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Introducing Pass Notes: September 2023 – Midwest Bargains, a Steamboat Hack, the Best Fall Pass, the Epic Day Pass, & More
Let's start talking charts and numbers on the regular, Fools!
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The Pass Tracker 5001 is both the best and worst idea I’ve ever had. The best because it collects every U.S. ski season pass price on one document and acts as a de-facto list of active American ski areas. The worst because I have to keep the stupid thing updated. Which often feels as though I’m drafting a handwritten note to every person I know, rather than cc’ing them all on one giant email. I have some notion that the robots could help me with this, but the time it would take for me to decode those mechanics would be far greater than the three or so hours it takes me to just page through every site and manually update this monster.
Anyway, it’s updated as of today:
That was the first full refresh I’d done since May. Which got me thinking: why do I do this to myself? The PT 5001 was a personal reference document that I made public because I thought other people may find it interesting. But it’s doing nothing to make The Storm better just by virtue of existing. Mostly it’s just a pain in my ass. But it could be useful. A central concern of this newsletter is to help people ski as many days as possible, at as many ski areas as possible, for the smallest amount of money possible. I often explore little-known bargains and obscure products, but too often that information is buried nine sections deep in a 6,000-word email. Why not surface the most relevant pass-related tidbits on a regular basis? Such a report would be hugely useful to my subscribers, and would also motivate me to update the Pass Tracker 5001 at least once per month.
So here you go: Pass Notes, Volume 1. I’ll plan to release this around the end of each month, with the possible exception of the deadzones in December and January. Pass Notes does not replace anything – the podcast, the regular news updates, the analysis of who’s buying and selling what and who’s joining which pass. All will still arrive regularly. This is just more content. And since it is more work, Pass Notes will likely be exclusively for paid subscribers in the future (after all, there are a lot of them, and they are the reason I keep doing this).
A disclaimer: this data is scraped from the websites of America’s 489 or so ski areas, not all of which are very good at running websites. Sometimes the season pass page information is outdated or inconsistent with products, pricing, or deadlines on their other channels. I also probably missed a few things. Consider this newsletter the starting point on your shopping journey, but do your own research. Brah. I’ve sorted this by three regions: East (including the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast), Midwest, and West.
This month’s pass deadlines (current price in parentheses)
Sept. 3: Epic Pass (Wildcat, Attitash, Crotched, Mount Sunapee, Mount Snow, Okemo, Stowe, Hunter, Jack Frost, Big Boulder, Liberty, Whitetail, Roundtop, Seven Springs, Laurel, Hidden Valley PA)
The Epic Day Pass in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Vail assigned all 12 of its mountains in these two monster ski states to the lowest-priced tier of the Epic Day Pass, which is incredibly affordable, especially for kids:
This is a great option if you live in the East and have an Ikon or Mountain Collective pass, but live near (or really love), one of Vail’s mountains. Say you live in Boston and bought a Mountain Collective for a couple western trips – you could grab seven non-holiday days to use at Attitash, Wildcat, and Sunapee for just $287 ($146 for kids).
In the same spirit, anyone who lives in the NYC area should consider a Mountain Creek season pass. Yes, the place can get nutso, but it’s huge, rocks a thousand vertical feet served by high-speed lifts, and is only 45 minutes from the George Washington Bridge. Plus, an unlimited season pass is dirt cheap (just $289.99 for the spring pass; prices are not yet public for the Sept. 5 sale, though Mountain Creek officals assure me that it will be “a super-value-driven price … as always”), and, best of all, season passholders get 8 a.m. lift access on Saturdays and Sundays all season. So you can crush 10,000 vertical feet and be out of the parking lot by 10 a.m. Frankly, I love this joint and all its flaws. I wrote a whole piece on its virtues a few years back:
This month’s pass deadlines (current price in parentheses)
Sept. 3: Epic Pass (Boston Mills, Brandywine, Alpine Valley OH, Mad River, Paoli Peaks, Hidden Valley MO, Snow Creek, Mt. Brighton, Wilmot, Afton Alps)
Sept. 6: Welch Village MN ($439)
Sept. 15: Paul Bunyan ($275)
On sale soon: Wisconsin Resorts (Alpine Valley, WI; Alpine Valley, Mount Holly, Pine Knob, and Bittersweet, MI; Searchmont, Ontario - $701 for a pass good at all six - Sept. 1); Snow Trails (Sept. 14)
The Michigan White Gold card gets you one day each at 30 downhill ski areas for $349. The Michigan Snowsports Industries Association posted today that cards should arrive at MSIA member ski shops “within the next couple of days.” The association will also sell a limited number online, and “will post information about that on Sept. 15.” Bookmark this page. Here’s where you can buy the pass in person:
And here’s what’s included – basically every major ski area in the state, including Boyne’s two mountains, Nub’s Nob, Shanty Creek, Crystal, Caberfae, Bohemia, Snowriver, Marquette, and Big Powderhorn. Even Vail’s Mount Brighton is included:
The Skiing Wisconsin Passport gets skiers one day each at 16 alpine ski areas for $249. These go on sale Sept. 1 at 8 a.m. Central, and they will sell out almost immediately. Here’s a map of participating ski areas – the most notable holdout is Granite Peak:
A word on Wisconsin Resorts
I don’t know what my favorite part about this company is: the fact that they own two Alpine Valleys or the fact that every time I post about their six-resort pass on social media, some knucklehead informs me that “those ski areas are in Michigan, not Wisconsin” (in fact, four are in Michigan, one is in Wisconsin, and one is in Ontario).
This is one of the more opaque mountain collectives out there, but they have, over the past few years, begun to somewhat consolidate their brand under a single pass. It’s not a good deal: the price for the 2023-24 ski season appears to be $701. Some of the ski areas – Alpine Valley, Wisconsin ($569), and Bittersweet ($600) – continue to offer single-mountain passes. Others, like Mount Holly, have dispensed with that option (prices are not yet published for Searchmont, Pine Knob, or Alpine Valley, Michigan). There is no midweek or off-peak option. It’s weird. I kind of expect Alterra to just buy the whole company one day, to capture market share around Detroit, Milwaukee, and Grand Rapids. Until that happens, the Michigan White Gold Card is a far better value for frequent skiers who want to sample a bunch of different areas.
This month’s pass deadlines
Sept. 3: Epic Pass (Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Crested Butte, Park City, Kirkwood, Heavenly, Northstar, Stevens Pass, Whistler)
Sept. 8: Snowbasin ($1,249)
Sept. 12: Mt. Spokane ($599)
Sept. 15: Aspen-Snowmass (Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, Snowmass - $2,779)
Sept. 19: Summit at Snoqualmie ($759)
Sept. 26: Red River ($515)
Sept. 27: Mt. Baker ($1,011.24 – renewals only)
Sept. 28: Mount Bachelor ($1,269)
On sale soon: Timberline/Summit Pass/Mt. Hood Skibowl ($949 for all three; $849 for Timberline alone; $299 for Summit Pass alone; Skibowl alone TBD); White Pass (Sept. 12); Moose Mountain, Alaska (Mid-September); Wolf Creek (Sept. 30); Magic Mountain, Idaho (TBD); Granby Ranch (TBD)
Snowy Range’s season pass runs $329. That gets you unlimited access to the ski area’s 865 vertical feet, 250 acres of terrain, and fleet of Riblets. But it also grants you the right to buy a five-day Steamboat add-on for $289. That’s $618 total, which is the best price you’re going to find on five Steamboat lift tickets. Check what the resort is charging for five-consecutive-day lift tickets in January:
There are holiday blackouts with the Snowy Range add-on, but you don’t have to use the five days consecutively. With peak-day lift tickets at Steamboat set to hit $279 this year, this is a nice little hack. Plus, you can check out Snowy Range, which bangs out a respectable average of 245 inches of snow per season and looks like a fun little ski area:
Dozens of ski areas now offer spring passes, but Arapahoe Basin also sells a killer fall pass. It’s only $279 ($99 for kids age 6 to 14), and is good from opening day through Jan. 1, with no blackouts. With the exception of Covid-restricted 2020, A-Basin has opened in October every year for the past decade. That means around 75 potential ski days before most of the country even realizes ski season has started. A really strong add to an Epic, Ikon, or Mountain Collective Pass - even though A-Basin is included on the latter two, this one can really stretch those seven, five, or two days.
When Deer Valley announced last week that it was going to nearly triple in size, I framed it as an enormous relief valve for a fast-growing state in desperate need of more ski terrain. You can still build ski areas in Utah – Cherry Peak, Wasatch Peaks Ranch, and Woodward Park City have all come online in the past decade. But Utah is hardly the only ski state struggling with volume: Washington has one of the lowest numbers of ski areas per capita of any ski state in the country (I’ve grouped the six New England states together to underscore the density in that region):
Washington ski areas are responding, predictably, by jacking prices as high as the market will tolerate:
Crystal was unlimited on the ($699 at the time) Ikon Base Pass as recently as the 2020-21 ski season. For 2021-22, Alterra cut the mountain’s Base Pass allotment to five days with blackouts, cranking the season pass price up to $999 (for a full Ikon Pass). Then, last spring, the mountain separated from the Ikon as a season pass altogether, cutting access on the $1,079 Ikon Pass to just seven days and raising Crystal’s pass price to $1,699 – one of the most expensive in the country. Alterra retreated from this a bit for the 2023-24 ski season, raising the price to $1,799 but including a full Ikon Pass (early-bird $1,159) in the deal, effectively making Crystal a $640 add-on. Still, the season pass price is up $1,100 in just three years (it’s currently priced at $1,899).
Snowy and remote Mt. Baker has been bumping up against capacity for years. My records only date to 2021, but the mountain charged $787 for a season pass for the 2021-22 campaign. For the past several years, Baker has offered early-bird prices only to renewing passholders. The price will be $1,011.24 for the 2023-24 ski season, from Sept. 6 to 27, and only for returning passholders. Beginning Sept. 30 at 7 a.m., a limited number of passes may be available for $1,102.40. If those sell out, then skiers can purchase a midweek-only pass – for $1,011.24!
Mission Ridge has sold out of unrestricted season passes for the past several years, even as top prices have climbed from $799 for the 2021-22 ski season to $899 for 2023-24.
White Pass sold out of its initial run of unrestricted season passes at $719. A “limited number” go back on sale Sept. 12 for $829.
Loup Loup has ended sales of unlimited 2023-24 season passes. Skiers can still buy a “Core Values” Pass, good for 10 visits, for $399.
Washington skiers still have a few bargain options: the Stevens Pass Premium Epic Pass is still unlimited for $591 (an Epic Local Pass also includes unlimited Stevens Pass for just $689). Summit at Snoqualmie’s $759 season pass includes all four of its ski areas, including Alpental. Crystal’s no-holidays midweek pass is $709, Mission Ridge’s is $629, and White Pass’ is $519. And things are better in the northeast part of the state, where unlimited passes to either Mt. Spokane or 49 Degrees North are still available for $599.
Still, this is a broken ski market. Demand is growing and supply basically just can’t. Washington State needs more ski areas. No chance. You’d have better luck selling Beyond Burgers at a Texas Cattleman’s luncheon. In the meantime, the choice is increasingly between paying Aspen prices for Pacific Northwest-grade snow, or going budget and fighting your way through skiing’s version of Black Friday.
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