Podcast #42: Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory
"The market will tell us" if Ikon Passes are priced correctly, "guaranteed" new partners for 2021-22 season
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Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Company
March 24, 2021
Why I interviewed him
Because Alterra and its Ikon Pass sit at the center of the lift-served skiing universe. The very fact of the pass’ existence is a marvelous development for amped-up road-tripping adventurers, a revelation that untethers the frequent skier from concerns about ticket costs and access. Ikon has at times been less marvelous for locals, or even for out-of-town passholders themselves, who sometimes find their bucolic mountain getaways overrun. Composed of an unlikely federation of nearly every big-name ski operator outside of Vail, the Ikon Pass provides a vital counterweight to the Epic Pass, an absolute equal to one of the most successful ski products of all time. I wanted to talk to the person at the head of the whole operation, to better understand how Alterra and the Ikon Pass came together and continue to evolve.
What we talked about
The Blue Mountain (not that Blue Mountain) shutdown; how a Southern California surfer discovered skiing as a college football player in the Pacific Northwest; ski-bumming at Mammoth; how a liftie ended up running the mountain; What happened when Mammoth dropped its pass prices from $1,200 to $379 in 1995; the legacy of Mammoth founder Dave McCoy, who passed away last year at age 104; a borrowed city truck and the origin of organized skiing at Mammoth; McCoy’s ski engineering innovations; the argument for a simplified work life; why Mammoth bought Big Bear and Snow Summit and dropped them on a joint pass along with June Mountain in 2014; how that small group of mountains acted as a precursor to Alterra and the Ikon Pass; how Rusty became Alterra CEO; assembling the motley chest-thumping Ikon Pass roster; how good Alterra’s Adventure Assurance plan looks in hindsight; why Alterra didn’t implement a universal reservation policy and whether they will have one next season; why Alterra shuffled Base Pass access for Jackson Hole, Aspen, Crystal, Stratton, and Sugarbush over the past two seasons; reaction to Vail cutting Epic Pass prices by 20 percent; whether Ikon prices will change as a result; Alterra’s 2021 capital plan; potential new ski area partners and acquisitions in North America and Europe; considering Jay Peak and Camelback; and why the Ikon Pass shares so many partners with the Mountain Collective.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview
Because Alterra just announced its 2021-22 Ikon Pass suite, changing Crystal Mountain access on the Base Pass, maintaining its Adventure Assurance shutdown protection and deferral plan, and holding prices relatively steady. I wanted to discuss these changes, how the 2020-21 season had gone, and the outlook for the future. The interview also happened to be on the same day that Vail announced 20 percent across-the-board reductions to Epic Pass prices, and I wanted to get a sense for Alterra’s reaction to that news.
Questions I wish I’d asked
I had questions prepared on the frustrations of dealing with the social media hate mobs, the fact that Alterra gave people with unused 2019-20 Ikon Passes a free 2020-21 pass but never advertised it, why the child’s Ikon Base Plus Pass costs more than a full child’s Ikon Pass, operational changes that may stick around after Covid, why Ikon Pass prices held steady, why Alterra switched from an interest-free payment plan to a monthly plan that carries interest, why Adventure Assurance stuck around and whether the plan would continue indefinitely, what it would take to expand capacity at Crystal, the limitations of the Ikon Session Pass, and how the partnerships with Red, Windham, and Bachelor went in their first seasons. Next time.
Previous Ikon Pass Podcasts and content on The Storm
My previous interview with Rusty, which was part of The Storm’s Covid-19 & Skiing series in the immediate aftermath of last year’s shutdowns.
Killington and Pico GM Mike Solimano appeared on the first-ever Storm Skiing Podcast
Loon Mountain President and GM Jay Scambio talked through the resort’s 2030 plan last year.
Windham Mountain President Chip Seamans joined The Storm for one of its most recent episodes.
Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows President Ron Cohen and I had an in-depth conversation about the resort’s imminent name change.
You can also compare Ikon Passes to all other Northeast season passes using the Storm Skiing Journal’s Pass Tracker 5000.
Epic Pass fans will have to make do with my interview with Mount Snow GM Tracy Bartels. Vail: I’m ready to do more whenever you are.