Freedom Pass Dissolves – at Least for This Season

Plus: what’s behind the surprising surge in single-mountain season pass sales?

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[UPDATE: The day after I published this article, the Freedom Pass rose from the dead. Full update to come in a separate post.]

As key partners flee to the Indy Pass and ski areas look to restrict capacity, Freedom Pass coalition evaporates

After several months of guesswork and unanswered emails to the organizers, I have finally confirmed that the Freedom Pass reciprocal lift ticket partnership has dissolved, at least for the 2020-21 ski season. Confirmation of this comes in the form of a very simple message on Lost Valley, Maine’s season pass page: “The Freedom Pass has been cancelled for 2020/2021 due to Covid-19.”

This leaves the former Freedom Pass mountains in various states of reciprocity limbo. Magic and Bolton Valley had already quit the coalition in favor of the Indy Pass, trading comp tickets for the upstart pass’ pay-per-visit model. Black Mountain, New Hampshire also joined the Indy Pass, and has removed any mention of the Freedom Pass from its pass page. Same with Greek Peak. Passholders at any of those four mountains can add an Indy Pass on for $129. Considering that includes two days at Cannon and two days at Jay Peak, there is almost no reason not to do this.

Lost Valley will retain reciprocal partnerships with McIntyre, Ski Cooper, Yawgoo, and Mont Du Lac, Wisconsin. Little lost Whaleback, run largely by volunteers, is still unfortunately promoting the benefit. Yawgoo still lists the Freedom Pass ski areas as reciprocal partners, but does not explicitly mention the pass, so at least some of these are probably still valid – call ahead before you go. Dartmouth Skiway states that it will not participate in the Freedom Pass or any other reciprocal arrangements this season. Granite Gorge and McIntyre don’t mention the pass at all.

If I had to guess at the future of this pass, I’d say it’s deader than the dinosaurs (yes please shut up birds-are-dinosaurs person; don’t waste my time unless you can show me a triceratops eating a palm tree. And yes I am one of those people who hopes Jurassic Park happens in real life). I do still think reciprocal partnerships have a future in the Northeast. They’ve worked well Out West, and Indy Pass founder Doug Fish has said he is deliberately limiting the number of ski areas in any given market to prevent saturation. With the signing of Cannon and Jay Peak, that pass is on a trajectory to sign more bomber big dogs than two- or three-lift community hills like Granite Peak, so small ski areas are likely going to need some path to add bonus days to their passes in order to compete with not-that-much-more-expensive Epic and Ikon Passes. Barring the unlikely advent of an Indy competitor, trading days for passholders is a fairly easy solution.

Season pass sales are surging as the cityfolk arrive with mattresses strapped to their Range Rovers

So this from Magic:

The mountain’s subsequent Alpine Update provided specifics:

Our "pre-season" season pass sale ended last Thursday and Magic smashed its pass sales record which has been growing every year since SKI MAGIC purchased this legendary ski area almost 5 years ago! 75% more people are now pass holders than a year ago at this time (and we're up over +200% from our 1st year selling passes in 16/17). And, we've seen tremendous growth in our local Vermonter passes (now 35% of all passes sold!) as we've tried to make an expensive sport more accessible to our local students, their parents and teachers so they too can get outside and enjoy the same great skiing and riding which so many people flock to Vermont for during our long winters.

A 75 percent surge in pass sales from one season to the next is remarkable. I would normally tack on, “especially during Covid,” but it’s become apparent to me over the past several weeks that pass sales are strong pretty much everywhere. The shock and economic contraction of spring appear to have given way to the urban out-migration of summer as the dominant factor in rate of pass sales. Sales are up, I’ve been told, at Jay Peak, Mad River Glen, and all three mountains owned or managed by Fairbank Group (Jiminy Peak, Bromley, Cranmore). While sales at these mountains are unlikely to have soared as much as they did at Magic (Brian Fairbank told me on the podcast that Cranmore was up around 15 percent), which lowered its prices this year and was considered a major repair job in the aforementioned 2016-17 season, it is still noteworthy that so many diverse mountains are seeing a bump.

The reasons for this are not difficult to guess at, even if they are impossible for me to verify: the type of person fleeing the congested city for the countryside is, in general, the type of works-on-the-42nd-floor-of-a-skyscraper, has-a-job-that-doesn’t-sound-like-a-job upper-middle-class white collar professional to whom three grand in season passes is, if not exactly an afterthought, not an enormous burden either. When Consultant Jim and Marketing Martha unpack their 400 or 500 grand in combined annual salaries into their newly purchased five bedroom home that’s four times the size and a quarter the price of the Manhattan two-bedroom they’d crunched into alongside their children, Adelaide and Seamus, they’re going to pick up passes down the road at Jiminy Peak or Stratton or Okemo the same way they’ll just go buy a new Audi to accomodate their new lifestyle.

Are these relocations the primary factor driving not just the pass sales strength at these independent mountains, but the 18 percent jump in Epic Pass sales that Vail reported last month or the “unbelievably strong” Ikon Pass sales that Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory alluded to in a recent interview? I can’t say for sure. Vail largely attributed the surge to the renewal credits it offered in the wake of the Covid shutdown, and expects to finish Epic Pass sales about even with last season. But after a spring and early summer in which ski areas continually pushed out renewal deadlines to stoke sales, prices are up and rising (see below), and several high-profile areas, concerned about congestion, have stopped selling passes altogether (also see below).

How all this will evolve long-term is impossible to say. My portrayal last month of Vail as the robber baron of Northeast skiing now looks fairly stupid, however, as it presupposed a downturn in independent pass sales that appears to have reversed from its spring nadir. Short term – as long as Covid is with us – that is likely going to mean more expensive passes to maintain revenue alongside decreased volume. The demand appears to be there, and unless companies summon these transplanted workers back to cities (which appears increasingly unlikely), or substantially reduces the salaries of those who relocate (more likely), their presence will probably remain an important factor in how much ski season passes cost and what they look like indefinitely.

Northeast season pass updates – all changes reflected in this chart

Newly introduced deferral or refund options

  • West Mountain will provide “most likely a credit/transfer to next season and or potentially a cash refund” if it is not “allowed to operate due to COVID 19 government mandates.”

  • Elk Mountain, which just put its passes on sale, promised that “in the event of a government-imposed shutdown, a credit will be issued.” It is unclear which dates that credit would be based upon, though the mountain has previously guaranteed a 100-day season.

New Pass releases

  • Big Rock, Maine’s pass went on sale for $365. Prices increase Nov. 15.

  • Lonesome Pine Trails, Maine’s pass went on sale for $184.50.

  • Titcomb Mountain, Maine put its pass on sale for $185. It jumps to $216 Dec. 19.

  • Blue Hills, Massachusetts’ pass increased from $259 to $379. The price increases to $399 on Nov. 1.

  • Mount Greylock Ski Club’s adult memberships will be $75.

  • Arrowhead, a municipal area in New Hampshire, is selling season passes for $100.

  • Dartmouth Skiway’s pass will be $335 through Oct. 31.

  • Whaleback, which shut even before the Covid blackhole opened in March because its summit chair broke, will return with a $199 season pass.

  • Beartown, New York’s season pass is $230. Their website is down, but you can find the order form on their Facebook page.

  • Brantling, New York’s pass is $300 until Nov. 16.

  • Cockaigne, New York, updated its site to indicate it would open for the 2020-21 ski season. The current listed price is $465, but there are indications on the page that that may change. The mountain also posted a trailmap.

  • Four Seasons, New York’s season pass is $104.

  • Holiday Mountain, New York’s pass will be $285 through Oct. 31.

  • McCauley, New York’s season pass is $259.

  • Thunder Ridge, New York’s season pass is $519.

  • Elk Mountain’s season pass will be $795 through Nov. 1, when it jumps to $855.

  • Ski Sawmill’s pass is $399 through Oct. 31. It will increase to $449 after that.

Price changes

  • The Highlands Pass – which covers Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and Laurel in western Pennsylvania – dropped from $730 back to $630. This is the first documented price drop after passes went on sale in the Northeast this offseason. Hidden Valley and Laurel’s passes dropped from $587 back to $483. Seven Springs’ pass retreated from $709 to $613.

  • The full Ikon Pass – good for unlimited access to Stratton and Sugarbush - increased from $1,049 to $1,149. The Base Pass jumped from $749 to $849. The renewal discount is no longer available. It is unclear if this is the final price.

  • The Greekenburg Pass – good for unlimited Greek Peak and Toggenburg – jumped from $725 to $845. Greek Peak’s pass went to $750, up from $650. Toggenburg’s pass rose from $450 to $550. Prices increases Nov. 30.

  • The Labrador/Song combo pass jumped from $499 to $559. It will increase Dec. 2.

  • Jay Peak’s season pass jumped from $859 to $1,029. The Jay/Burke combo pass increased from $1,019 to $1,289. This is the final price for both. Burke’s pass increased from $813 to $999. Jay Peak GM Steve Wright clarified that the two free Saddleback days that come with the Jay Peak season pass are only included with Jay-Burke combo passes that are purchased through Jay.

  • Mad River Glen’s pass is $979, up from $769. This is the final price.

  • Killington’s pass shot up from $1,139 to $1,479. This is the final price. The Beast 365 Pass is no longer for sale.

  • Powder Ridge, Connecticut’s pass ticked up to $440 from $392. The price is good through “Nov. 31,” which is the same day the aliens are scheduled to arrive.

  • Lost Valley, Maine’s pass crept up from $545 to $595, likely the final price.

  • Jiminy Peak’s pass increased from $989 to its likely final price of $1,119.

  • Otis Ridge’s pass ticked up from $159 to $179.

  • Cranmore’s season pass shot up from $769 to $949. The next deadline is Nov. 1.

  • King Pine, New Hampshire’s pass floated up from $575 to $600, the final price.

  • Ragged’s pass increased from $499 to $599, which is the final price.

  • Waterville Valley’s pass jumped to $1,153 from $998. This is the final price.

  • Campgaw, New Jersey’s pass hit $319, up from $279. The price goes up Nov. 1.

  • Bristol, New York’s pass jumped from $845 to $895.

  • Cazenovia Ski Club’s pass increased from $495 to $540.

  • Kissing Bridge, New York’s pass leapt $100 to $695. This is likely the final price.

  • Plattekill’s season pass edged up from $669 to $709.

  • Snow Ridge, New York’s pass went to $410 from $390.

  • Titus Mountain’s pass is now $549, up from $499.

  • West Mountain’s pass jumped from $599 to $699. Prices increase Nov. 1.

  • Willard, New York’s pass went from $394 to $418, and will go to $443 on Dec. 2.

  • Windham’s pass leapt from $1,169 to $1,349. The better move here is the Ultra Pass, which includes an Ikon Base Pass for just another $150, or $1,499 (up from $1,319). That’s only available until Nov. 15, however.

  • Bear Creek, Pennsylvania nudged its pass up to $369, from $349. The price increases to $399 on Nov. 1.

  • Blue Knob, Pennsylvania’s pass jumped to $509 from $439.

  • Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania’s pass increased to $350, from $300.

  • Shawnee’s pass jumped from $349 to $419.

  • Magic’s price increased from $679 to $779.

  • Pico’s pass is now $629, up from $489. This is the final price.

  • Bolton Valley’s pass increased from $729 to $799. It looks as though passes will increase again on Nov. 3.

  • Bromley’s pass jumped from $975 to $1,080.

Passes no longer on sale:

  • Killington is no longer selling its Beast 365 Pass, which included an Ikon Base Pass and access to everything from golf to mountain biking to skiing.

  • Wachusett is no longer selling season passes. The mountain recently confirmed that it would split its ski day into four shifts: two four-hour morning shifts and two three-hour evening shifts.

  • The Maine Pass, good for unlimited skiing at Sugarloaf and Sunday River, is “off sale until further notice,” which very likely means forever.

  • Yawgoo has ceased pass sales for the season after reaching approximately 50 percent of last year’s sales. Sales may re-open sales to last year’s passholders.

Ski areas that will not sell season passes for the 2020-21 ski season:

  • Ski Bradford, Massachusetts became the second Northeast ski area to confirm that it would not sell season passes for the 2020-21 ski season.

  • New Hermon Mountain, Maine, the first ski area to announce that it would not sell season passes, will instead sell 10 packs of half-day tickets for $270, but only to 2019-20 season passholders. This is a pragmatic adjustment for a mountain that doesn’t have a lot of resources to manage a complicated or logistically intensive deferral or refund program; it’s trailmap looks as though it was drawn by an astute fifth grader in 1954: