Big Sky Resort, MT General Manager: Be Kind to Ikon Pass Holders – We Need Them

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ikon pass, big sky, Montana, crowds
Don’t blame Ikon Pass holders for taking your fresh pow lines, says the Big Sky Resort president. Credit: Undercover Tourist

Last week the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, WY President wrote an open letter in response to an overcrowding issue at the resort, addressing several issues and the resort’s plans to combat them. In particular, this season’s overcrowding was attributed mainly to the record snow year, and not the newly introduced Ikon Pass of which JHMR is a member.

Over the weekend, the General Manager of Big Sky Resort, MT had a letter published on the Explore Big Sky website defending Ikon Pass holders, and explaining that their patronage is vital to sustain success and for local businesses to thrive. Here’s the letter in full…

On March 6, EBS received this letter from Big Sky Resort General Manager Taylor Middleton, which asks community members and resort goers to welcome Ikon Pass holders with open arms–as he says many in the community were in the past:

Dear Big Sky Community,

When I first came to Big Sky almost 40 years ago I was embraced by the community. Thanks, Pirate, Betsy, Kelly, Curly, John, Tim, Sally, Mike, Dan, Jodean, Doug, Chris, Walter and countless others for making me feel so welcome back then. That same welcome has awaited most everyone coming since, whether we arrived five years ago or 50. Big Sky is a welcoming place.

Recently, local social media channels are revealing a rash of really negative postings, shunning new visitors and treating new arrivals differently than we were treated ourselves. Sadly, I just read this message from a recent guest:

“… We’re from the UK and have been skiing in North America every year for the past 15 years. We’ve had epic passes, mountain collective, and this year we bought the Ikon base pass. We usually make 2 three week ski trips each season and love the freedom to travel and explore that the multi-center passes give us. We’ve never encountered any negative reaction to us as holders of these sort of passes- until this year!  At Big Sky, they were selling bumper stickers saying ‘IKON [not] wait for you to leave’ …”

That note made me really sad because this guest did not experience the warm welcoming culture that our broad community has historically offered. A few people have been targeting these new guests with mean messages phrased around a concept that Big Sky is becoming too busy and newcomers are to blame.

Most everyone knows that Big Sky Resort recently joined two national season ski pass programs, Ikon and Mountain Collective. This move is enhancing the Big Sky brand and showcasing our community to new guests who pour spending into our community. These programs are just another piece in the long-term strategy to move Big Sky into a league of America’s best resorts, right where we belong. Our community is growing as our guests discover and fall in love with Big Sky, just like each of us have.

It’s busier now than it used to be. Is it too busy? The facts say Big Sky is one of the least crowded ski destinations offering more acres per skier than any major resort. In three years, we’ve constructed four modern lifts adding quality and increasing uphill capacity by 1,600 skiers per hour. We’ve made no secret that more on-mountain upgrades are planned.

Many of us know it can be hard to make it in a small resort town. Individuals can struggle. Small businesses can struggle. Big businesses can struggle. Not too long ago, many businesses here, small and large, were going broke and residents were moving away because we did not have enough guests to support the town. The good news is that today Big Sky is thriving. Striking the right balance between prosperity and broke can be complicated. I’ll tell you from personal experience, it’s a lot more fun to be managing success than downsizing.

My life here, our lives here, are made possible by visitors. Big Sky’s culture is friendly and welcoming. We were all new at some point; these guests are our newest visitors.

So here we are: We want a thriving economy without falling into that old ski town trap of not wanting others to come after we arrived. We want more and faster lifts but don’t like anyone else skiing our favorite line. The conundrum, of course, is that our community is stronger with many guests and the services they help us afford. I’m not just talking about ski lifts either. Banks, schools, grocery stores, a hospital, and a theater make Big Sky more livable and fun.

I don’t enjoy traffic or lift lines either. I get it. Still, my personal experience is that Big Sky is a more livable place today than it was 40, or 20 or 10 years ago, and that’s because so many people have found our good town and our good people, and their visits have helped us afford these improvements.

I’m committed to working hard to help Big Sky grow better, and I know countless others that are too. I’m also committed to keeping this a fun place, with loads of fun people, who do fun stuff, and I know a boatload of you feel the same way. We’re a friendly and welcoming bunch. Please keep sharing that, continue paying it forward, just like that group of pals did with me 40 years ago.

Taylor Middleton
Big Sky Resort General Manager

What are your thoughts? Are you seeing overcrowding issues at your resort? Does that correspond with being a member of the Ikon or Epic pass?

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Big Sky Resort are just 2 of the 38 iconic destinations available on the new Ikon Pass.

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11 thoughts on “Big Sky Resort, MT General Manager: Be Kind to Ikon Pass Holders – We Need Them

  1. What I see is $1449 for a new pass that includes the tram… if I want to wait an hour every time. Ikon people pay $800 and ride the tram. Hmmm…..

    1. Are you suggesting the 5 and/or 7 day passes Big Sky sells directly should also cost $1449 because they include tram access? What about day tickets? “Ikon [sic] people” do not actually have a season pass to Big Sky.

      There’s an argument to be made for overcrowding due to the mega-passes, but ignoring fundamental differences between the passes you’re comparing just makes you look like a curmudgeon yelling, “Get off my lawn!”.

  2. I really like all these heartfelt letters from resort CEOs telling us we should be nice to the IKON pass people so they can get their Alterra bonuses.
    As a Big Sky resident the change after the IKON pass is huge. The story of the UK family is not representing the IKON problem.
    The problem is the Utah Colorado Idaho and MT people getting a pow alert on their phone driving up day/two skiing and leaving, providing little or no economic benefit other than skier days. There’s rumors that the tax revenue is not representing the increase in ski visits.
    Big Sky is barely making it and needs to be discovered. B.S. Somehow they found 8 million for an albatross of a new lift while unable to keep other lifts running or provide decent housing or wages. Its mismanagement and greed.
    Why is skiing quality a non topic? That used to be the hallmark of this place. I don’t see IKON pass folks here spending money once the mountain is blown out…
    Whoever inked the IKON deal should be fired. Including tram access with this pass has created a huge issue here. Why not charge extra for that? Maybe then Big Sky wont have to offer desperate pass options like the April pass.
    Like a bad snowpack, the mega pass pricing is upside down. I pay 1600 to ski here, spend money to live here. You want happy friendly local then start treating them like more than servants that have the privilege of working at your resort.

  3. Hey Mr. General Manager: How much does Big Sky get paid per Ikon skier day? I’ve heard it’s $3. That’s right, Ikon pays Big Sky $3 for every Ikon skier that shows up to ski. Please tell me I’m wrong. Please tell us how much you get.

  4. I live in Crested Butte, and the amount of Epic Pass holders here on a weekend is enough to make me not want to ski the resort. I respect growth and progress, but the skiing experience is already ruined. But skiing still rocks, soooo…….

  5. Hey Taylor _ we get that you’ve been there for 40 years. Props for making it work for so long in a ski town. But you’re not telling the whole story. Why doe Big Sky have to “enhance the Big Sky brand” and get into the “league”. Why not just let the skiing do the talking? Otherwise, you’re just obscuring the real driver: Boyne Resorts shareholders want a ROI increase. the rest is just fluff, see-through at best.

    I will always blame Vail resorts for the downfall of the ski industry and moving it from a mountain experience to a tourism magnet. they kickstarted this whole mess of turning over ski areas for profit to condo developers and what do we get? $30 parking, $1M condos, short-term rentals pushing locals out of their own backyard, huge lift lines…. what do you expect? p-o’d locals, that’s what.

    I watched Colorado change in the 90’s from day use areas to manufactured resorts, and not a single one of them has thrived since, unless you call congestion and $200 lift tickets “thriving”. To me, thriving would be keeping operations at a low-growth trajectory while balancing the environmental factors. It can be done, you don’t need to sell out to run a “successful” operation – there’re plenty of examples around and thriving. Long live the day use area.

  6. Eldora is on the Ikon pass this year and the place is a zoo, parking lots are full at 8.45 some weekends and they turn hundreds of people away. There was a powder day in January and the traffic line was 8 miles long back through the town of Nederland and past the dam towards Boulder. Most of the locals I know don’t ski/ride on weekends and powder days last an hour.
    They tried to start charging $20 for parking mid way into the season to try and convince people to carpool so they could squeeze more people onto the already crowded slopes but there was a huge backlash and they backed down with their tail between their legs. They are totally over subscribed now with the Ikon Pass, have insufficient parking and are causing problems in nearby Nederland. It’s not much fun to ride their anymore

  7. The Ikon pass did not contribute to over
    Crowding at squaw or alpine meadows
    This season, it has been overcrowded for years, Highway 89 simply wasn’t designed to handle heavy traffic, the ski resort infrastructure was not designed to handle 13,000 people trying to park their cars, mass transit doesn’t exist in Lake Tahoe. The resorts and the county supervisors have been talking about solutions for years , the simple fact is that it will only get worse. Most people from the Bay Area don’t have a clue how to drive in snow and create 99% of the problems on the road. Stopping their car on the road to remove chains, driving their car with chains when there is no chain control.
    Just a little common sense goes a long way to move traffic a little faster.
    California will never have mass transit as long as politicians are the ones making the decisions .

  8. It really is a Catch-22. Here at Tahoe, the only days to ski are now Tues-Thurs. And forget powder days, which are now powder hours.
    I don’t blame “tourists” or “flatlanders”, since I was one once. It’s just that it’s a popular sport and more folks are enjoying it.

    1. There’s a little more to it than that. What I’ve noticed in Tahoe, anecdotally, is that while there’s been a noticeable increase in car traffic, the parking lots fill even earlier than in previous years, and the lodges are really overcrowded at lunch, the actual ski slopes aren’t *that* much more crowded than the past few years. (I know several people who’ve made similar comments, even before the exceptional snow began in late January / February.) There really hasn’t been anything resembling a powder “day” since KSL took over and revamped the pass structure (unless you know where to look), but more so now than ever there seems to be an increase in people who show up and spend most of the day at the base area.

      If the same is true of Big Sky, this might provide some perspective to the complaints. The parking and cafeteria setups at Big Sky were honestly my largest complaints. (Really, you start the parking shuttle at *8:30*, and there’s no parking next to anything resembling a lodge?) Big Sky locals are also at the extra disadvantage of not actually being able to use the IKON pass as their season pass, with the unusual wrinkle that not all of the Big Sky passes actually cover the tram (whereas the IKON pass provides unlimited access for all 5/7 days).

  9. Hmm… I thought that IKON pass holders were only good for starting fist fights in the Lone Peak Tram line.

    Had a wonderful time visiting Big Sky, but the negativity is real. All things considered, the lift lines were really not bad at all despite the amazing conditions.

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