Indy Pass Adds Manning Park, Sovereign Lake Nordic, Seven Oaks, The Rock Snowpark

The four additions, including the pass’ first all-nordic destination, give Indy Pass skiers 160 days at 80 resorts for the 2021-22 ski season

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The year was 1918. Silas Talltree, a local farmer outside of Teakettle, Wisconsin, had rigged a makeshift ropetow up his cow pasture. It ran on a 75-year-old steam engine, powered by coal and hog fat. Local kids paid five cents a day to lap the 120-vertical-foot hill, their knit scarves flapping behind them like exhaust trails.

“Skee-in’, I calls it,” Talltree told a local reporter for the Teakettle Gazette, who had stopped by to see the new contraption everyone was gabbing about in town. “It’s the healthiest thing for kids aside from a good ass-whoopin’. If they wasn’t doin’ this, they’d be in my garden, stealin’ my radishes. There’s nothin’ a boy loves more than a radish, you know. That’s why I keep it at a nickel. Skee-in’ is a nickel now, and it’ll be a nickel 100 years from now, just like a roll a tabaccy and a pound of hogback.”

That story is said to have inspired* Indy Pass founder Doug Fish to launch the pass two years ago, with the goal of once again making nickel-skiing accessible to everyone.

He’s getting close. Today Indy Pass added four new ski areas, bringing its total to 80 just two years after the pass’ debut. Skiers get two days at each resort for $299. Were a hypothetical superskier to rack all 160 days, they’d be skiing for $1.87 per day, a horrifying display of inflation for Farmer Talltree, but roughly the price of a gas station soda for the rest of us.

The new resorts include Seven Oaks, Iowa and The Rock Snowpark, Wisconsin, adding to Indy’s considerable Midwestern strength and density. The other two additions, both in British Columbia, are Manning Park and, in a first for Indy, Sovereign Lake Nordic Club, a massive cross-country facility that offers no downhill terrain.

These four resorts are not, collectively, Indy’s flashiest partner rollout. But each is strategically important, either because of its proximity to a population center, because it builds regional pass density, or both. Here’s a breakdown of each of the new partners, as well as some thoughts on what the additions mean for Indy Pass and its skiers:

*This story is unlikely to be true, since I invented it last night while writing this article. As such, it is unlikely to have inspired the creation of the Indy Pass.

Manning Park: Filling in the gaps in BC

Stats

1,417-foot vertical drop, 140 acres, 34 runs, 4 lifts, 296 inches average annual snowfall

What we’re working with

My take

From a pure skiing point of view, Manning Park is the highlight of this new partner batch. It has a decent vertical, a sprawling trail network, and plenty of snow. Imagine if you dug Magic Mountain out of Southern Vermont, airlifted it across the continent, and doubled the snowfall. You’d more or less end up with Manning Park: a double, a quad, a T-bar, a handle tow. A good mix of blues and blacks. Some fun trees. Not a bad day, especially if you roll up on one of the 74 powder days that Indy Pass says the ski area clocks annually.

More importantly, however, is that Manning Park gives Indy Pass a much better story to tell in Vancouver, a town where everyone skis… Whistler. And why wouldn’t they? If the best ski area on the continent were right up the road from me, I might not be able to keep a job, let alone focus on the smaller ski areas scattered around me. But Whistler is also crowded, frantic, and overwhelming. It would be nice to have an alternative, say, Christmas Week or during a storm cycle, or if you just wanted calmer options for family skiing.

Before signing Manning Park, Indy offered Vancouver skiers two days at Sasquatch, a nice little mountain just two hours east of downtown. But that was about it within day-driver range. Manning Park adds two more days, so four total, for Vancouver skiers, making Indy a more viable option. Another two hours past Manning Park is Apex, a 2,000-footer with a serious trail network. Now it’s easy to imagine a week hopscotching east from one Indy partner to the next. And now that the option is there, many Vancouver skiers may decide to do exactly that. And why not - this looks pretty great:

One note: Manning Park is the only one of the four new partners to black out certain Indy Pass dates. If you plan to ski there over the Christmas, MLK, or President’s Day holidays, you’ll want to pick up the $399, no-blackout Indy+ Pass.

Seven Oaks: Indy takes ownership of the heart of Iowa

Stats

275-foot vertical drop, 22 acres, 11 runs, 4 lifts, Probably negligible average annual snowfall

What we’re working with

My take

Exactly one ski area serves metro Des Moines, population 700,000. It’s small, but it doesn’t matter: for countless people growing up in the heartland of the Heartland, Seven Oaks will be their introduction to skiing. No Seven Oaks, no skiing and no skiers. The multiplier effect of this little bump is impossible to calculate.

That means that whoever controls access to Seven Oaks gets to lodge themselves in the imaginations of its skiers, some of whom will transform first turns into Rocky Mountain roadtrips. That Vail hasn’t bought this place yet is kind of astonishing – it’s exactly in the mold of Wilmot, Afton Alps, Mount Brighton, Brandywine, and Boston Mills: improbable but vital, impossibly busy and perfectly located. Alterra is not yet in the business of buying up urban feeders, though they should be. That left Indy with an opening to expand its Midwest empire into one of the region’s most important cities.

There are a couple ways this could work for Des Moines skiers. One is to scoop up an Indy Pass, nail a couple days at Seven Oaks, and tack on days at recent Indy add-on Sundown and (heading west and north), Tyrol Basin, The Rock, Little Switzerland, and Granite Peak. Longer trips east and west are possible. It’s far but Midwesterners don’t care. Looking at the Des Moines-to-Terry Peak route on Google maps, Northeasterners would gasp, “My Lord, it’s almost a 10-hour drive.” Iowans, looking at that same map, would say, “It’s only a 10-hour drive – let’s make it a weekend trip!”

The second option for Des Moines skiers would be to scoop up Seven Oaks’ bargain basement $272 season pass and add on an Indy Pass for $209, giving them limitless trip options. If you live in Des Moines and want to ski regularly, this is about your only option. I’m sure Seven Oaks is great, but you may die of boredom if you’re over the age of 7 and you ski more than a half dozen days per year. You’ll want options – Indy, and Indy alone, now delivers that.

The Rock Snowpark: an inevitable addition

Stats

230-foot vertical drop, acreage unavailable, about 10 runs, 5 lifts, Probably negligible average annual snowfall

What we’re working with

My take

I’ll start by acknowledging that this was probably not the Wisconsin resort most of you in the Midwest were hoping for. Whitecap, La Crosse, Cascade, or Devil’s Head all would have been more interesting from a skiing point of view. The Rock Snowpark is small, crowded, and mostly terrain parks. Other than maybe me and Peter from Lift Blog, almost no one is going to travel to ski this place.

But it’s an interesting ski area. It is managed by the Schmitz brothers, who own nearby Indy Pass partners Little Switzerland and Nordic Mountain. They revitalized both, saving the former from extinction – Little Switzerland had been closed for five years when they bought it – with massive investment in lifts and snowmaking. Their success modernizing small ski areas led to a contract to manage The Rock. From Chris Diamond’s excellent Ski Inc. 2020:

Schmitz Brothers LLC has since taken over operations of another Milwaukee-area ski hill, the Rock Snow Park in Franklin, which was long known as Crystal Ridge. It is part of a four-season complex owned by ROC Ventures that is developing a Ballpark Commons (to attract a minor-league baseball team) and related developments, including housing. When ROC saw what the Schmitz brothers accomplished at Little Switzerland, they were recruited to take over management of the ski hill, according to a July 2017 report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Schmitz trio moved quickly, replacing an old chairlift that had proved unreliable with a high-speed rope tow, and restoring snowmaking to the entire complex. And, of course, the Rock season pass now provides access to Little Switzerland and vice versa; it also includes Nordic Mountain for a small upcharge.

The only mystery, really, is why The Rock didn’t join Indy when Little Switzerland and Nordic Mountain did. Resorts under common ownership or management – Catamount and Berkshire East, 49 Degrees North and Silver Mountain – tend to join the pass together. This addition was probably inevitable, and Indy Passholders shouldn’t be surprised, even if they were hoping for a mountain with a bit more substance.

But, again, location. There’s a reason Vail bought Wilmot, less than an hour south of The Rock, in 2016. Both sit along the vital Chicago-to-Milwaukee corridor, a region where millions of people are looking for a way to make the endless winters not suck. Tossing another option on the Indy Pass for Milwaukee skiers, who can easily plan long-weekend trips to Granite Peak and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, only boosts Indy’s profile in the city.

Sovereign Lake Nordic: what’s this now?

Stats

98 miles of trails, 170 inches average annual snowfall

What we’re working with

My take

I’ll admit I’m not quite sure what to make of the addition of a cross country-only ski area to the pass. Here’s how Indy sells it:

The first all-nordic resort to join the Indy Pass is a not-for-profit ski club with nearly 3,200 members operating within Silver Star Provincial Park. In conjunction with neighboring Silver Star Resort, the resort features 158km of groomed trails plus backcountry and snowshoe terrain.

The most exciting part about that description is the proximity to Silver Star Resort, an absolute monster of a ski area that would be the crown jewel of Indy’s western network were it to join the pass. Which it will never, ever do. Powdr Corp, owners of Killington, Snowbird, and Copper Mountain, bough the place a couple years back, and if it goes anywhere, it’s joining its sister resorts on Ikon. Why it hasn’t yet is one of the great mysteries of megapass skiing, as I’ve written before.

Anyway, Sovereign Lake: If you’re going there, you have to really want it. It’s just two hours and 40 minutes past Apex, but nowhere near any other Indy partners: eight and a half hours to Castle Mountain, nearly seven hours to Marmot Basin. It’s six hours to Vancouver and nearly eight to Calgary.

But for skiers who like to toss some trail days into their downhill season, this could be a nice bonus. My own experience with cross country is limited – my dad picked me up a pair of toothpick-skinny cross-country skis for $2 at a garage sale sometime in the ‘90s, and they were ancient then. I’ve used them a couple dozen times when massive snowfalls have hit New York and I couldn’t get out of the city to ski. That was a lot of fun, skiing in the bowels of the transformed metropolis, everything paralyzed by the amazing snowdrifts but me mobile like a resourceful citizen of some snowy northern frontier. Maybe some day I’ll be inspired to pursue it as more than a snow-day novelty.

Past Indy Pass Coverage on The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast

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