2021-22 Ikon Pass Price Holds Steady, Crystal Dropped from Unlimited Base Pass Tier
Early-bird prices include renewal discounts from March 11 to May 5
Alterra this morning released details of its 2021-22 Ikon Pass suite, holding the price of its top-tier Ikon Pass at $999 and slightly raising the cost of the Ikon Base Pass from $699 to $729. Renewing passholders will get a $100 break on a full Ikon Pass and a $70 break on the Base Pass, making them $899 and $649, respectively. The four-day Ikon Session Pass will again offer four total days, this year at 37 destinations. There is no renewal discount for the Session Pass. Passes go on sale March 11, and the best prices will be available until May 4. Monthly payment plans are available.
Significantly, Alterra-owned Crystal Mountain, which has faced extreme crowding in recent seasons, drops off the unlimited tier on the Ikon Base Pass. Base Pass holders now receive just five blackout-restricted days at Crystal.
The pass lineups otherwise remain unchanged, with Aspen-Snowmass and Jackson Hole on a special add-on tier for an additional $150. The two resorts remain seven-day partners on the full Ikon Pass.
Alterra is retaining its “Adventure Assurance,” a key Covid-era adaptation, on its 2021-22 pass suite. This allows skiers to defer the full value of an unused 2021-22 pass to a 2022-23 pass by Dec. 9. Additional credits “based on the percentage of days closed” will be awarded for Covid-19-related closures between Dec. 18, 2021 and March 6, 2022, significantly shorter than their 123-day shutdown protection period for the 2020-21 season, which ran from Dec. 10 to April 11.
New passholders are eligible for immediate spring access at select Alterra-owned resorts: Big Bear and Snowshoe; access starting April 5 at Solitude, Sugarbush, and Tremblant; and access beginning April 12 at Mammoth, Squaw Valley, and Winter Park.
Here’s a bit more about this year’s offerings, and what this means for passholders:
Crystal skiers will either love this or hate this
The first three iterations of the Ikon Base Pass included unlimited access to Washington’s Crystal Mountain, the monstrous, powder-hammered, and completely unsung ski circus two hours south of Seattle. For decades, this 3,100-vertical-foot, 2,600-acre goliath with nearly 500 inches of annual snowfall sat at the snowy end of the road, a dearth of lodging keeping it off the national resort radar.
Then came Alterra and its cheap Ikon Passes. Passholders from the affluent city to the north flooded the place, causing traffic backups for miles down the narrow access road and compelling Crystal to temporarily halt walkup ticket sales on weekends and holidays. These problems became apparent pre-Covid and pre-2020-21 pass release, and I was shocked to see Crystal remain on the unlimited tier – still with no blackouts – when Alterra announced pass prices last spring.
Seeing Crystal moved to the more rarified unlimited-on-full-Ikon-only tier along with Steamboat, then, is unsurprising. What remains to be seen is how Ikon Base Pass holders accustomed to unlimited Crystal access will react to this. Will they be willing to pay $300 more for a less frenetic experience, or does that price jump make the pass unaffordable? I imagine it will be a mix of both, and some folks, particularly families, are going to be searching for alternatives.
This move differs somewhat from Alterra’s decision last year to move Aspen and Jackson Hole to a buy-up “Plus Pass” tier on the Ikon Base Pass, as those had always been limited, five-day partners (the “Plus” nomenclature did not appear to survive into this season’s offerings). Moving Crystal to the five-day tier takes unlimited access at a mountain with a traditionally long season (Crystal was the only Alterra property to re-open post-shutdown in the spring, offering a few days of skiing in June), to five dance-around-the-holidays days. It’s a hefty punch.
Still, anyone who has skied on Epic or Ikon passes over the past several years has experienced how these ultra-affordable products have changed skiing. The passes are made to appeal to the masses and they do. Some ski areas have grown so crowded that the experience less resembles the zipping, freewheeling exploration that dances in our minds when we think about skiing and more like an amusement park, where long waits in soul-zapping lines precede a ride (an Experience) to the top and a meander (another Experience) back to the queue. The best way to limit crowds is to limit access, and this move by Alterra will likely achieve that, at least at Crystal.
Ikon Passes have also evolved to offer more access where it’s appropriate. Last year, Alterra pivoted on Stratton, moving that mountain from five-days-only on the Ikon Base Pass to unlimited with blackouts (the mountain remains there this year). While this was probably an acknowledgement that the roughly-the-same-priced Epic Local Pass delivered unlimited access to nearby Mount Snow and Okemo, it was nonetheless a significant upgrade for many Northeast skiers.
Ikon hasn’t been able to solve all of its problems, and this year’s pass offerings provide no relief for the recent lines at Steamboat, which at one point were said to back up nearly to Alaska. But these moves over the past two seasons suggest that the Ikon Pass will continue to evolve provide a better experience.
Pile the kids in the pickup, Maude, we’re going skiing
The early-season child pass discounts remain one of the best elements of the Ikon Pass suite. Purchased with an adult pass, an Ikon Pass for a child aged 5 to 12 is just $219. An Ikon Base Pass is $179. (The child’s Ikon Base Pass with Aspen and Jackson Hole added on is, bizarrely, $329; why this would be more than $100 more than a full Ikon Pass, which provides far more access than the Base Plus Pass, including seven days each at Aspen and Jackson Hole, is unclear).
To demonstrate how amazing of a deal this is, I will once again trot out a photo I took of the price grid at Steamboat in February 2020, which shows that a one-day youth lift ticket is $149 and a two-day ticket is $298. So the walk-up price for two days of skiing at Steamboat is far more than a child’s Ikon Pass, which includes a season pass at Steamboat and 14 other ski areas, plus seven days at places like Taos, Jackson Hole, and Alta-Snowbird. This is an incredible deal, traditionally far cheaper than youth Epic Pass options, and a major consideration for anyone pass-shopping for the family.
The Ikon Session Pass remains an underwhelming niche product
I wasn’t impressed with the Ikon Session Pass when Alterra rolled it out last year, and it remains a watered-down product with limited utility. It only offers four total days of access. It’s subject to 12 blackout dates. It’s missing key properties, including Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Alta-Snowbird. And it’s $399 price is not at all compelling – four days at many of these mountains would cost less than $399, and it is only $300 less than an Ikon Base Pass, which provides more access than any skier could ever use.
I was not surprised to hear from a source with knowledge of Ikon’s sales numbers that this product was not selling well. But I guess they intend to keep trying. They added Copper, Eldora, Mt. Bachelor, Windham, Killington, Pico, Red, and Niseko to the pass this year. Perhaps that will help, but this is a product with very limited utility, perhaps for someone from Florida or Texas who skis one long weekend a year and wants to take care of the lift ticket problem early without over-buying.
If Alterra wants to roll out a useful discount product, I would prefer to see a midweek pass. Vail launched a Northeast-specific version of this last season, picking up a popular Peak Resorts pass that has a handful of blackouts over Christmas and other holidays. This is easier for Vail, as they own all the Northeast Epic Pass resorts, but the rapid evolution of passes over the past several years show us that nothing is impossible.
Covid’s impacts on the season pass market will be long-lasting
When Boyne rolled out its 2021-22 New England Pass suite yesterday, the company kept many of the adaptations it had made in its post-shutdown reassessment last spring: renewal discounts, a rollover option, and a later early-bird deadline. The company had long offered a payment plan, but in keeping the other customer-centric concessions, Boyne both underscored its intent to keep them around in future years and mirrored the larger pass market.
Only a smattering of Northeast season passes have gone on sale, but themes are emerging. Waterville Valley, Blue Mountain, Montage, Camelback, and New York’s Ski3 Pass (Whiteface, Gore, Belleayre), are all offering renewal discounts. Ski3, Boyne, and Jay Peak all included some kind of passholder protection in the form of a rollover or credit program. The more expensive passes are offering payment plans. These features are good for skiers and good for the ski industry, which is finally pivoting from the rough NO REFUNDS posture of the past several decades to one that is more modern, empathetic, and customer centric.
This may also reflect the fact that these more customer-friendly policies didn’t hurt as bad as many ski area operators may have assumed they would. Waterville Valley GM Tim Smith told me on The Storm Skiing Podcast that only about 30 customers asked for pass refunds and about 100 rolled their passes to 2021-22, taking advantage of different elements of the mountain’s pass protection program. While these are not insignificant numbers (Waterville’s pass last year ranged from $897 to $1,153), they’re likely small in the context of the ski area’s total passholder base. The kind of goodwill the mountain earned from those policies is a priceless asset that will carry for decades. (Incidentally, Waterville does not appear to have carried those policies into 2021-22.)
Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see Alterra carry the rollover option into the 2021-22 campaign, even in far more restricted form – skiers have until April 11 to roll over 2020-21 passes, but only until Dec. 9.
COVID-19 & Skiing Podcasts: Author and Industry Veteran Chris Diamond | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | NSAA CEO Kelly Pawlak | Berkshire East/Catamount Owner & Goggles for Docs founder Jon Schaefer | Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis Cofounder Jeff Thompson | Doppelmayr USA President Katharina Schmitz | Mt. Baldy GM Robby Ellingson | Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory | NSAA Director of Risk & Regulatory Affairs Dave Byrd | Schweitzer Mountain President and CEO Tom Chasse | Ski Vermont President Molly Mahar
The Storm Skiing Podcasts: Killington & Pico GM Mike Solimano | Plattekill owners Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay | New England Lost Ski Areas Project Founder Jeremy Davis | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | Lift Blog Founder Peter Landsman | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Burke Mountain GM Kevin Mack | Liftopia CEO Evan Reece | Berkshire East & Catamount Owner & GM Jon Schaefer | Vermont Ski + Ride and Vermont Sports Co-Publisher & Editor Lisa Lynn | Sugarbush President & COO Win Smith| Loon President & GM Jay Scambio | Sunday River President & GM Dana Bullen | Big Snow & Mountain Creek VP of Sales & Marketing Hugh Reynolds | Mad River Glen GM Matt Lillard | Indy Pass Founder Doug Fish | National Brotherhood of Skiers President Henri Rivers | Winter 4 Kids & National Winter Activity Center President & CEO Schone Malliet | Vail Veterans Program President & Founder Cheryl Jensen | Mountain Gazette Owner & Editor Mike Rogge | Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows President & CMO Ron Cohen | Aspiring Olympian Benjamin Alexander | Sugarloaf GM Karl Strand – Parts One & Two | Cannon GM John DeVivo | Fairbank Group Chairman Brian Fairbank | Jay Peak GM Steve Wright | Sugarbush President & GM John Hammond | Mount Snow GM Tracy Bartels | Saddleback CEO & GM Andy Shepard | Bousquet owners and management | Hermitage Club GM Bill Benneyan | Powder Magazine Editor-in-Chief Sierra Shafer | Gunstock GM Tom Day | Bolton Valley President Lindsay DesLauriers | Windham President Chip Seamans | Sunday River GM Brian Heon| Waterville Valley GM Tim Smith | Granite Peak GM Greg Fisher | Montage Mountain Managing Owner Charles Jefferson |
What this article fails to mention is that by changing the base pass for Crystal, Alterra is screwing over everyone who deferred their 2020/21 pass.