As the door closes on 2021-22, resorts across North America are shelling out big bucks to solve overcrowding issues, update aging infrastructure, and combat fierce competition. And with so much change, it’s not surprising that season pass trends show few signs of consistency from one resort to the next.
It’s no secret that ever-growing mega-pass options have captured millions of consumers, while formerly wide-ranging discount offerings—often geared toward locals and first timers—have dwindled in recent years. But some resorts are getting creative with products and pricing designed to control crowding for a better experience, tap the casual skier, and still offer good value. For some, volume is still the name of the game.
Here are some of the season pass market moves for winter 2022-23.
MEGA PASSES, MINOR PRICE BUMPS
The prices for next season’s Epic and Ikon passes have gone up, albeit only slightly. The passes remain relatively affordable given the level of access they provide.
The 2022-23 unrestricted Epic ($841) and the restricted Epic Local ($626) passes each increased in price roughly 7.5 percent compared to 2021-22 early pricing, which, after Vail Resorts (VR) dropped pass prices 20 percent last year, is still less than what the passes cost in 2017-18. Epic will include the additions of Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and Laurel Mountain, Pa., which VR acquired in December 2021.
Alterra Mountain Company’s 2022-23 Ikon Pass is $1,079, up 8 percent from 2021-22. The Ikon Base Pass, which comes with some blackout dates, is priced at $769, up about 5.5 percent from last season. And the Ikon Base Plus offers the same access as the Base pass plus five days at several premier destinations, such as Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Aspen Snowmass, for $969. In addition, Snowbasin, Utah, and Sun Valley, Idaho, defected from Epic to join Ikon in 2022-23.
PRODUCTS FOR THE CASUAL SKIER
For 2022-23, the Ikon Session Pass, with access to 37 select resorts, adds two- and three-day options to the existing Session four-day product. While the pass comes with blackout dates, it’s price point is geared toward the more casual consumer, ranging from $249 to $419.
Similarly, VR is offering its Epic Day Pass, which debuted for the 2021-22 season and provides one to seven days of access to as many as 37 resorts. A new lower-priced option was added for 2022-23 that gives access to 22 VR properties, primarily in the Midwest, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. While Epic Day comes with blackout dates, pricing starts at $44, and it does offer a holiday-access upgrade, trading a higher price for no blackouts.
Boyne Resorts-owned Loon Mountain, N.H., and Sunday River and Sugarloaf, Maine, which together are included on the New England Pass family of products, unveiled the new NE Day flexible ticket pack for 2022-23. The NE Day is available in two, three, four, or five days with direct-to-lift access to all three resorts. It was developed in response to the market and the success of the previously offered New England 5-Day ticket pack, according to Sugarloaf marketing director Ethan Austin.
“We see the NE Day as a natural outgrowth of the New England 5-Day,” said Austin. “We’ve also seen successful similar products elsewhere in the industry (Epic Day, Ikon Session) and felt that consumers would be familiar with the concept.”
Managing peak visitation. The NE Day two-day starts at $139 with blackout dates, or $179 for unrestricted access. Austin said the product’s impact on peak visitation is “definitely something we’ll be paying attention to,” and is the reason why there’s restricted and unrestricted versions of the product. “If we see sales of the unrestricted NE Day reaching concerning levels, we will look to control sales either through price or quantity limits,” he said.
Of the three products, the Ikon Session is the only one that doesn’t offer an unrestricted option. The full Ikon Pass is the only unrestricted product in the Ikon suite, and is priced accordingly. Combined, this approach to limit products with holiday access will presumably help to manage holiday crowds.
Of course, offering a lower price point for non-holiday access, like Epic Day and NE Day, will help drive casual guests toward off-peak periods.
NOT MEGA, BUT MANY
The list of resort inclusions on mega pass websites seem to go on and on. Not to be left behind, the Indy Pass will offer two days of access to at least 82 partner resorts for 2022-23. All partner resorts are returning, and pricing remains flat year-over-year ($279 restricted, $379 unrestricted).
Indy as add-on. Indy was developed for the casual skier and rider, but the new Indy Switch Pass, which gives a nominal discount to anyone who provides proof that they purchased a full-season Epic, Ikon, or Mountain Collective pass for 2021-22, markets to a more frequent user. Switch is “intended to encourage skiers and riders to check out a few small- to mid-sized areas in addition to their favorite mega-resorts,” said Indy president and founder Doug Fish.
Mountain Collective has a similar concept to Indy, though with a more upscale group of partners, including Aspen Snowmass, Colo., Big Sky, Mont., and Snowbird, Utah. Mountain Collective passholders receive two days each at 22 partner resorts with no blackouts for $539, up from $499 last year.
The Collective will look a little different next season. Snowbasin and Sun Valley return to the group after ending their partnership with Epic. Conversely, Alterra-owned Mammoth Mountain and Palisades Tahoe, Calif., and Sugarbush, Vt., have withdrawn from Mountain Collective for 2022-23.
While the reasonable price of a mega- or multi-mountain pass will likely remain appealing to many consumers, several resorts are eschewing the “dirt-cheap” pass pricing model, in some cases specifically to manage volume. For example, Crystal Mountain, Wash., which has grappled with parking and traffic woes, jumped off the unlimited Ikon Pass to offer only five- and seven-day access options in 2022-23.
While Crystal is Alterra-owned and Ikon is an Alterra product, Alterra VP of communications Kristen Rust noted, “As a company, we focus on local leadership and empower each president to offer a great guest experience and support employees.” To that end, in lieu of unrestricted Ikon access, Crystal has added an anytime-access Crystal Legend Pass starting at $1,699 with an optional $300 upgrade to include an Ikon Pass.
Tiana Anderson, Crystal’s director of marketing and guest experience, anticipates the Ikon Pass add-on will be popular with Legend passholders. “We’re anticipating the majority will upgrade,” she said, noting that Ikon partners Summit at Snoqualmie, Schweitzer, and Mt. Bachelor are all within easy driving distance. continued »
Parking. Included in the cost of any Crystal season pass is parking—non-passholders must pay $20 on Fridays and $30 on weekends and holidays. To manage daily volume, though, passholders will still be required to make parking reservations on peak days during the 2022-23 season.
Snowbird, Utah, in the infamously congested Little Cottonwood Canyon, has taken a different approach to manage its limited parking. Last season, in addition to parking reservations and carpool incentives, the resort also rolled out a Preferred Parking Pass. The pass, which enables holders to arrive at Snowbird any time of day without reservations and have a parking spot waiting, quickly sold out for 2021-22.
Snowbird raised the price of the parking pass for next year from $699 to $799. (Free parking will still be available on a first-come, first-served basis, and daily rates for reserved parking range from $10 to $40, depending on the day and the lot.) With Snowbird’s 2022-23 season pass retailing at $1,149, all in, unrestricted parking and lift access will set buyers back nearly $2,000. That’s not substantively different from the cost of access this past season.
Price bumps. The price increase of Crystal’s parking-inclusive unrestricted pass, on the other hand, represents a $700 price hike over the season prior, which has left some locals feeling priced out. To remedy that, Crystal is also offering the new Crystal Roots Pass, which is $649 for midweek, non-holiday access, and weekend access beginning March 18, 2023. “We kept the price low for the midweek Crystal Roots Pass, which is geared toward locals,” said Anderson.
According to Anderson, the new pass structure will help combat the traffic and parking issues at the mountain while improving guest flow and experience.
BIG MOUNTAIN, SMALL STICKER
Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin has grappled with similar volume challenges as Crystal in its past, but has landed on a different solution. According to marketing director Jesse True, A-Basin has renewed its focus on providing a high-quality skiing and riding experience for its loyal customer base. To do that, the ski area carefully manages capacity.
Though still part of Ikon (it joined in 2019-20), A-Basin has sweetened its own 2022-23 resort pass offerings with an unrestricted season pass starting at $559, but it’s only available in limited quantities—and the resort expects them to sell out. In contrast, a peak season day lift ticket is $189, with sales capped at “comfortable capacities.” A-Basin plans to offset the lower season-pass price by increasing revenues from other sources, such as day tickets, F&B, retail, and summertime weddings and events.
“Keeping skiing and riding as the common denominator is a core philosophy for the company and comes with a big return,” said True. “We are proud of our strategic stance to keep capacities low and overcrowding issues elsewhere.”
SMALL MOUNTAIN, BIG FLEX
As discounts dwindle, it sounds absurd to hear of a full season pass that costs less than $100. But that’s just what Mount Bohemia, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, offers with its $99 season pass. For $99, passholders get unrestricted access to Mount Bohemia and reciprocal benefits to a whopping 16 other areas in Michigan and around the West, including Bogus Basin, Idaho, Crystal Mountain, Mich., and Mission Ridge, Wash.
Mount Bohemia president Lonie Glieberman said that offering so many benefits at such an appealing price point allows the resort to remain in operation with a limited customer base, in which most passholders visit only a handful of times per season.
Additionally, Bohemia only sells passes to residents of states in which its western pass partner resorts do not operate, to avoid undercutting the partners’ pass sales. Partners see value in the referral traffic from the Midwestern market—in a few cases, Mount Bohemia was a top-ranking source of website referral visits to its partner resorts—and Bohemia sees pass revenue on the front end as an insurance policy against the potential of a fickle season.
The shifting sales strategies for season passes are an indication of how the industry is evolving. While all angles are not guaranteed to yield success, the fact that resorts are trying new approaches, adjusting focus, and homing in on the guest experience suggests that finding the optimal price/value balance for both core and occasional guests—and locals—is no easy task.