23 Predictions for U.S. Lift-Served Skiing in 2023
How multi-mountain passes, ongoing consolidation, new lifts, lift ticket prices, and more could evolve this year
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If I have one regret with The Storm, it’s that I didn’t launch it three years earlier. In 2016, Vail didn’t own a single New England mountain; Alterra and the Ikon Pass didn’t exist; Boyne owned Crystal Mountain, Washington; Arapahoe Basin was an unlimited partner on the Epic Pass; and so on. It was a different world. Multi-mountain passes, consolidation, climate change, Covid, calls for more diversity, aging infrastructure, a housing crisis, overburdened transit routes, inflation, supply chain issues, a labor shortage, and other factors have since redefined the world of U.S. American lift-served skiing: how, where, and how often we ski, and what we find when we show up at the mountain. In not launching until 2019, I missed a lot of good stories.
But ski industry change is not like an asteroid, defined by one big impact. It’s more like a volcano, erupting in spurts and waves. As I documented a few weeks ago, 2022 brought enormous change. This year should be no less seismic. And The Storm will document every moment. But while we’re waiting, here are 23 predictions of how the world of lift-served skiing could evolve in 2023.
As with any Storm list, this is not meant to be definitive or complete. Things I’m not even thinking of could totally reorient the ski world, and many of the predictions I have below would be admittedly difficult to quantify even if they do sort of materialize. Which is to say: I didn’t think of everything, and I’d love to hear your U.S. lift-served ski predictions for 2023. Here you go:
1) Indy and Mountain Collective will erupt
This is the year. Not so long ago, Epic and Ikon still felt like a bit of a secret. Your ski buddies might have one, but Office Party Bob still bought lift tickets when he took his annual family voyage to Park City. Season passes were for locals. But after you asked OPB why he spent nine times his annual income on a week of skiing when he could have just bought an Epic Pass, he became a convert. Great for OPB, rougher on the rest of us. The big western destinations are as full as they can get, and many Epic and Ikon pioneers may be ready to sacrifice high-speed lift rides for a lot less company on the hill.
Indy is right there waiting, with a coast-to-coast footprint that now has few true gaps – Tahoe, New Mexico, maybe the Lower Midwest if you care (you don’t). The roving radbrahs who realized they rarely cash in more than a couple Epic or Ikon days on any given resort will actually look at the stats and realize Indy delivers big time in the Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies, Upper Midwest, and New England. Crystal is great but it’s crowded as hell – why not snag two days each at White Pass and Mission Ridge, then plan a roadie west through 49 Degrees North, Silver, Brundage, and Tamarack?
So long as Indy can hang onto its alphas – Powder Mountain, Meadows, Tamarack, Brundage, Granite Peak, Lutsen, Nub’s Nob, Jay Peak, Waterville Valley, Cannon – and add a few more, this pass should go nuclear in 2023. It wouldn’t take much. If even a quarter of the 12 percent of Epic/Epic Local defectors picked up an Indy Pass, that would add tens of thousands of passholders – a pretty big deal for a coalition that logged just 125,000 redemptions last season.
Mountain Collective will likely grow for a different reason – the Ikon Pass is getting very expensive. The Ikon Base Pass debuted in 2018 at $599. Last March, the 2022-23 early-bird price hit $769 – and it no longer includes access to Jackson Hole, Aspen, Alta, or Deer Valley. For those four, skiers have to throw down an extra $200 for the Ikon Base Plus Pass. The Mountain Collective, however, included two days each at all but Deer Valley – plus more than a dozen other North American destinations – with no blackouts, for just $539. If the Mountain Collective keeps its price at 50 to 60 percent of the Ikon Base Plus, plenty of travel skiers are going to realize that two days at most big mountains is enough for them, especially with the proximity of most MC destinations. The only thing that could ruin this pass is an Alterra dictate that Ikon partners cannot participate in any other pass. Epic and Indy already do this, but it’s unlikely in this circumstance, since Aspen both administers the Mountain Collective and is part owner (via their parent company, Henry Crown), of Alterra.
2) Vail will reimagine its Epic Pass suite
Scroll deep into the Epic Pass product suite, and some weird stuff emerges. A four-day pass good only at Keystone and Crested Butte, single-mountain passes for various Midwestern ski areas, a holiday-blackout pass just for Stevens Pass. Yes, I know there are small constituencies who find each of these products useful, and practical reasons these passes were grandfathered in, but do we really need 27 varieties of the Epic Pass? Probably not, especially with the evolution of the Epic Day Pass into a three-tiered product that will likely suit the majority of vacation skiers.
Vail could probably simplify to a handful of products: Epic, Epic Local, Epic Day, and versions of the Northeast, Summit County, and Tahoe local passes. I also think Vail should consider a national midweek or no-Saturdays pass to incentivize crowd-shifts away from peak times. Or the company could stop defining passes altogether, and shift to a build-your-own pass model similar to its Epic Day Pass menu, where skiers choose where and when they anticipate skiing, and the robots kick out a pass recommendation and price.
Finally, Vail’s unlimited pass access is far too generous. Holiday access to big, busy ski areas such as Hunter, Okemo, Mount Snow, Breckenridge, Keystone, Seven Springs, and Whitetail ought to be restricted to full Epic Pass or upper-tier Epic Day Pass holders. And the blackout grid should also evolve to include peak-season Saturdays, rather than just the handful of traditional holiday dates that it covers today (Alterra needs to do the same).
3) Vail will sell a record number of Epic Passes
Not exactly reaching here, but I need to make sure that when I look back on this list in December, I got at least one prediction correct. Epic Pass sales have increased for 15 years in a row, and they should continue to grow in 2023, particularly as the Epic Day Pass really gels.
Below the paid susbcriber jump: which mountains could join which passes, where Vail and Alterra could buy next, who will be the first to the $300 lift ticket, why the LCC gondola will fail, get ready for more indoor skiing, where lift upgrades are coming, and much more.
4) At least a dozen more independent resorts will align with big ski passes
Fifty-three ski areas signed on with big U.S.-based pass coalitions in 2022. While many were changing allegiances (Sun Valley, Snowbasin), or doubling up (Lost Trail, Bogus Basin), 33 of them hadn’t previously been part of any pass, including some heavyweights such as Sugar Bowl and Mt. Hood Meadows. Epic (37), Ikon (40), Indy (94), and Power (11) passes now collectively deliver access to 182 U.S. ski areas. The Mountain Collective (2), Freedom (11), and Powder Alliance (5) passes offer skiers tickets to another 18 that are not part of the other coalitions.
That’s 200 ski areas in a nation with 473. Meaning the megapass has not yet completely conquered U.S. skiing. While a lot of the remaining operations are ropetow bumps, notable holdouts include Mt. Rose, Baker, Wolf Creek, Whitefish, Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood Ski Bowl, Alyeska, Bear Valley, Mt. Baldy, Diamond Peak, Lookout Pass, Monarch, Bridger Bowl, Discovery, Montana Snowbowl, Angel Fire, Ski Apache, Ski Santa Fe, Bretton Woods, Gunstock, Smugglers’ Notch, Mad River Glen, Bromley, Jiminy Peak, Cranmore, Wachusett, Whiteface, Gore, Holiday Valley, Bristol, Mountain Creek, Elk Mountain, Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain, Snow Trails, Welch Village, Timberline West Virginia, Perfect North, Mount Bohemia, Giants Ridge, Cascade, Devils Head, and Mount La Crosse. That’s 43 ski areas with significant infrastructure and market reach (and that list is by no means complete). I’m going to guess that at least a dozen of these will be part of the Epic, Ikon, Indy, Mountain Collective, Power, Freedom, or Powder Alliance passes by Jan. 1, 2023.
I’ll even make a handful of specific sub-predictions: