2022-23 Mountain Collective Shakeup: Sun Valley, Snowbasin In; Palisades Tahoe, Mammoth, Sugarbush Out
Sun Valley and Snowbasin exit Epic Pass, will also join Ikon Pass; Alterra-owned resorts will no longer participate in competitor pass
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Note: the post I sent out earlier on the Ikon Pass’ 2022-23 pass offerings did not include the following updates: Snowbird will now be treated as an individual destination on the Ikon Base Pass (Alta left the Base Pass for the Base Plus Pass), but Alta-Snowbird is still considered a single destination on the full Ikon Pass. Also, Arapahoe Basin dropped blackout dates for Ikon Base Pass holders. I regret the oversights. Please see the updated article here.
The Mountain Collective, the longest-running multi-mountain pass in North America, today announced pricing and partnership details for the 2022-23 ski season. Passholders will receive two no-blackout days each at 22 partner mountains, plus a third bonus day at their resort of choice and 50 percent off additional days. The pass will be $539 for adults, $439 for 13-to-18-year-olds, and $149 for kids under 12. Current passholders will receive a renewal offer discount on March 3, and passes go on sale March 15.
The partner changes are substantial. Sun Valley and Snowbasin, which are jointly owned by the Holding family, will leave the Epic Pass after a three-year partnership and return to the Mountain Collective, of which they were members from 2015 (Sun Valley) and 2017 (Snowbasin) until 2019. The two resorts also announced today that they will join the Ikon Pass, with seven no-blackout days on the full pass. Neither will offer access on the Ikon Base Pass, but will instead join Aspen and Jackson Hole on the Base Plus Pass tier, with five holiday-restricted days at each mountain.
“We could not be happier to welcome Sun Valley and Snowbasin back to the Mountain Collective family,” said Todd Burnette, Mountain Collective product director. “Adding these two incredible resorts to our roster of 22 independent bucket list destinations further solidifies the Mountain Collective Pass as a great option for discerning skiers and riders around the world.”
Alterra, meanwhile, is yanking its owned mountains off the pass. Palisades Tahoe, Mammoth Mountain, and Sugarbush will no longer participate in the Mountain Collective after this season. While Sugarbush only joined the pass in 2017, Mammoth has been a staple since 2013, and Palisades Tahoe was a founding member back in 2012, along with Alta, Jackson Hole, and Aspen – all of which remain on the pass.
Rounding out the Mountain Collective roster are returning members Alta, Arapahoe Basin, Aspen Snowmass, Banff Sunshine, Big Sky, Chamonix, Coronet Peak/The Remarkables, Grand Targhee, Jackson Hole, Lake Louise, Mt Buller, Niseko United, Panorama, Revelstoke, Snowbasin, Snowbird, Sugarloaf, Sun Peaks, Sun Valley, Taos, Thredbo, and Valle Nevado.
This is a lot to process. Let’s break down it all down:
Sorry Mountain Collective, but Vail is stealing your thunder even when you score a touchdown
Let me start here: I don’t know why Sun Valley and Snowbasin left the Epic Pass. There’s a chance this migration was a simple economic decision: Mountain Collective’s yield, or payout-per-visit to its partners, is the highest among North America’s major multi-mountain passes, according to several industry sources who are familiar with the mechanics of the various passes.
Still, it’s impossible to ignore the crowding narrative that has dogged Vail all season. I asked a representative from Sun Valley and Snowbasin whether the change was in any way related to the sheer number of Epic Passes sold last year. She declined to address the question directly, reframing the switch as an opportunity to connect with a new customer base.
“For Sun Valley and Snowbasin, a priority in any Pass partnership is to introduce new visitors to our properties and ensure a greater reach than what we may accomplish absent a partnership,” she said. “That has been the guiding principle with our Epic partnership, and with Ikon starting next season. Sun Valley and Snowbasin always look for opportunities that provide benefit to our pass holders and that allow new guests to experience our properties. The partnership with Epic has been a great opportunity and we look forward to continuing to welcome Epic pass holders through the end of the 2021-22 winter season. Starting in 2022-23, we look forward to the opportunity to welcome Ikon and Mountain Collective pass holders to our properties.”
I know the quote that Angry Ski Bro wanted to hear was, “after Vail sold enough Epic Passes that they could be used as currency in a medium-sized country, we decided to align with some less-popular passes that won’t send the equivalent of the population of Miami to our lifts every Saturday.”
That narrative may or may not hold up. Lynch mobs don’t like details, and the fact is that Epic Pass holders’ access to Sun Valley and Snowbasin was limited compared to Vail’s owned mountains: seven unrestricted days at each on the full Epic Pass and two days – less holiday blackouts – at each on the Epic Local Pass. Skiers could also access the two resorts with any version of the Epic Day Pass.
However… once Vail lowered the price of an Epic Pass to the cost of a number 5 meal deal at Burger King, the on-the-ground dynamic did change. Snowbasin, once known as an escape from the Wasatch crowds, has grown more congested in recent years, though many factors – the Covid outdoor boom, Utah’s population explosion, easy access – are contributing to that.
Here’s what we do know: losing Sun Valley and Snowbasin is a very bad look for Vail. Arapahoe Basin already fled the Epic Pass and its unlimited-access tiers for limited days on the Mountain Collective and Ikon Passes in 2019, citing congestion, especially on weekends. After the Epic Pass partnership had helped Arapahoe Basin double its revenue and underwrite $40 million in upgrades, it was a gamble to leave. But the resort has since became a case study in managing a quality skier experience in a West that is growing ever-more wealthy and crowded.
“By every measure, we have improved the guest experience,” Arapahoe Basin Chief Operating Officer Al Henceroth wrote a year after cutting Vail free after a two-decades-ish partnership. “Both face-to-face interaction and survey data tell us that people clearly are having a better time this season.”
Skier visits had dropped 39 percent from January 2019 to January 2020, which had made a qualitative difference on the mountain, Henceroth wrote. “This season is nothing like last season. The numbers speak for themselves. The experience is way up. The skier days are way down. Ikon, Mountain Collective, Taos and Monarch are great partners. We aren't quite where we want to be yet, but we are heading in the right direction.”
The right direction for everyone else is the wrong direction for Vail, which is left with just one U.S. partner outside of its owned network: the massive and important Telluride, which I’m sure Mountain Collective would love to welcome back. Vail is a company increasingly reliant on big data, but something in the algorithm is broken. Why do partners keep leaving? The company still has plenty of partners in Europe and Japan, along with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, owners of hallowed Fernie, Kimberley, and Kicking Horse. And its need for partners is smaller than Alterra’s, which owns just 15 ski areas to Vail’s 40.
Still, the switch strips two of the best-run ski areas in the country off of the Epic Pass, and leaves Vail with a hole between Park City and Stevens Pass: 844 miles of Rocky Mountain abyss. That’s a problem.
Alterra calls its soldiers home
I’m less surprised that Alterra yanked its mountains off the Mountain Collective than that it took them so long to do it. Here we are, headed into season five of the Ikon Pass, and Alterra was still sharing its two California flagships and a top-five New England ski area with a competitor (albeit one administered by Aspen, which is owned by Alterra parent Henry Crown). It probably started to make less business sense as Ikon Pass sales continued to increase and concerns about crowding grew across Skidom.
I wasn’t able to secure a quote from Alterra prior to running this story, so it will take a bit more digging to determine their motive. Whatever it was, they’re gone.
Nonetheless, the Mountain Collective and Ikon Passes still share 19 partners: Alta, Arapahoe Basin, Aspen Snowmass, Banff Sunshine, Big Sky, Chamonix, Coronet Peak/The Remarkables, Jackson Hole, Lake Louise, Mt Buller, Niseko United, Revelstoke, Snowbasin, Snowbird, Sugarloaf, Sun Valley, Taos, Thredbo, and Valle Nevado. The only partners that are exclusive to Mountain Collective are Grand Targhee, Panorama, and Sun Peaks.
“Hey, wait a minute there, Pal. Chamonix isn’t on the Ikon Pass.”
“Yes it is.”
“No it isn’t.”
“Yes it is.”
“Dude, No it isn’t. I checked yesterday!”
Look I know this is a weird way to break news, but there’s a lot going on today so just roll with it, OK?
The point is this: despite yanking its owned mountains, Alterra doesn’t seem to be angling for partner exclusivity, as Vail does (Telluride, Sun Valley, and Snowbasin all had to quit Mountain Collective as a condition of joining Epic). So long as Alterra retains that posture, the Mountain Collective should endure, even if it is sort of a no-blackout Ikon Junior. And why not? Independent big-mountain partners seem to like the combination of the tiered-access Ikon Pass and the no-blackout, limited-days Mountain Collective.
Oh my God dude are you actually going to talk about the Mountain Collective?
Yeah so as I was saying, despite the losses of three top destinations, the Mountain Collective is still coming with a strong product. It is disappointing to see the pass price rise by $40 to $539 as the number of partners drops from 23 to 22, but it’s still quite a bit cheaper than the blackout-heavy $769 Ikon Base Pass, which, again, will not offer any access to Sun Valley, Snowbasin, Alta, Aspen, or Jackson Hole (or, for what it’s worth, Deer Valley).
Losing Sugarbush in the east hurts. It leaves Mountain Collective with a single resort in the region – the fantastic but remote Sugarloaf, Maine. By the coalition’s gold-plated standards, a Sugarbush replacement will be hard to lock down. The only realistic candidates are Sunday River (owned by Sugarloaf owner Boyne), Killington (owned by Powdr, which also owns Ikon and Mountain Collective partner Snowbird), Smugglers’ Notch (fat chance), Jay Peak (why the hell not – if a mountain can be on Ikon and MC, why not Indy and MC?), Bretton Woods, or even lofty Whiteface, with its 3,400-foot vertical drop and Olympic heritage.
At least Mountain Collective got a one-for-one exchange in the West, though it’s now stuck with a donut hole in the important California market. The loss of Palisades Tahoe and Mammoth also cost Mountain Collective some Rad Points. While there is no question that the groomtacular Snowbasin and Sun Valley are large, interesting, well-managed mountains, they lack the big-mountain freeskier heritage of the cliff-studded Cali bombers. Whether most people ski that terrain or not hardly matters – a big part of skiing is the story it allows us to tell about ourselves, and riding over the KT-22 steeps is one of the best scrapbook entries you can scissor out of your life’s story.
But I don’t think it matters. The Mountain Collective is like my 17-year-old overweight and half-blind cat – it doesn’t make any sense that it’s still alive, but every morning there he is, meowing for food. And every season, there is the Mountain Collective, years after the advent of the Ikon Pass seemed like a stick of lit dynamite in its portfolio. At this point I have little doubt it will be back next year, and for many seasons after.
So which other resorts would make sense for a 2023-24 version of the Mountain Collective? There aren’t many unclaimed free agents left, and even fewer that can sit alongside Jackson Hole and Snowbird as “dream destinations.” But there are a few who might like the pass’ limited-access model and relatively high price tag (compared to, say, the $279 Indy Pass, which offers access to nearly four times as many resorts): Whitefish, Mount Hood Meadows, Indy Pass partner Powder Mountain. Ikon Pass partners Schweitzer and Red Mountain may also make sense.
As it is, Mountain Collective remains a great choice for anyone skiing the heart of the American Rockies or southern BC/Alberta. A 10-day loop through Panorama, Sun Peaks, Revelstoke, Banff, and Lake Louise alone would more than pay for the pass, even considering Canada’s more affordable walk-up lift-ticket culture. And, as I wrote last year, Mountain Collective’s footprint happens to perfectly overlap with and complement the Indy Pass’ network. The two passes, together, would run you $818 and open up 104 mountains – more than most skiers have hit in their lifetimes. The remainder of the megapasses will likely release their lineups by the end of this month, but this is one to consider for sure.