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SAM Magazine—Park City, Utah, Oct. 15, 2021—After Powdr launched its new Fast Tracks pay-for-faster-lift-access program, reaction from skiers and snowboarders was swift—and largely negative. POWDRlogoIn response to the feedback, Powdr posted “A letter to the community regarding Fast Tracks” from co-presidents Wade Martin and Justin Sibley. 

The letter acknowledges that the Fast Tracks announcement “has generated some questions and confusion, especially among the Mt. Bachelor community,” and aims to clarify how the product works and what it means for guests.

Fast Tracks is a daily ticket or season pass upgrade option (starting at $49 a day) for express lift access via dedicated lanes at four Powdr resorts: Copper Mountain, Colo., Killington, Vt., Mt. Bachelor, Ore., and Snowbird, Utah. The product, the letter states, is based on the concept that has been offered at Copper Mountain for nearly 20 years, which “has gone through a number of variations and optimizations informed through guest feedback,” and is now being expanded to the other resorts and reintroduced as Fast Tracks. The idea behind the product is to provide a way for Powdr guests to maximize their time on the mountain through access to a fast lane at key lifts.

Many local passholders have pointed out on social media that maximizing time for a select few could reduce on-snow time for others—like them. Some resent the fact that this new program was announced after they had bought their own season passes for the season. At Mt. Bachelor, Ore., anger over the program has prompted 10,000 opponents to sign a petition requesting that the program be abandoned.

A separate negative response came from Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who decried the program for diminishing equity at Mt. Bachelor, which sits on National Forest land that, as Wyden pointed out, is owned by all Americans. Wyden requested that Powdr eliminate the program or, "at a minimum, POWDR must delay implementation until it adequately explains to the public how the Fast Tracks policy will not exacerbate equity issues that already exist in outdoor recreation."

In the letter, Wade and Sibley said, “What we have learned through our recent experience with the product at Copper Mountain is that it is utilized by less than 2% of total daily skiers due in large part to our careful calibration and limiting access to ensure a quality experience for all guests. The product is additionally managed with lift loading protocols, which provide for rotation between traditional, Ski School and Fast Track lines. As a result, the impact on lift line wait times across our mountains is negligible.”

In addition, they said Fast Tracks will not affect general access to the resorts where it’s offered. “Fast Tracks access is no different than the access offered through ski school, private lessons and guided mountain tours in that they all provide a finite number of fast lane experiences,” which are available for anyone to buy at the same price with the same benefits. 

“We remain highly confident based on our experience with similar products that Fast Tracks will be a valuable product for those that wish to participate and it will not compromise the experience of other guests. Nevertheless, if any guest would like a season pass refund before the season starts as a result of our Fast Tracks product, we will honor that request,” the letter concluded.

A PR representative for Powdr resorts, Alana Watkins, acknowledged to OutsideOnline that season-pass holders are less likely to utilize it. “There are plenty of skiers/riders who ski/ride often, and this might not be valuable [to] them. But for a family that is coming for a week’s vacation or a long weekend this could be the ultimate upgrade to help them get more out of their experience,” she wrote in an email.

As Jason Blevins of The Colorado Sun pointed out, Forest Service rules don’t prohibit products like Fast Tracks. One precedent is Copper Mountain’s Beeline Advantage program—the concept behind the Fast Tracks product—which the White River National Forest looked into in the early 2000s after skiers complained. The agency found the program did not violate anti-discrimination rules for ski areas operating on public land. Offering discounts to locals but not visitors, for example, would violate those rules, said Blevins.

“Products like Powdr’s Fast Tracks are business decisions that are not prohibited as long as they remain equally available to anyone without requirements,” Don Dressler, mountain resort program manager for the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region, told Blevins.

While reaction on social media has been overwhelmingly negative, not everyone has been opposed to the plan. “I am glad they are trying it and maybe it will work,” Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher told Stuart Winchester of The Storm Skiing Journal. However, Kircher also said he doesn't see it being successful based on Boyne's experience with programs of similar ilk that didn't work out, including an express-lane offering at Sunday River, Maine, that was scrapped shortly after it launched due to guest feedback.

Fast-access lanes aren’t entirely new, of course. In addition to Copper’s Beeline Advantage, Bretton Woods, N.H., and Sierra-at-Tahoe, Calif., have had fast-access programs for years, too. And ski schools across the country have offered thinly-veiled programs that allow guests to ski/ride with an instructor mainly to cut the liftlines since at least the 1980s.

Slopefillers' Gregg Blanchard, while acknowledging that much of the social media criticism has been fair, noted that this new program is in some ways not all that different from other aspects of the resort experience. Skiers have long tolerated special express access lines for ski school, he wrote, and accepted that they must pay more for things that improve their individual experience—from ski-in, ski-out lodging and upgraded rental gear to close-in parking. He suggested that this new program could be seen in a similar light—and that only time will tell if it is.