2021-22 New England Pass Offers Renewal Discount, Rollover Option, Payment Plan

Boyne pushes early-bird deadline to April 30, omits 150-day guarantee

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Boyne announced details of its 2021-22 New England Pass suite this morning, carrying Covid-era renewal discounts and rollover options into next season but dropping the 150-day operating guarantee the company had introduced after last spring’s shutdown.

The pass, which delivers access to Maine’s Sugarloaf and Sunday River resorts and Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, will likely be the most expensive ski pass of any kind in New England for the 2021-22 season. The quality of mountains and range of access that the top-priced pass delivers, combined with Boyne’s substantial ongoing investment in its three New England properties, helps to justify the considerable cost.

The early-bird price of the top-tier Platinum Pass, which will again include an Ikon Base Pass and three days at each of Boyne’s six Western resorts (Big Sky, Brighton, Snoqualmie, Cypress, Boyne Mountain and Highlands), ticked down slightly, from $1,529 last spring to $1,499 ($1,449 for renewing passholders) this season. The Gold Pass, which includes the Western Boyne access but no Ikon Pass, increased slightly from $1,169 to $1,199 ($1,149 for existing passholders). Pass prices, and perks, drop sharply from there: the $779 ($749 for renewers) Silver Pass drops all Western access and has 12 blackout days; the $569 ($549) Bronze Pass offers Monday through Friday access, less some blackouts. The Nitro Pass, with 12 blackouts, covers the amazing age range of 6 to 29 for just $379 ($369), while the unlimited Gold College Pass is $389 ($379) and the Silver College Pass, with 12 blackout days, is $289 ($279).

These early-bird prices will hold through April 30, doing away with Boyne’s long Northeast tradition of a weeklong “flash sale” to incentivize and reward early buyers. An interest-free payment plan is available. New 2021-22 passholders can ski the rest of this season beginning March 22 – so long as they pay in full by that date.

Here’s a bit more about these pass offerings, and what they mean for the Northeast, Boyne, and New England Pass holders:

Covid’s ski pass legacy begins to materialize

After Covid kicked the ski industry’s head in last March, tore it off, turned it upside down, and used it as an ashtray, Boyne responded much as the rest of its peers did: with a substantial season pass overhaul that included a renewal discount, an option to roll 2020-21 passes to the following season, extended deadlines for its early-bird prices and payment plan, and a 150-day operating guarantee.

I expected some of these modifications to stick. As a smattering of smaller Northeast ski areas have released 2021-22 pass details in the past week, some trends have emerged that suggest select changes may become permanent: Waterville Valley, Montage, Blue Mountain, and Camelback are offering renewal discounts for the first time (that I’m aware of). Most ski areas have foregone refund or deferral options, but Jay Peak, foiled by Canada’s eternal border closure and counting on that nation for half its visitors in a normal year, kept a rollover option in place, locking it to continued government travel restrictions. Pass prices are up at Jiminy Peak (from $869 to $898), Blue Mountain (from $429 to $599, $549 for renewing passholders), and Bolton Valley (from $549 to $649), but held steady at Bromley ($925) and Jay. Most of the more expensive passes offer payment plans, but many do not.

The New England Pass keeps almost everything. The payment plan is a must for such an expensive pass (and it existed pre-Covid), but the continuation of the renewal discount is significant. Even if this year’s $50 Platinum and Gold Pass breaks are substantially less than the drops of $150 and $125, respectively, that Boyne offered last spring after its shortened season, it’s a nice concession to returning passholders, who have an increasingly broad choice of multipasses. The April 30 deadline, which provides a nine-week window for the best prices, is probably more a reaction to Vail and Alterra’s long early sales period for Epic and Ikon passes than a Covid adaptation, but whatever the motive, it’s a nice long window that will help ensure that passholders don’t miss the lowest price.

Most significant is the return of the rollover option, which allows skiers to defer an unused 2021-22 pass to the 2022-23 season by Dec. 10, 2021. And even though 2023 sounds like something that couldn’t be real like teleportation or robot basketball, the fact that Boyne acknowledges a future unpredictable world in which snowskiing may hold less appeal than it does at the moment of purchase is an encouraging sign that the largest multipasses are inching toward a more empathetic business model.

“But we’re not guaranteeing a 150-day season,” says the pass that always ends up with way more than a 150-day seasons

With everything Boyne kept, I’m more puzzled by their decision to drop the 150-day guarantee that was a cornerstone of their Covid-era pass overhaul. This was the longest guarantee of many such minimum-day promises that Northeast ski areas made last spring, and it seemed like an easy win for them. As I wrote when they announced the 150-day guarantee in May:

… Sunday River annually shoots to be first-in-the-East to open, and has hit October in five of the past 10 seasons. The mountain has made it to May twice in that span, and Sugarloaf made it to May in nine of the past 10 seasons, including the historically bad 2015-16 cycle. Loon opens and closes somewhere in between all of that, but those past dates suggest an average of somewhere around a 180-day season between all the mountains, making 150 days maybe sound wishy-washy. It isn’t. While Boyne unquestionably has the commitment, the snowmaking plant, and the latitude to make 150 days, the Pangea-sized meteor named Covid-19 that just fire-bombed our entire civilization is specializing in making the inevitable unlikely. In case you haven’t noticed. So 150 days is, in the current climate, an incredibly bold commitment. Boyne is not guaranteeing that all three mountains will be open for 150 days – only that at least one of them will be open at some point for each of 150 not-necessarily-consecutive days. 

By guaranteeing they would strive to do something they always did even in the scary and uncertain atmosphere of spring 2020, Boyne was making a bold commitment to its passholders, but it was also flexing its open-early, close-late capabilities in a way that was part passholder accommodation, part marketing boast. Killington has built a whole brand around the long season. Sunday River and Sugarloaf have the long season but do less to brag about it. Humility can be a powerful attribute, but opening at the crack of autumn and keeping the lifts spinning into May are also powerfully kickass attributes, and Boyne should play that up as much as possible.

“Sunday River has averaged 150 days of operation for the last 10 years, and we expect to continue to operate on similar schedules in the future,” said Sunday River Director of Communications Karolyn Castaldo.

Still, Covid is raw enough that Boyne is not abandoning its awareness that the world could suddenly tilt sideways. “Of course, if there are circumstances that drastically impact operations like we experienced last season, we'll assess the situation and come up with a plan to work with our passholders,” Castaldo said.

All aboard the Octuple Express

I’ve spent this ski season mostly in New York, hitting every backwoods three-lifts-counting-the-ropetow mountain within a five-hour drive of Brooklyn. It’s been delightful, verifying the notion that a rewarding day of skiing can be found on a $25-$50 lift ticket. Still. There’s a reason these places are cheap: inconsistent grooming, inexplicable trail closures, and chairlifts whose installation predates the invention of the lightbulb. This is all part of the atmosphere and charm, but the pragmatist in me knows when I’m driving a used car.   

There’s a reason Boyne’s mountains are worth a premium: the company continually invests in them. Last year, Boyne announced 10-year plans for Loon, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf. The so-called 2030 plans called for substantial chairlift upgrades, baselodge improvements, snowmaking enhancements, and much more. While Covid postponed some elements of these, several flagship projects are moving ahead. Loon’s eight-pack chairlift, the first in the East and the second in the nation after the Ramcharger 8 at Boyne’s Big Sky, should go in over the summer. Sunday River’s Merrill Hill expansion will begin in the coming months. Sugarloaf’s West Mountain expansion will add 450 acres to what is already one of the largest and probably the best ski area in New England.

In the era of megacheap megapasses, I’ve written that there are a four things that help a mountain or group of mountains charge more than Vail and Alterra do for their Epic and Ikon Passes: outstanding terrain variety, a singular atmosphere, commitment to a long season, and multi-mountain access. The New England Pass delivers all of these, but you can add ongoing investment by its parent company as a fifth.

That Ikon Base Pass is still a really big deal

While Alterra has yet to release details on its 2021-22 Ikon Base Pass, we can assume that it will offer substantial access across the continent at ski areas that routinely charge more than $200 for a one-day lift ticket. There will likely be blackouts, and the pass is again unlikely to include access to Aspen or Jackson Hole, but there will be more Western access than any skier could ever use.

So the New England Platinum Pass’ inclusion of an Ikon Base Pass remains a significant benefit. The Platinum Pass is only $300 more than the Gold Pass, and last year’s Ikon Base Pass debuted at $699 (with renewal discounts). Whatever this year’s price is, the savings are likely to be substantial.

And the “pent-up demand” that has quickly become an investor’s cliché is a cliché because like most clichés it’s true. Anyone else coiled and waiting to bust out of the Northeast the moment a post-Covid America materializes over the horizon? That Ikon Base Pass is your passport. Last year’s version offered access to, among many other destinations, Taos, Mammoth, Squaw Valley, Alta, Snowbird, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Steamboat, Big Sky, Revelstoke, and Red Mountain. If I was 25 I’d have the kegerator hooked to the campervan, ready to roll through those big-mountain pitstops like the Kool-Aide Man bursting through the ground floor walls of a cheap motel. Bang bang bang, time to ski. Give me those many days at those many many mountains and I’ll see you when the snow melts and we’re all wearing sleeveless American flag shirts to the neighborhood cookout.