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Mega-Pass Tensions and Record Snow

Adrian Dolatschko | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Mega-Passes Image: Z-Rankings

After a massive snow year across the American West, many ski areas are extending their seasons. 

In parallel, record-setting skier traffic across the west throughout the 18-19 season revealed tensions between local communities and tourist skiers. As a result, mega-passes were often defined as the scapegoat for increased skier traffic.

In recent years, the introduction of the Epic pass, from Vail Resorts, and more recent competing Ikon pass from Alterra Mountain Co. rewrote the definition of a “season pass.” Through offering a combination of unlimited skiing at certain resorts while also enabling select days at an even broader range of locations, pass holders are more likely to travel.

The Mountain Collective pass (promo video above) offers 2 days at 20 global locations.

Although the modern ski pass may promote ski travel, they are not the only factor to blame for an increase in crowds. According to Aspen Ski Company president Mike Kaplan,

“Ikon visitors are making up less than 9 percent of total business and a high of 15 percent on the weekends”

The sentiment that less than or equal to 10% of skiers share an affiliation with an Ikon or Epic pass was mirrored by numerous reports. Instead, ski areas revealed that the 18-19 season featured a dramatic increase in season pass usage. In many cases up to a 40% increase was observed.

According to Aspen’s CEO, Kaplan believes:

“Last year’s frustration has translated into this year’s full-throttled enthusiasm.”

Similarly, Telluride CEO, Bill Jenson stated:

“This is a benchmark year, a once-a-decade sort of season,”

As a result, the general industry sentiment is that more favorable snow conditions where the foundation for the observed global increase in ski traffic and travel. Mega-passes such as the Ikon and Epic were only a slight contributing factor to a benchmark season. In addition, while mega-passes invite more people to explore new ski areas, they are also a lifesaver during low snow years. For many ski resorts, mega-passes are essential for sustained future operations.

Squaw Valley, CA Report: The Best Powder Day In Years…

Although the combination of record-breaking snow and increased ski travel is positive for tourism and ski areas, local communities carry the burden of increased traffic. As a result, many ski areas are looking to refine their amenities to better accommodate increased traffic. Similarly, mega-passes aim to take steps to better support ski areas and the resulting traffic loads.

Jackson Hole Lift Line, Image: Ryan Dorgan

While tension rose throughout the season, resort leadership published open letters to promote civility. 

According to Kaplan:

“We all had a first day of skiing here, the mountains are open to all, and everyone on them deserves respect.”

So while spring skiing is in full effect and we reminisce about a season for the record books, the battle for next year’s season pass resumes. 


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