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2022-23 Season Pass Sales Begin – Here’s What I’m Watching
Expect higher prices, more blackouts, and continued innovation in pass products
We’ve hit bedrock here, Sarge
If you’ve ever been to Venice Beach or the touristy parts of Hollywood, you’ve seen them: salesy characters, sporty and slick, California cool in their wraparound shades, sign hoisted aloft. “Be part of a TV audience – it’s free.”
Or something like that. Television networks, desperate to fill the studio and channel the energy of live human observers into an on-stage performance, have for decades handed out seats for free. Even blockbuster shows like Friends, which probably could have demanded hundreds of dollars per ticket, have generally packed their studios in this fashion.
For the past couple years, ever since Covid rearranged our collective faces, ski season passes have felt a little like this. “Hey guys, just, like, come stand here so we look super popular (and so you can buy $20 hamburgers),” Vail seemed to be saying last spring, when it cut the price of its Epic Pass from $979 to $783, and its almost-as-good Epic Local Pass from $729 to just $583. There is no reason to think that Vail Mountain – one of the finest ski areas on the continent – couldn’t command the $2,000-plus that Telluride, Jackson Hole, and Deer Valley do for their unlimited season passes.
Vail, with its 20 percent price drops, is the extreme example, but many other operators have hesitated to raise prices. Full-access Ikon Pass prices have remained at $999 since 2020. Jay Peak has kept its early-bird season pass price steady ($829) for two seasons, as have smaller ski areas such as Pats Peak, New Hampshire ($469) and Titus Mountain, New York ($499). Others - Berkshire East, Ski Sundown - ticked up a modest $20 or $25 between 2020 and 2021.
Within the next few weeks, I expect Vail, Alterra, Indy, Mountain Collective, and Mountain Capital Partners to release pricing and partnership details for next winter’s passes. It’s hard to say what, if anything, will change in their pass suites. While a handful of U.S. resorts – Blue Mountain, Timberline (West Virginia), Perfect North, Monarch, Jiminy Peak, Cranmore, Andes Tower Hills, Trollhaugen – have already put 2022-23 passes on sale, we don’t have enough information yet to start really identifying trends. Still, it’s not too early to start guessing. Here are some early thoughts on what the 2022-23 season-pass sales season may bring:
Higher prices could be coming
A circa 1998 skier, $1,700 mega-mountain season pass dangling from his neon onsie and rocking the latest parabolic skis, would be shocked to launch off a poached jump in the “snowboard park” and enter a wormhole into 2022. So many questions. “Why are there eight people on one chairlift? What’s a Revelstoke? American Skiing Company and Intrawest are still fighting it out for supremacy, right? No? Wait, why does Vail own Whistler? Why does Vail own everything? And why is their season pass five dollars? And why are there 5,000 people waiting in the liftline at Okemo? And why does a lift-ticket to Steamboat cost more than an RV?”
Sorry Neon-Onsie Parabolic Bro, but times have changed. In brief, starting in 2008, Vail crushed the decades-old model of expensive season passes and cheap day tickets by inverting it, forcing everyone else to follow. So now you can buy a season pass to 450 ski areas for less than the price of a load of laundry, but taking your family skiing for one day will force you to sell your family heirloom candlesticks hand-crafted by Norwegian elves in the 14th century. Also your skis are hopelessly dated and (take it from me), as likely to snap your leg in half as enable you to carve sweet turns, but your atrocious outerwear is once more in style thanks to the social media-driven rise of nostalgia and irony.
“Wait, what’s social media?”
One thing at a time Neon-Onsie Parabolic Bro. You see, Vail’s cheap pass strategy forced a sleepwalking industry to innovate, but last spring they overcorrected, dropping pass prices just as a challenging labor market and mountain-town housing shortages made fully staffing and operating their ski areas an apparently unsolvable puzzle. Chronic traffic backups, liftlines the length of I-70, closed lifts, and slashed operating hours at non-destination resorts are frustrating large numbers of the 2.1 million Epic Pass holders. That should give Vail’s competitors significant pricing power as they set their 2022-23 pass prices. This is particularly true of the Ikon Pass, which is expected to retain its powerful roster of alpha resort partners and seemed less susceptible to the crowding problems and limited terrain openings that plagued Vail this year.
“Wait, why do they spell ‘Ikon’ with a ‘K?’”
No one knows, Neon-Onsie Parabolic Bro. We’re all just glad they didn’t call it the “IkonPass.”
Blackout tiers are likely to evolve
Then again, the main issue with Epic Passes may not be their price, but the fact that, as ski podcasting OG Alex Kaufman underscored on this amazing 10-minute rant last week, everyone is trying to ski at the exact same time on the exact same days.
It’s time for more blackout days. Only eight ski areas – Park City, Northstar, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Vail, Beaver Creek, Whistler, and Stowe – have blackout dates on Vail’s $583 Epic Local Pass. That is insane. That means ultra-busy Keystone, Breckenridge, Okemo, Mount Snow, and Hunter are wide open on the busiest days of the season. Oddly, Vail seems aware of the extra stress on some of these resorts during peak times – Breck is one of five ski areas that the company limits on the cheaper version of its Epic Day Pass.
It’s also time to reconsider which days ought to be blackout dates. Lower-tier 2021-22 Epic Passes came with just 11 blackout dates: Thanksgiving Thursday and Friday, the day after Christmas to New Year’s Eve, MLK Saturday, and the two days before Presidents’ Day. Yet the company limited lift ticket sales on 22 days: Dec. 25 to Jan. 2, Jan. 14 to 17, and Feb. 18 to 27. This would be a good starting point for new Epic Pass blackouts, but add midwinter Saturdays. This would not be new territory for Vail – the company offers a midweek, non-holiday pass good at 19 of its Northeast ski areas. There is no reason the company couldn’t reproduce this product on a national scale. The price of the full, unrestricted Epic Pass, meanwhile, ought to tick back into the $1,000 range. Compared to the price of walk-up day tickets, this is still a bargain, and cheaper non-peak passes would leave plenty of options for bargain-hunters.
Alterra has done a better job shuffling access levels to adapt to demand, yanking Crystal off the unlimited tier on the Ikon Base Pass and excluding Aspen and Jackson Hole from the product altogether. They could do more, however. Should Winter Park really be unlimited with no blackouts on the Ikon Base Pass? The traffic issues that bedevil I-70 have crept up US 40 toward the resort. How about regionally popular destinations like Big Bear and Snowshoe, which are also unlimited on the Base Pass? And should Solitude continue to live as an unlimited-with-blackouts Base Pass destination as an exploding Salt Lake City continues to crowd the Wasatch?
The large company that has probably done the best job curating a varied pass suite is Boyne Resorts, which has long offered unlimited, holiday blackout, midweek, and – where it makes sense – night passes, with varying levels of access to and combinations with sister resorts. They have passes that are only good at the beginning and end of the season, that allow some weekend nights along with weekdays, and that are exclusively for spring skiing. The top-tier passes are very expensive – well more than twice the price of the midweek-only options at, for example, Sunday River and Sugarloaf, incentivizing purchases both for skiers looking for bargain options, and for those looking for - and willing to pay for - a less-crowded holiday experience. Perhaps as a result of these varied pass options, Boyne’s mountains – with the exception of Summit at Snoqualmie, an hour outside of Seattle, and Boston-convenient Loon – rarely experience the sorts of pileups we’ve seen elsewhere this year.
There are plenty of right ways and plenty of wrong ways to organize blackout tiers. As the largest operators consider their 2022-23 pass suites, I think this is one of their biggest opportunity areas for innovation.
It’s time for some new pass options
Tiny Perfect North, one of two ski areas in Indiana (Vail owns the other, Paoli Peaks), has two unlimited season passes. One is $329. The other is $269. The difference? The more expensive pass allows skiers to go directly to the lifts (and offers unlimited tubing). The cheaper one requires them to stop by the ticket window for a lift ticket each time (it also limits daily slope time to eight hours and limits tubing time to two hours). Is skipping the slight inconvenience of a line worth the extra $60? I don’t know, but this is a novel way to differentiate between pass products.
Perfect North also offers a $209 midweek pass that includes access after 5:30 on Sundays and two hours of tubing each day. A pass valid one day per week – it resets each Monday – is just $179. Timberline, Perfect North’s much-larger sister resort in West Virginia, offers the same one-day-per-week product for $239.
Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania offers a different incentive: the $649 all-access pass includes a “VIP line.” The $549 midweek pass does not. While such lanes are odious under the wrong circumstances, they land differently when positioned as a perk for a resort’s best customers.
Perhaps the king of pass-suite experimentation, however, is Magic Mountain, Vermont, which offers midweek, holiday blackout, Sunday-only, family, couples, military and medical-worker, night, 18-29, and locals passes. The mountain’s pass sales have quadrupled since introducing these varied offerings five-ish years ago.
“Wait, wait, didn’t Magic Mountain shut down?”
Oh, you’re still here Neon-Onsie Parabolic Bro?
“I, like, don’t know what else to do. I left my Saturn right here and now I can’t find it. I bet someone stole it when they saw it was decked out with anti-lock brakes and airbags. I’ve also got a pretty sweet car-phone.”
Yeah that’s probably it. The point I’m trying to make here though is that it’s time to get creative with passes, to spread skiers out across the week and the season while still giving just about everyone a product that appeals to them.
Spring passes remain the best deal in skiing
Presidents’ week ends the Christmas-to-February snow season that most Americans wrap their ski plans around. The rest of us know better. Not only does skiing extend through April and into May in most ski regions, but March is the snowiest month at many resorts. And when it isn’t, there’s really not much better than slush bumps and T-shirt turns on a 65-degree banger of a spring Saturday. And in contrast to scratchy December wastelands with 30 percent of terrain live, most ski areas are 100 percent open, sitting on the bases they blew in the darkness of the winter solstice.
Sitting on big bases and with no reason to close, some resorts or pass coalitions ritually offer discounted spring passes. Here are a few of this year’s best (Bristol, New York and Timberline Lodge, Oregon typically offer spring passes, but details are not yet available for those passes for this season). If you know of others, shoot them over to me at email@example.com (or just reply to this email if you’re a newsletter subscriber, which you should be - it takes one click below to get these takes on a regular basis).
Price: $189 adult, $79 kids 12 and under; Indy+ (no blackouts): $239 adult, $99 kids
On sale: March 1
Access begins: March 1
Access includes: 2 days each at all 82 Indy Pass partners
Blackouts: Granite Peak, Lutsen, Silver, Beaver Mountain, Cannon, Mission Ridge, Powder Mountain, Sasquatch, White Pass (dates vary, see website for details)
Price: $349 until March 18, $379 after
On sale: Now
Access begins: March 18
Access includes: unlimited Killington and Pico until each mountain closes for the season
Price: $129 ($75 can be applied toward the purchase of a 2022-23 Summit Pass, which is a season pass at Berkshire East, Catamount, and Bousquet - spring pass does not include Bousquet)
On sale: Now
Access begins: March 1
Access includes: unlimited Berkshire East and Catamount, including night skiing
Price: $249 ages 25 to 64, $229 ages 65 to 74, $199 for ages 7 to 24; quantities limited
On sale: Now
Access begins: March 21 to closing day (scheduled for May 7)
Access includes: unlimited Mount Hood Meadows
Price: $309 ages 23 to 64, $234 ages 13 to 18 and 65 to 69, $189 ages 6 to 12 and 70-plus
On sale: Now
Access begins: March 26 to May 29
Access includes: unlimited Mount Bachelor
Price: $110 ages 25 to 69, $75 ages 18 to 24, $65 ages 13-17, $55 ages 8 to 12 and 70-plus, $5 age 7 and under; $55 to add onto a 2022-23 season pass
On sale: Now
Access begins: March 1
Access includes: unlimited Blacktail
Price: $249 ages 25 to 69, $199 ages 18 to 24, $149 ages 10 to 17, $29 ages 9 and under, $99 ages 70-plus
On sale: Now
Access begins: March 1
Access includes: Mondays through Fridays in March, after 4 p.m. on Saturday March 6 and 13, April 1 to 4 and 9 to 11
Blackouts: Weekend days in March
Vail installs new general manager to oversee Seven Springs, Laurel, and Hidden Valley
There’s no real pattern for who stays and who exits when Vail Resorts buys a mountain. Brett Cook is one of the survivors, transitioning through a series of owners – Snow Time, Peak Resorts, and then Vail – from the time he joined Roundtop as a liftie in 2009 to his recent stint as Liberty Mountain general manager. As of Feb. 14, Cook is now the head of Vail’s newest trophy: Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and Laurel Mountain in western Pennsylvania.
Asked why Vail had assigned one general manager for three ski areas, Vail Resorts Director of Communications and Resort Marketing Quinn Kelsey told me that, “this is not uncommon given the geographic proximity and connectivity of these three resorts. Seven Springs, Hidden Valley and Laurel Mountain are really a network within our network. This is similar to our GM structure at Boston Mills, Brandywine and Alpine Valley,” which are overseen by Jake Campbell.
Chris Plummer, who ran Laurel’s ski slopes, appears to have retained his other role as executive director of development for the mountain. Mike Mohr, who oversaw Hidden Valley in the winter, will continue to run the resort’s Sporting Clays facility. So if you want to go shoot stuff out of the air, he’s your guy. Vail indicated that the former head of Seven Springs, Eric Mauck, had “decided to pursue a different opportunity outside of Vail Resorts,” and he now appears to be CEO of a non-ski outfit called Highlands Ventures, which is a “diversified holding company operating a number of garble gadget gizmos….”
Sorry, my brain stops working after the seventh word of corporate boilerplate. Point is it seems as though Vail is retaining, in one form or another, the majority of Seven Springs employees. The resort’s leadership team includes long-time employees Brett Lesnick (director of skier services), Joel Rerko (director of mountain operations), David Runco (senior director and general manager of lodging), and Carol Hoffman (manager of pass sales and services).
With that settled, Vail needs to tighten its ship in Pennsylvania. With ownership of eight of the state’s 22 public ski areas, the company holds a tremendous amount of power over the market. The company’s priorities, in this order, should be: manage crowds, especially on weekends (see above regarding blackout dates); invest heavily – HEAVILY – in snowmaking; and retain each resort’s unique identity. The steady erosion of the parks culture at Big Boulder over the past few seasons is not an encouraging sign. Pennsylvania is a tremendous ski state with rabid skiers. They deserve well-crafted ski experiences, not the Running of The Bulls on snow. I hope Vail can deliver that.
Toggenburg, shuttered and stripped, goes back on sale for double its selling price
Harris, who also owns nearby ski resorts at Song and Labrador mountains, told syracuse.com | The Post-Standard he has not listed Togg with a Realtor and is not actively marketing it. However, he said he will entertain offers. He said he has not received any yet. …
His decision comes as some say the two other ski resorts owned by Harris are messier and less well-run compared with previous winters. Earlier this month, about 50 skiers were stuck on a ski lift at Song Mountain for two hours and had to be rescued. …
Harris denied Song and Labrador are not being maintained and said the longer-than-usual lift lines were only partly the result of the bump in business the two resorts have gotten from Togg’s closing. Sunny skies and the season’s first major snowstorm earlier this month spurred many skiers to head to the two resorts, creating one particularly busy weekend, he said.
Harris said he has not decided whether he will restrict a sale of Togg to buyers who agree not to reopen the resort for skiing. He said he also has not ruled out retaining ownership of the mountain and reopening the resort if there is enough business to support it. …
“I’m kind of warming up to the property,” he said. “I’ve had it for a little while. It’s a beautiful piece of property. I’ve got people kicking around some ideas as to what to do or not to do with it.”
According to sources familiar with the situation on the ground, Harris has moved all snowmaking equipment, rental gear, kitchen appliances, and groomers to his other mountains. All that remains are the chairlifts – two antique Hall doubles and a 1986 Borvig triple – and the buildings.
No one is going to buy a stripped Togg for $1.5 million, especially one that couldn’t, by contract, be re-opened for skiing. Our only hope is that Harris re-opens it and creates a three-mountain Central New York pass. It could be a compelling product.
The ski bums who call the city home
If you’re not familiar with Alba Adventures, it’s one of the feel-good stories of Northeast skiing. Per an excellent profile in New England Ski Journal:
Five-year-old Sandro Alba had to drag his hesitant family — parents Ray and Alicia along with baby sister Nevada — out into the cold of New York City on Christmas Day, 2010. Santa brought him a snowboard and obviously the boy wanted to try it out on the local sledding spot near the cemetery called, “Dead Man’s Hill.” There was no better time to do it, since all of Manhattan was blanketed in fluffy snow that morning.
“We trudge through the snow, cursing under our breath and then there goes our son down this hill like he had been doing it his whole life,” Ray recalls.
But don’t just take Ray’s word for it. Go to the video (search “The Urban Skier – Skiing NYC’s Biggest Mountain” on YouTube). “Dead Man’s Hill” is the 17-second clip they shot to memorialize the activity. It might have been no different than the hundreds of thousands of home videos that likely were filmed across the country that day, but for the Albas, it was life-changing.
“In that instant, Alicia, with Nevada all swaddled up in her coat, says to me, ‘Maybe we should start skiing again,’” Ray said. “My reply back to her was, ‘Hell, yeah,’ and from that point on there was no turning back. It’s the day we fell back in love with winter, snow and skiing.”
Today, the Alba Adventures family team has produced more than 100 videos on their YouTube Channel and at Albaadventures.com, along with eight seasons of short films showcasing nearly two dozen ski area destinations they’ve visited throughout the Northeast over the past decade.
I know the Albas personally. Like me, they live in New York City, which seems like an odd place to be a ski bum, until you realize that there are roughly 150 ski areas within a six-hour drive of Manhattan. They are down-to-earth and adventurous, a family unified around this one winter thing. It can feel impossible to contain kids in the city, especially in the long long winter, which frankly is not a season in the Northeast but like half the year. Skiing is an escape for those families organized enough to shape the cold months around it.
I really recommend reading the whole thing, to get a sense for the Alba’s mission and to understand the tragedy undergirding the whole operation. They really are inspiring.
WTF: Two Utah National Guard Blackhawks crashed within view of the lifts at Snowbird. No one was hurt.
Business: Quarry Road, a ropetow bump in Maine, re-opens for the first time since the late ‘70s, while Mt. Prospect, another ropetow outfit that is the northern-most ski area in New Hampshire, will not open for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The wind turbine - which provides 100 percent of Berkshire East’s power - snapped last week. Vail CEO Kirsten Lynch on what the company can improve. An update on the progress to rebuild Sierra-at-Tahoe – the ski area lost seven Snowcats and several snowmobiles to the fire, in addition to previously disclosed damage to its lift fleet. Vail could contribute $5.3 million to enhance public transit in Park City. A Slopefillers Q&A with my podcast partner, Spot.
Lifts: A loaded gondola cabin detaches from Sunday River’s Chondola. Eaglecrest plans to install a used, 15-passenger pulse gondola from Austria. Lawsuit filed against Camelback alleges that employees “knew about problems yet continued to load skiers” before a loaded chair detached from the Sullivan Express. Thoughts on the increasingly common practice of laying out skis to hold your place in the liftline. A first look at Waterville Valley’s new six-pack:
History: Skiing in China could date back as far as 10,000 years.
People: The National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame will hold its first in-person induction ceremonies since 2019 next month – inductees include Jiminy Peak owner Brian Fairbank. A terrific profile of Ed Seth, a 34-year veteran of the Big Sky grooming team. 15-year-old student named Chris Cuomo dies after skiing accident at Bristol.
Stoke: Sutner hits Quebec. So does New York Ski Blog – Quebec is fascinating to me; it’s like a whole extra New England stacked on top of the one I know so well. Harv’s second trip to Titus in one season means that this Indy Pass mountain is about to become a mainstay on the site. New England Ski Journal with a little Empire State love (though the list ignores the many excellent ski areas of Central and Western NY). We need more great Hollywood ski movies. Is there a cooler college graduation tradition in America than Middlebury Snow Bowl’s Graduation Ski Down? Do you prefer Castle Rock at Sugarbush or the Front Four at Stowe?
This week in not skiing