move from the Chipotle-esque styled base lodge.

To be sure, the drive up Squaw Pass is not a walk in the park, particularly compared to I-70 on a good day, when Denver skiers can reach Loveland in about 45 minutes. Nevertheless, the return of the general public and addition of terrain-based learning is a reminder that no area can really afford to exclude anyone.

Solar in New York
The state of New York and the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) have entered into a 25-year power purchase agreement with Borrego Solar, a San Diego-based firm that develops, finances, and implements solar energy projects, to supply power to state-owned Belleayre, Gore Mountain, and Whiteface ski areas. The new energy program will target lift and snowmaking operations, and officials at Borrego project that the three resorts could save as much as $14 million over the 25-year period.

The commitment to solar energy is commendable from an environmental perspective. But N. Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be ruffling a few feathers among state-based solar contractors, who feel they’ve been—and continue to be—snubbed for lucrative contracts. And privately-owned neighbors of the state-run resorts might wonder why the state is, once again, competing with them.

Nonetheless, Cuomo has been deeply bound to his NY-Sun Initiative, launched in 2012. It aims to increase the number of solar systems and reduce energy costs. In April 2014, the state committed nearly $1 billion to NY-Sun. A press release a few months later, in September, announced that $100 million of that funding would be put towards 142 new solar project sites. Perhaps New York’s ­privately-owned winter resorts will be able to benefit from the program in the long run, too.

Orange is the New Blue at Silverton
The 3 million gallons of neon orange wastewater that flooded southern Colorado’s Animas River made national news after the Aug. 5 event. The cocktail of heavy metals and toxins tore down the San Juan Mountains and into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas, after an EPA contractor, there to mitigate pollutants, ruptured a dam wall while investigating the inoperable Gold King Mine. The incident ultimately mucked up the Animas, which runs through Durango.

The spill had no direct impact on Durango Mountain Resort, nearly 30 miles up the road from the town. But Silverton Ski Area, whose base sits on the banks of Cement Creek, had a very close call. There could have been serious repercussions if the toxic water had escaped Cement Creek’s banks and flooded the base area, potentially damaging its only lift. Silverton co-owner Aaron Brill says the water came within an inch of overflowing.

In the 1990s, the EPA had nominated the Gold King mine as a Superfund site, but community opposition nixed that. Ironically, some locals had feared that being labeled a Superfund site would tarnish the region’s reputation.

IOC Playing Games in Beijing?
After the International Olympic Committee selected Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Games, some observers panned the choice for a lack of snow. We asked our friend in Beijing, Canadian Justin Downes of Axis Leisure Management, if this was such a bad choice.

Relax, he told us: “It’s true that the annual snowfall in Beijing and Zhangjiakou cannot compare to many other international ski destinations, but the technical and climatic conditions for snowmaking are absolutely ideal.” The region where the Games will be held, Zhangjiakou (Chongli County) and Yanqing County, receives about 80 inches of snow a year. But the temperatures are consistently cold, and there’s plenty of water available for snowmaking.

That will be a positive change from recent Games, Downes reminded us. “Vancouver/Whistler and Sochi both delivered very successful Winter Olympic Games, but both venues were also dependent on snowmaking, both were transporting snow to their venues, and both had notable temperature issues that caused big problems and costs to the event organizers. Beijing will face no such worries.”

The longer-term benefits of the Games for the Chinese and global winter sports markets could be enormous. “The Chinese ski market is still in its infancy,” Downes says, ”but as the market matures and the ability improves, they will naturally seek offshore experiences. The Japanese resorts already saw a 35 percent growth in Chinese visitors in 2014-15 and it is expected to increase in the coming years.” We now have seven years to speculate on how this story will end.