May 2021

The Evolution in Pass Plans

2021-22 season pass products aim to capture last season's surge in demand and, in some cases, manage it.

Written by Linda Goodspeed | 0 comment


Amid the uncertainties of this past Covid season, most resorts met capacity restrictions by limiting day tickets, sending season pass sales skyrocketing. Thanks to guaranteed access and no-questions-asked refund and deferral plans, season pass sales surged to record levels at many resorts. As the surprisingly strong 2020-21 season wound down, resorts started unveiling their pass offerings for next season. Some will limit pass sales, many raised prices, a few lowered them, and most will continue to offer pass or season guarantees. Let’s explore some themes that have emerged.

Less Is More

Sugar Bowl sells out. Sugar Bowl, Calif., which halted sales of 2020-21 season passes last September, will again limit passes for next season. In fact, demand from existing passholders was so strong, the resort never opened sales to the general public, taking 2021-22 passes off the market March 19.

A-Basin caps sales. Arapahoe Basin, Colo., also limited pass sales for the 2020-21 season, and will sell even fewer—10 percent less—next season.

“We don’t really want to build more parking,” said Katherine Fuller, PR manager, citing a historic pinch point for the ski area. “We want to manage crowds in other ways.” Like raising pass prices 12 percent and capping unrestricted passes.

“A-Basin is a unique experience. We have no lodging, no tubing. People come here for the terrain, culture, and a great ski and ride experience,” said Fuller. “We’re really focusing on the quality of the experience, not quantity.”

Although multi-day passes will likely still be available throughout next season, “we’re targeting a much more comfortable capacity,” said Fuller. “We will sell out for sure.”

Magic makes space for day ticket holders. Magic Mountain, Vt., which sold a record number of season passes for 2020-21 (up 50 percent), will limit pass sales to slightly above this year’s number. Magic is also restoring pre-Covid pass pricing for 2021-22 after cutting prices this season in response to Covid.

“We need to achieve a balance between passholders with unlimited access and everybody else who wants to ski Magic,” said resort president Geoff Hatheway. “It’s important from our revenue perspective and the quality of experience we want to have.”

The ski area will remain part of the Indy Pass program. “We were one of the top five resorts in the East for the Indy Pass,” said Hatheway, noting that the pass was a success.

More Is More

Vail drops prices. Rather than limiting pass sales, Vail Resorts took the opposite approach. It cut Epic Pass prices 20 percent in a bid to increase revenue by increasing volume.

“We expect [the] price reductions will generate incremental pass revenue from new unit sales in fiscal 2022 that will approximately offset any pass revenue lost from the new discount, and we believe that in future years the compounding impact of retaining guests in our program will drive material increases in pass revenue,” said CEO Rob Katz.

The Epic Local Pass costs $583, down from $729 last season, and the full Epic Pass is priced at $783, down from $979 last season. The last time Epic passes were this cheap was 2015-16, when the pass provided access to 11 resorts, compared to more than 70 today.

“Our goal is to ultimately have more than 75 percent of lift revenue come from passes,” said Katz. Currently, Vail Resorts has about 1.4 million passholders. In 2020-21, 71 percent of lift revenues came from passes, up from 59 percent in 2019-20.

Alterra holds steady. Alterra’s Ikon Pass, with access to 44 resorts, is largely keeping prices unchanged. The full Ikon Pass costs $999, and the more limited Ikon Base Pass is priced at $729, up from $699 last season. The 4-day Session Pass remains $399, and the add-on for Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Aspen Snowmass, Colo., for Base Pass holders remains $150.

Speaking of add ons ... Boyne-owned Big Sky, Mont., is also getting into the add-on game. For 2021-22, the resort eliminated tram access for Ikon, Mountain Collective and most Big Sky season passes. Those guests must purchase daily tram access (between $20 and $80, depending on the pass product). Bundled Tram Access Packs will be available to consumers for pre-purchase this June, pricing TBD. Visitors looking for unlimited tram access must commit to the $1,899 Big Sky Gold Pass.

Price bumps. The two-year-old Indy Pass, which this season provided two free days at 63 independently owned resorts, will increase prices next season, though the rate had not been set at press time.

“This season, redemptions were up 1,100 percent and sales increased 750 percent,” said Indy Pass founder Doug Fish. “We expect 100 percent renewals, and the addition of some more resorts. We’re still trying to figure out what the Indy Pass can do, including pricing, redemptions, and yields for next season.”

Priced in 2020-21 at $199 ($99 for kids), the 2021-22 pass will go on sale June 1. For comparison, the Mountain Collective pass, which provides two free days at each of its 23 partner resorts, plus one bonus day, is on sale this spring for $499.

Individual resorts are also raising prices incrementally. Schweitzer, Idaho, which saw a big bump in pass sales for 2020-21, will increase pass prices about $50 across the board, said marketing manager Dig Chrismer. Saddleback, Maine, will raise season pass prices from $699 to $729 to reflect the new owners’ investment in the mountain—a new detachable quad this season, and a mid-mountain lodge, two or three new lifts, and snowmaking for next season.

Incentives to Buy

Renewal discount. Three days after Vail cut prices, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Calif., unveiled its own 20 percent pass renewal discount for 2020-21 passholders, dropping its unlimited pass from $499 to $399.

“We were definitely paying attention to Vail,” said communications director, Keith Lederman, about the move. “I wouldn’t say it was the deciding factor in us offering a 20 percent pass renewal discount, though. We’re trying to show gratitude to our current and past passholders for sticking with us.”

Kids go free. Brian Head, Utah, will expand eligibility for its free kids pass from 10 years old to 12. “We’re very much into getting young people skiing,” said Mark Wilder, PR coordinator.

Continuing deferral programs. Waterville Valley, N.H., will keep its “ski or ride and decide” program. Passholders will have until March 1, 2022, to use their pass once; if unused, they can defer it to the following season. The resort only had about 100 deferrals in 2020-21, said marketing director Matt Hesser.

Subscription services. Killington, Vt., saw a big uptake for its annual Spring Pass sale ($250 for skiing from March 15 until closing, which is often June). It continues to push its subscription pass ($99 per month; $120 with the Ikon Pass added). It also unveiled a subscription pass for neighboring Pico ($75 per month, with four days of skiing at Killington and access to all summer activities there, including golf, mountain biking, and the adventure center).

Spring rollover. Monarch, Colo., sold three times as many of its Wings Pass (ski the rest of this season and all of next, with partner benefits) as last year, which was then a record.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” said marketing director Dan Bender. “Those sales are very strong, plus we’re in the middle of renewals. A lot of old passholders are coming back, which is why the Wings Pass is so big. Others are moving from the big mega resorts and all the hassle to a more chill vibe like Monarch. I don’t know how else to explain our big season pass numbers.”

It seems that almost regardless of pass policies—prices up, prices down, limited sales or unlimited—the upward trend in pass sales as a percentage of all ticket sales continues.