Indy Pass Fills Out 2020-21 Lineup With Snow Ridge, Antelope Butte
If you’re still saying skiing is too expensive, maybe you just don’t math good
The Indy Pass yesterday added Snow Ridge, New York and Antelope Butte, Wyoming to its 2020-21 lineup, bringing its partner total to 59 ski areas. Skiers get two days at each of these for $199. Total. Ski all 118 days, and you’re out $1.69 per day. Which, if you hopped a time machine back to the days when men smoked cigarettes while clearing trails with handsaws and digging lift tower foundations with pickaxes, they’d still be like, “Well by gum I’m not a rich man but that’s a fair enough deal for a chum looking for a swell time.”
Here’s a bit more about these new partners, and some thoughts on the Indy Pass in general as I continue to search for memes that perfectly articulate my frustration with the agonizingly delayed start to the Northeast ski season.
Snow Ridge is the five-foot-tall guy who decided to get jacked in the gym
Someone built New York skiing backwards. It’s biggest and best ski areas – Whiteface, Gore, the four Catskills mountains – receive substantially less snow on average than the far smaller ski areas ringing the state’s Great Lakes borderlands. Twin lake effect snow bands blast off the eastern ends of Lakes Erie and Ontario, clobbering Midwest-sized ski hills with monstrous snow dunes. 500-vertical-foot Snow Ridge, tucked into the Ontario snow pocket along with 300-foot Dry Hill, 633-foot McCauley, and 500-foot Woods Valley, gets buried in 230 inches of annual snowfall. By comparison, Whiteface, towering three-ish hours to the east, makes due with 185 inches on average.
Compounding that difference, however, is the sheer volume of skiers moving that snow down and off the hill on any given day. Whiteface is an amazing place, its Olympic heritage and state-supported marketing budget drawing downstate throngs on any given weekend. Snow Ridge, cherished by locals but otherwise obscure, preserves that extra snow for far longer – and you won’t be waiting half an hour in a gondola line to reach the summit.
Maybe because I spent my formative skiing years shredding the groomed speedbumps of pre-Bohemia Michigan, I don’t mind small ski areas. Hills aren’t less steep just because they’re shorter. And while a smaller vertical drop does somewhat dilute the let’s-get-lost patina of grand adventure that unfolds across a taller mountain, with all its pockets of fluffy discovery, the fact that those shorter mountains tend to be less crowded compensates for their smaller size. My best ski day last season was at Snow Ridge neighbor McCauley, where I crushed 40 laps of boulder-dropping powder gluttony on a snowy January day.
If small ski areas are going to survive outside of the two-ring Epic/Ikon circus that’s vacuuming up the collective attention of the nation’s casual skiforce, they’re going to need to reorient their operations somewhat. Snow Ridge, under new ownership these past five years, appears to be doing this, stepping into its strengths with four new glades that open up and diversify the mountain and take advantage of all that free snow. Joining the Indy Pass is another pragmatic move, as we’re now all talking about an off-the-grid ski area that we would otherwise mostly ignore.
Snow Ridge joins Catamount, Greek Peak, and Swain as Indy partners in New York State. While none of these are particularly close to one another, and only Catamount sits in the orbit of the New York City metro area, these four mountains plus Indy’s eight ski areas in New England and two in Pennsylvania add up to a compelling regional offering, particularly with this year’s additions of Jay Peak and Cannon.
Antelope Butte continues to fill out Indy’s Northern Rockies lineup
I’ve never been to Antelope Butte, and since you probably haven’t either, here’s a description from Skibum.net:
Were the general skiing population to learn of a 1,000′ vert with a variety of pitches from pleasant to nasty, free mitey-mite tow for junior, unbelievable powder, $30 top ticket price, zero liftlines, no condos littering the slopes, no phony clocktower village, customer-oriented family ownership…well, this place just might draw a crowd. Seriously, this is one of those ski areas that kind of spoils everything. Once you’ve skied Antelope Butte, the others don’t seem the same. Sure they’re bigger, the lifts are faster, runs are longer…but you’re guaranteed to have fonder memories of a day at Antelope Butte than almost any megaresort.
Antelope Butte is also a fixer-upper, resurrected by a community group after sitting abandoned for 15 years. It’s the kind of place that’s focused on getting more people skiing, and on providing recreation options in a rural community that could use them.
This is Indy’s third ski area in Wyoming, though having three ski areas in 97,818-square-mile Wyoming is not like having three ski areas in New England, which takes up a grand total of 71,992 square miles spread across six states (roughly half of which is the unchartered northlands of Maine, where it is said that unicorns still spar in the forest clearings and the unveiling of each year’s new wheel is akin to an iPhone drop in our futuristic cities to the south), and Antelope Butte is roughly five to six hours to either White Pine or Snow King. It’s actually closer to Terry Peak, South Dakota, which is about four-and-a-half hours east, and it’s just two-and-a-half hours from Red Lodge, Montana. (Indy’s site has a pretty cool Google Maps integration that let’s you plan roadies between all the ski areas, though Antelope Butte hadn’t been added as of this writing.)
All of which is to say that Antelope Butte is like just about everything else in the Northern Rockies: isolated but accessible for anyone with a capable vehicle and a little patience. It’s right on brand with Indy and ought to give some exposure and skier days to what sounds like a rad little mountain.
The Indy Pass continues to be a big part of the solution to skiing’s affordability problem
In the era of 45-passenger high-speed Disco Lifts* and Snowcats that cost more than the annual income of a one percenter in Arkansas and six other states, lift ticket prices have lost their connection to gravity. If you think Covid’s economic hammer-smashing is going to check that inflation, guess again: with most mountains drastically cutting capacity to meet state-imposed social distancing guidelines, discount tickets were the easiest cut since A-Basin dumped the Epic Pass. With reservation systems that favor passholders at many mountains, there may be days that one-off lift tickets aren’t available at all, and if they are for sale, they are going to command top dollar.
The Indy Pass solves that problem. If you’re the kind of easy-living bro-brah that survives on catfood and sleeps in a pup tent out of the back of your three-wheeler, you can probably cover the cost of this thing returning cans for deposit or selling your beard origami at alternative craft fairs. If you’re a family of five mortified that you’ll have to sell your speedboat to afford a weekend at Vail, the Indy Pass – which has a $99 kids version – solves your sorry-kids-it-was-skiing-or-grandma’s-funeral problem.
Of course all multipasses solve this problem. The Ikon and Epic Passes, while more expensive by multiples than an Indy Pass, are still approachable for a middle-class family. They are also true season passes (or offer substantially more than Indy’s two days at most partner mountains), and include extensive access in the Indy deadzones of Colorado and Tahoe. In most cases, the Epic and Ikon mountains are bigger and more built up, open earlier and close later, and are easier to access.
But I don’t see the Indy Pass as a competitor so much as a complement to these larger passes. If you live in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, or the Pacific Northwest/Northern Rockies, there is enough Indy density to guarantee you can ski your dollars-per-day average down to scandalous levels, even if it’s your secondary pass. Let’s say, for example, you have an Ikon Pass and you’re a Crystal Mountain regular who lives in Seattle. Well, Crystal’s great, but there are a few weekends per year that make the Great Wildebeest Migration look a game of Go Fish. You might want to head to Mission Ridge or 49 Degrees North or White Pass those days, all Indy mountains with around 2,000 feet of vertical and plenty of Pacific Northwest powder.
There are plenty of skiers, however, that will be fine with an Indy Pass as their sole pass, and as long as they use it at least four times, they’re more or less guaranteed to be paying below the walk-up lift ticket rate. And if they do ski three days or fewer, passholders get an automatic discount on next season’s pass (20 percent for using the pass just three times, 40 percent for using it twice, 60 percent for one-timers, and 80 percent for skiers who never cash in a day).
*Disco Lift access will be available this season to all Galactic Epic Pass Holders**. These state-of-the-art lifts deliver the latest in comfort, convenience, elegance, and champagne-popping partying to discerning skiers and riders weary of wasting their ski vacations outdoors amid the wind and cold. Upon entering a Disco Lift via the Intergalactic RFID Lane, riders are placed on a hoverboard and escorted by a personal concierge to a curtained lounge area, where full bottle service is provided alongside a complimentary raw bar and a one-of-a-kind Escalade Hummer Ferrari, which riders may either drive down the mountain or push out the side door toward the Discount-Class Epic Pass skiers doddering obliviously on the impeccably groomed boulevards below. On your journey to the summit, you can explore the full 1.5-million-square-foot luxurious space, including a bowling alley, a big-game hunting range stocked with endangered animals, and the ever-popular Museum of Poor People, where popular displays include a 12-pack of Surge energy drink with the Wal-Mart price tags still attached, a carton of Winstons with “Pa’s Smokes” written on them in Sharpie, and a bank statement displaying a negative balance and a charge for a mail-order kitchen mop. And of course you will have full access to our 14-story Disco dance club for the duration of the ride. Disco Lifts will be operating at all Vail Resorts beginning Christmas week.
**The Intergalactic Epic Pass is provided complimentary to all investors who purchase 100,000 shares of MTN stock at current market rates. Passholders will have access to all 872 Vail Resorts throughout the solar system, including First Tracks Access at all 82 Moons Resorts orbiting Saturn and Red 1, the largest ski resort in the Martian colonies.
But wait, there’s more
If for some reason you still don’t think the Indy Pass offers a compelling roster of mountains, here’s a bunch of other stuff I’ve written over the past several months, which is basically explaining over and over again why these are real ski areas even though they can’t be seen with the naked eye from the surface of Neptune.
A podcast interview with Jay Peak GM Steve Wright on the day the mountain joined the Indy Pass
Indy Pass adds Jay Peak
Something ridiculous I wrote for fun
Indy Pass adds Cannon (includes a region-by-region Indy Pass breakdown)
An interview with Indy Pass founder Doug Fish
Indy Pass busts into Wyoming
Indy Pass sales soar in its second year
An interview with Cannon Mountain GM John DeVivo, in which we discuss that mountain’s decision to sign with the Indy Pass.