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Boyne Releases 2022-23 New England Passes, Shawnee Peak Will Not Join
Shawnee Peak passholders will instead get three sister resort lift tickets in New England
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Boyne Resorts today released its 2022-23 New England Pass suite, raising prices 10 percent or more on all passes and introducing the N.E. Day pass, which is available in two- to five-day increments and peak and non-peak versions. The pass grants skiers access to the Maine giants Sunday River and Sugarloaf, and Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, but not to newly acquired Shawnee Peak, which Boyne bought in October. Instead, Shawnee passholders will receive three days to use between Sugarloaf, Sunday River, and Loon, but no days at Boyne’s Midwest or Western ski areas.
As promised, Shawnee will continue to have its own pass. Boyne is offering a renewal discount and a six-part payment plan on New England Passes, and a three-part payment plan for Shawnee passes. Prices are scheduled to increase May 1 for all products. First-time passholders can start skiing on March 21 on their New England passes, and will also have immediate spring-skiing access at Shawnee. New England passholders will again be able to defer their unused pass to the 2023-24 season by Dec. 10. Here is a breakdown of all of Boyne’s 2022-23 pass products in New England (renewal rates are in parentheses):
*Boyne ski areas outside of the New England pass trio are Shawnee Peak, Maine; Boyne Mountain and The Highlands at Harbor Springs, Michigan; Brighton, Utah; Big Sky, Montana; Summit at Snoqualmie, Washington; and Cypress, British Columbia.
**New benefit for 2022-23
While the changes from the 2021-22 New England Pass suite are slight, the rising prices and Boyne’s decision to exclude Shawnee from its core East Coast product are indications that the megapass free-for-all of the past several years may be decelerating, and that unlimited lift access for everyone, all the time, is a special tier that is worth a premium. Here’s a bit more about what 2022-23 New England and Shawnee pass offerings mean for Boyne’s Northeast mountains, their passholders, and skiing in general:
“We don't want anybody to be afraid that this area is going to be overcrowded.”
Just over four months ago, when Boyne purchased Shawnee from the Homer family, megapass membership for the mid-sized ski area seemed pre-ordained. All nine of the company’s other ski areas had adopted the Ikon Pass during its 2018-19 debut season. In the years between, Vail had purchased six more New England ski areas to stand alongside Stowe and added them all onto its Epic Pass. The Indy Pass had materialized out of the Pacific Northwest and signed a dozen partners east of New York, including big boys like Jay Peak, Saddleback, Waterville Valley, and Cannon. Shawnee remained one of the largest ski areas in the region without a pass affiliation. As I wrote when Boyne announced the deal:
For now, Shawnee gives Boyne a powerful story to tell in eastern New England. … While Boyne has pledged to continue offering a standalone Shawnee Pass, there is little reason to doubt that next year’s New England Pass – which grants unlimited Sugarloaf, Sunday River, and Loon access – will also include Shawnee. …
What is less guaranteed, though probably all but certain, is whether Shawnee will, like Boyne’s other nine mountains, end up on the Ikon Pass. Even if Alterra is not pining for a mid-sized New England ski area, Big Sky likely grants Boyne considerable latitude to include whichever of its properties it wants on the pass.
When Vail bought Seven Springs, Laurel, and Hidden Valley in Pennsylvania six weeks later and promised to add them to its 2022-23 Epic Passes, it only reinforced my belief that Boyne would fold Shawnee onto its larger passes.
Well. This winter has changed things. I don’t want to be Blame Vail Bro. To dwell in certain corners of the internet, you would think that the soaring price of gas and looming bumblebee extinction could be traced back to Broomfield. Lost, often, is the fact that Vail has done more to make the sport affordable for frequent skiers and nudge the industry toward a sustainable business model than any entity in the history of lift-served skiing. But with 2.1 million Epic Passes – many of them carrying very few access restrictions – flowing through the winter ecosystem, Vail’s experiment in extreme discounting has clarified that our current infrastructure, both on the mountains and in communities surrounding them, has limits. Angry passholders and residents in Park City, Stevens Pass, and in the Midwest have expressed frustration and disappointment with a combination of idled lifts, immense traffic, and, at its smaller ski areas, reduced operating days and hours.
This season has been the most powerful demonstration yet that the cheap megapasses that seem to good to be true may be just that. Alterra essentially said that without saying it when the company released its 2022-23 Ikon Pass suite last week. The offerings came with massive access changes, with Alta and Deer Valley leaving the Base Pass for the Base Plus, and Crystal jumping off the unlimited tier on the full Ikon Pass in favor of its own, $1,700 season pass. Perhaps concerned about overcrowding, Alterra also pulled its owned mountains – Palisades Tahoe, Mammoth, and Sugarbush – off the Mountain Collective.
While Vail has yet to release 2022-23 Epic Pass prices, Boyne’s announcement today suggests that more metered multi-mountain pass access is becoming a trend, and that crafting a quality skier experience may be taking precedent over jamming as many people as possible onto the hillside.
“We are very conscious of the fact that we have the appropriate number of people here at the resort,” Shawnee Peak General Manager Ralph Lewis told The Storm Skiing Journal when asked whether the crowding issues that have bedeviled many Northeast resorts this season impacted Boyne’s decision to leave Shawnee off the New England Pass. “We do not want to overwhelm the ski area.”
Shawnee, Lewis said, is constrained by limited parking and a small lodge that already hit capacity on most weekends. The lift system – three triples and a short fixed-grip quad – is adequate for the current skier traffic, but could quickly become overwhelmed by Ikon crowds from Portland, just over an hour away. Alterra does not offer a weekday-only option, Lewis said, and Boyne needs more time with Shawnee before adding it to its own products.
“We need more time to look at it and to make some of the changes in the base area to accommodate more guests,” Lewis said. “Those types of things will start to happen this summer.”
Lewis declined to specify what those changes would be, but he did confirm that snowmaking enhancements – more guns and hydrants and updated pumps – were on their way prior to next season.
Whatever enhancements happen, Boyne and Shawnee appear committed to preserving the ski experience at what is a fairly large mountain that absorbs its current skier volumes really well.
“We are committed to the loyal Shawnee Peak passholder, and we will do things that will continue to make them want to come back here,” Lewis said. “And we don't want anybody to be afraid that this area is going to be overcrowded.”
Shawnee passholders get a taste of the megapass good life
All that said, multi-mountain passes – and the access and convenience they provide – are not going anywhere. Boyne’s history of aggressively improving and expanding its mountains suggests that the Shawnee of five years from now is going to be a vastly different animal than the Shawnee of today. The company favors bold, headline-making lift projects – four of the five eight-passenger chairlifts scheduled to be operating next season will be at Boyne’s resorts, and the company just announced a monster gondola-tram complex at Big Sky that will be one of the most impressive lift connections in North America.
Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher outlined Shawnee’s potential in an interview with The Storm Skiing Journal shortly after they announced the purchase:
Boyne has the capital, the knowhow, the contacts, and the experience to drive Shawnee to its full potential. This may, according to Kircher, include upgrades to the existing lift fleet, snowmaking plant, and baselodge facilities, but the most compelling opportunity sits Northwest of the existing trail network, where the Homers purchased 277 acres of raw forest that Boyne bought along with the existing ski area.
“Shawnee can be greatly enhanced,” Kircher said in an interview with The Storm Skiing Journal. “We've got some initial ideas, but like we do with all our acquisitions, we really like to fully digest what's on the ground and see it operate for a season and not jump to any conclusions. Our next steps are to infuse the different creative ideas we've worked on elsewhere and come up with a clear vision of where we're going to go with the property.”
This expansion could double Shawnee’s size. It would also likely be the extent of any future expansion – while the current ski area occupies just a fraction of Pleasant Mountain, the area skier’s right (south) of the current trails is locked into a conservation easement, making development improbable.
So Shawnee is unlikely to become a Sunday River-sized goliath, but it could evolve into something roughly the size of 370-acre Loon, Boyne’s impossibly busy New Hampshire resort that sits just over an hour away. The focus will remain on families and developing new skiers. “We’re excited to continue Shawnee’s tradition of being the top learning spot for Mainers,” Kircher said.
As aggressive as the company is, nothing ever feels rushed – at least from here in the peanut gallery. So Shawnee skiers are going to have to wait. In the meantime, the bonus days at Loon, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf give them a taste of life in a multipass world. Shawnee confirmed that it will be updating its RFID gates this offseason so that they’re compatible with those at its other New England mountains.
It’s disappointing that Shawnee passes will not include any access to Big Sky or Brighton. Shawnee’s pass is – and always has been – expensive relative to the size of the mountain. Its inclusion in the Boyne network was a good opportunity to give the ski area’s passholders a Western option without having to buy an additional pass or pay a la carte for their Rocky Mountain vacation. Three days at Big Sky would have been an incredible goodwill gesture from Boyne to welcome the Shawnee community. And for Shawnee skiers who have the means and the desire to travel west, it’s puzzling why Boyne would not make the easy play to keep them within its network.
This might be the smartest overall pass suite in skiing
At $1,659, the top-shelf New England Pass is the most expensive season pass of any kind in the Northeast. The $1,299 Gold version is not far behind. If history is any guide, that will remain true, with only the Ikon Pass ($1,079), Killington’s Beast 365 Pass (which also includes an Ikon Pass), and, surprisingly, Windham’s Ultra Pass (which, again, includes an Ikon Pass), coming close. In a world of rapidly falling pass prices (the season passes at Stowe, Sugarbush, and Okemo were all more than $1,500 for the 2016-17 ski season), these persistent high – and increasing – prices are an outlier.
But they may be a peak into the future. Dig a few layers down, and Boyne’s New England Pass strategy begins to make a lot of sense as a tool to meter skier access while still providing lots of options for the budget-conscious. The Silver Pass axes 12 holidays and free days at Boyne’s Western ski areas (skiers get a 50 percent discount at those resorts), but it costs just $849 – nearly half the price of the Platinum pass. If you can live without weekends and holidays, you save another $200 with the $649 Bronze Pass (the pass will include “early- and late-season” weekends). It’s worth underscoring that Boyne is extremely committed to the long season. Sunday River typically opens in late October or early November, and it is not unusual for that mountain and Sugarloaf to push the season into early May.
This model would work really well for Epic Passes. Vail’s current blackout tiers are far too loose, especially in the Northeast. Last year, a $583 Epic Local Pass acted as an unlimited passport to every mountain in the region outside of Stowe, which was blacked out on holidays. The $479 Northeast Epic Pass was nearly as generous, with blackouts only at Stowe, Mount Snow, Okemo, and Hunter. The results were reports of persistent overcrowding and frustrated skiers.
I like Boyne’s model. Unlimited access is worth a premium, and should be priced accordingly. Does anyone doubt that an Epic Pass would still sell well and be perceived as a good value among skiers if it was $1,200? A $700 to $900 Epic Local Pass could have holiday and perhaps mid-season Saturday blackouts, and a sub-$600 Epic Midweek pass (with regional versions such as the very nice Northeast Midweek Pass), would make sure the coupon-clippers among us (I count myself in that category), would still have ways to access the mountains. Alterra has a pretty good - and evolving - model as well, but the $969 Base Plus Pass is nearly as expensive as the $1,079 full Ikon Pass, and none of its passes address the problem of weekend congestion.
That is not to say that Boyne has solved the crowding problem. Saturdays and holidays and powder days will always be busier than non-snowy midweek days. The Ikon Pass has brought more skiers to the mountains, and those skiers now make up a substantial percentage of day visitors to Boyne’s ski areas. But there is a difference between busy and intolerable, and Boyne’s metered-access pass system – which has been in place for years, and versions of which are deployed throughout the company’s network – is a strong declaration that the company is going to focus on quality of experience as much as growth. Let’s hope it’s a trend.