Are Season Passes The Ski Industry’s New Loss Leader?

Posted By: Steve Bellamy on September 12, 2009 1:36 pm

The Epic Pass is $599 for an adult and $299 for a child.  It lets you ski Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, A Basin and Heavenly.  The gold pass is a lot pricier at $2750, but it gives skiers access to 21, yes count em 21 ski resorts.  At the risk of having the ones we don’t mention call us here you go Aspen, Steamboat, Telluride, Crested Butte, Snowmass, Copper Mountain, A Basin (hey, they’re in both,) Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, Purgatory, Echo Mountain, Eldora, Howelsen, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Ski Cooper, SolVista, Sunlight, Winter Park/Mary Jane and Wolf Creek. 21 freaking resorts for under $3000!  If they divide that up even steven per resort, that is a whopping $130 per mountain. 

If you want to ski utah, well they have aggregated a similar situation with 13 resorts called the  Ski Utah Silver and Gold passes.  The gold pass is $3400 and the silver pass is $2300.  With these passes you get to ski Deer Valley, Park City, Alta, Snowbird, the Canyons, Powder Mountain, Solitude, Brighton, Beaver Mountain, Brian Head, Snowbasin, Sundance and Wolf Mountain.  With these passes you are allowed to ski 30 days per resort for the silver and 40 days per resort for the gold. 

Now if you want to go bonkers, you can buy the US Ski Team and Snowboard Team Gold Pass.  That costs a little more at $10,000 but it gets you unlimited use in 250 resorts and includes Vail, Park City, Aspen, Deer Valley, Stowe, Sun Valley and a gajillion more. This money doesn’t even go to the resorts, but it does go to an incredibly worthy cause…the US Ski and Snowboard Teams.  Steven Nyman, Lindsey Vonn, Eric Fisher, et al thank you dearly.

All passes are even transferable with exception to the Epic Pass. 

Other parts of the country, besides Colorado and Utah are getting into the action as well.  In Michigan there is the White Gold Card.  For $189 bucks, skiers can ski 28 participating resorts.

Participating ski areas include:  Alpine Valley in White Lake; Apple Mountain in Freeland; Bittersweet in Otsego; Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs; Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls; Caberfae Peaks in Cadillac; Cannonsburg Ski Area in Cannonsburg; Cross-Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon; Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville; Hanson Hills in Grayling; Indianhead Mountain in Wakefield; Marquette Mountain in Marquette; Mont Ripley in Houghton; Mt. Bohemia in the Keweenaw Peninsula; Mt. Brighton in Brighton; Mt. Holiday in Traverse City; Mt. Holly in Holly; Mt Zion in Ironwood; Norway Mountain in Norway; Nubs Nob in Harbor Springs; Pine Knob in Clarkston; Pine Mountain in Iron Mountain; Shanty Creek in Bellaire; Snow Snake in Harrison; Swiss Valley Ski Area in Jones; The Homestead in Glen Arbor; Timber Ridge Ski Area in Gobles and Treetops Resort in Gaylord.

So if we could wax philosophical here for a moment.  Is this a good thing?  Certainly, it is great to be able to save money.  No question there.  Is the goal here to get new people skiing?  That’s a great thing.  Is the goal to be able to keep people who want to ski…skiing.  That’s a great thing as well.  Our problem with it is that the value of these products is way more than the cost.  Yes, we said it, but don’t get too pissed price sensitive skiers. Here us out for a second.

A ski resort has got to be the capital intensive, labor intensive, perishable product, tiny season, crap shoot of a business known to mankind.  You have to build buildings.  On nice flat land?…NOT!  You have to build lifts, usually with giant helicopters involved.  You have to employ tons of specialized labor and then find some situation for them to live there.  Once 4:00 PM hits, the day is over and you can’t sell another lift ticket against that day.  That inventory is gone forever.  When you are selling shirts, your inventory carrys until you sell it.  The season is basically from Christmas break until spring break and really most of the business is done in those 2 weeks.  Lastly, there is this little variable called…eh snow!?  The ski industry has been largely impervious to recessions and really wasn’t a business during the depression, but give it a bad snow year and enjoy your gravel enima cause it is painful. 

But you can put one of these downtown right on the street corner right?  Not!  To get there, it is planes, trains and automobiles.  Who put the dumbass Denver Airport in Kansas?  I-70?  How would like to have your business contingent on I-70?  Your customers can sometimes have bumper to bumper, 8-mile per hour drives with a School Buss spinning its tires and dumping black, grimey dirt slush water all over their car.  If Mammoth Mountain wasn’t a 5-hour drive with the pedal to the medal, it would be more crowded than LiveAid.  Point is, ski resorts don’t fit just anywhere.

The other costs of doing businesses at these resorts are off the charts.  Insurance – ugh!  Can you even imagine how bad these resorts are getting hit on by insurance?  What other businesses require to shoot a Howitzer everyday?  Much less 20 howizer shots and trained people to shoot them.  Can you simply raid Starbucks employee list for ski school instructors?  Not, they are as specialized as they come.  Do you know the rectal examination that goes down with these airline deals?  Many resorts have to guarantee every seat.  I could go on here, but you get the picture.

As a lifelong, dedicated skier and lover of ski resorts, I want these resorts to be as healthy as a horse.  I am truly bummed when Linens and Things can’t make their business work.  But, I absolutely hate when I hear a ski resort isn’t working out.  So for the 20% of the ticket buying universe that is basically getting an 80% discount and would have gladly paid full price – I have a personal favor to ask of you.  SPEND A LOT OF MONEY AT THE SKI RESORTS THIS SEASON!

We all want these to be vibrant healthy businesses and for that, we need you to take a few friends, rent some more skis, buy some sweatshirts, buy some new ski gear, let the Mrs. go to town on your Amex, treat yourself to some nice meals. etc.   If you are reading this article, the overwheming chance is that you are a skier or a snowboarder.  So invest in what you love.  If you buy one of these passes and get a windfall, then spend a little somewhere else to make up for it and maybe pass on saving somewhere else in your life. 

There’s a rant for you!