We are finally seeing the pushback against high-priced daily lift passes. One of the trends we saw this past Christmas in the Tahoe Basin was that many day skiers were bypassing the major resorts with their $200+ day tickets and heading to the smaller resorts and ski areas. We heard the names Diamond Peak, Donner Ski Ranch, Homewood, and Mt Rose mentioned more this season than in any year past. These smaller resorts might not have the sex appeal of the Epic and Ikon destination resorts, but they offer a level of affordability for Joe and Jane Skier and their two kids. The Skier family is frustrated because unless they purchased a season pass months in advance, a day on the hill could easily cost $2,000, once you add up lift tickets, parking, rentals, lunch, lessons, and maybe a snack.
Mt. Rose-Courtesy of Andy Mink
Mt. Rose-Courtesy of Andy Mink
With the advent of the Epic and Ikon multiresort passes, along with the Mountain Collective Pass and competitive pricing of local mountains' passes, we are seeing the dreaded Christmas holiday traffic become more like midseason crowds. We see the multiresort passes becoming the industry norm, but what is more interesting is the breakdown of the unlimited full passes versus the regular passes that have blackout days over the holiday periods. I was unable to get official numbers for the breakdown, but the unconfirmed number that keeps coming is that only about 25% of the Ikon passes bought this season were the unlimited full version. We could not get any intel from the Vail side, but I would expect the numbers to be similar. What does that mean? Well, the only people who were out on the slopes during the 12/26-12/31 week were full passholders and skiers who bought day passes, while the rest of the passholders were home doing other things or maybe skiing in the backcountry.
This past Christmas break, Tahoe was in midseason form. There were minimal road closures, fantastic midwinter conditions, near 100% lift operations -- but no horrific crowds. We believe this is where the passes are leveling the skier days. “Locals” and the regular weekend warriors who have the base Ikon or Epic Tahoe passes stayed away over the holiday week. We even saw it at Mt Rose, where we have seen longer lift lines on a powder day in March than there were this past season between Christmas and New Year's.
Why are we seeing this much of a discrepancy in percentages from the passes that have minimal blackout days and the unlimited passes? These differences vary from resort to resort, but in most cases are in the $100 to $200 range, less than the cost of a single day ticket at these resorts. IMHO, the why comes down to skiortophobia, aka the fear of skiing over the holidays. We have all heard the horror stories of having to park three ski areas away and take four shuttle buses (one you have to take twice) to the resort, 3-hr rental lines, 6-hr lift lines, and lesson groups with 20 beginners per instructor. Yes, these are slight exaggerations, but you get the idea. People used to hate skiing over the holidays, but now crowds are indeed less holiday-like. So for next season, the smart money will be to buy the full unlimited pass and ski over Christmas because everyone is skiing over the holidays because it’s not too crowded.