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Sugarbush, Stratton, to Be Unlimited with Blackouts on 2020-21 Ikon Base Pass
Jackson Hole and Aspen move to special add-on tier
Alterra announced pricing for its 2020-21 Ikon Pass portfolio today, dramatically increasing access to Sugarbush and Stratton and moving Jackson Hole and Aspen off of the Ikon Base Pass to a special “plus” tier. Prices jumped by $50 for both the full Ikon Pass and the Ikon Base Pass, and the company introduced a new four-day “session pass.”
Here are the big changes and announcements:
Sugarbush and Stratton will be unlimited with blackouts on the Ikon Base Pass: This can only be interpreted as a direct response to Vail offering unlimited access to all its Northeast resorts with the exception of Stowe on its Epic Local Pass. Stratton has been unlimited on the full Ikon Pass since its debut in 2018, but Base Pass holders were limited to five days with blackouts. No more. With nearby and more-or-less equal Mount Snow and Okemo unlimited on the (last year’s pricing) $699 Epic Local Pass, Alterra risked Stratton getting overlooked by cityfolk and families choosing their season condo rentals based on price of access.
Sugarbush, which in previous seasons had been an Alterra partner resort, much like Killington, is as of January an Alterra mountain, so full access on the Ikon Pass was expected. Full Sugarbush access with blackouts on the Ikon Base Pass is a bit more surprising, but not really – with equal-by-all-measures Stowe sitting right up the road and unlimited with blackouts on the Epic Local Pass, Alterra had little choice but to offer comparable pricing on a comparable product.
Season Pass prices have been dropping incrementally for two decades in the West, starting with Winter Park’s desperation move to save itself back in the ‘90s. With this shot, the season pass wars have officially arrived in the Northeast, and independent mountains will have little choice but to respond. What this means for the long-term survival of the mountains remains to be seen, but skiers who can commit to a season pass should expect to see those prices decline noticeably.
[UPDATE]: Sugarbush will continue to offer its own basket of passes outside of the Ikon Pass, including a $379 pass for those 13-29, $159 pass for seniors $80-89, and a $10 pass for kids under four. They will also continue to offer Sugarbush Value Pass, which is restricted to Mt. Ellen on weekends and holidays, but open to the full mountain at other times.
Jackson Hole and Aspen dropped from Ikon Base Pass, added to special add-on tier: This is both unsurprising and a bit of a bummer. Formerly protected from overcrowding by their relative isolation, the Ikon Pass (helped along by good snow years), rapidly changed the dynamic in these two iconic ski towns. The never-shy locals made their frustration obvious, and their mountains responded by throwing an Ikon Base Pass in with their full 2019-20 season pass.
It must not have been enough, as both Jackson Hole and the four Aspen mountains have been removed from the 2020-21 Ikon Base Pass. The mountains are now available as a $150 “Ikon Base Pass Plus” upgrade.
With the Ikon Base Pass increasing to $699 (from $649 last season), that means you’re looking at $849 for a Base Pass that gives you the five days at JHMR and the five days at Aspen. At that point, it may make sense to just jump to the full Ikon Pass for $999. More on pricing below.
I kind of expected this. Vail does something similar (or did for 2019-20 passes; they have not yet released pricing on 2020-21 passes), giving Epic Local Pass buyers 10 days total between their flagship mountains of Vail, Beaver Creek, and Whistler. Those days are blacked out, and it looks as though the Plus Pass add-on days will be as well.
This is a novel solution that will tick off some passholders and appease some locals. I don’t think there was a perfect compromise here, but this indicates that Alterra is willing to think hard and experiment to maintain the integrity of the ski experience at important mountains that are being forced to adapt to an industry that is changing at hyper-industrial speeds.
Prices increase, but with some twists: The full Ikon Pass will now be $999 (up from $949), and the Base Pass will be $699 (up from $649), for early birds. The Base Pass price increase is somewhat of a surprise considering that it no longer includes Jackson Hole or Aspen. Both offer payment plans, with $199 down.
The big deal here is the $100 renewal discount on the full Ikon Pass, which has no blackouts, adds unlimited access to Sugarbush, and retains the seven-day no-blackout Jackson Hole and Aspen access. The renewal discount on the Ikon Base Pass remains $50, reducing the differential between Base and full Ikon Passes to $250, from $300 last season. This is a pretty tempting incentive, and may get more people to convert.
The Ikon Base Plus Pass also has a $50 discount, making that pass $799. But if you are renewing and choosing between the Plus Pass and the full pass, it’s only $100 difference to get far more access and avoid blackouts – the upsell to the full shouldn’t be difficult here.
Child pass discounts continue: Alterra is once again giving $100 off up to two child passes with the purchase of an adult pass. This means that you can score an Ikon Pass for a child 4-12 for only $209 for the full pass and $169 for the Base Pass (both prices after the $100 discount). Confusingly, the Ikon Base Plus Pass for children 4-12 is listed at $409 full price, meaning it would be $309 with the discount, meaning it would cost $100 more for the child’s Base Plus Pass than for the full Ikon Pass. I’m not sure if this is a mistake, but it is certainly not a value, and I would expect Alterra to correct this.
One huge disappointment is the increase in the cost of the pass for children 0-4, which I believe was only $60 last season and is now $209 for the full pass, $169 for the Base Pass, and (again, this must be a mistake) $319 for the Base Plus Pass (the $100 child discount does not apply to this 0-4 tier). Since young children ski free at most large mountains, I would advise would-be buyers to research mountains they intend to go to, and possibly forego this pass for their youngest children altogether.
Introducing the Ikon Session Four-Day Pass: This $399 pass grants buyers four days at one of 30 of the 41 Ikon destinations. These appear mostly to be the Alterra- and Boyne-owned mountains, along with Taos, Revelstoke, Banff, and the Southern Hemisphere mountains. This is clearly a direct response to Vail’s Epic for Everyone day tickets, but I don’t see this as being a great deal unless you are doing nothing but planning a trip out west, and many of the best mountains (Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Aspen, Copper, and, notably for the Northeast, Killington), are excluded here. I would not recommend this pass to anyone other than the select few who will go for four days and four days only at Steamboat, Mammoth, Squaw, or Big Sky. Tickets to the rest of the listed mountains can probably be found for cheaper. For anyone skiing more than six or seven days, the Ikon Base Pass is going to be the way to go.
Blackout dates increase from 10 to 12: This is probably mostly the function of Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Fridays this year, meaning that most families that take ski vacations will likely do so from Saturday, Dec. 26 to the following weekend, so the New Year’s Saturday, Jan. 2, is blacked out. The Sunday is not. MLK (Jan. 16 to 17) and President’s (Feb. 13-14) weekends remain blackouts, and there are no additional blackout periods.
There are also some spring and summer access benefits for folks who don’t already have an Ikon Pass. Passes go on sale March 5.
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Check out previous podcasts: Killington & Pico GM Mike Solimano | Plattekill owners Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay | New England Lost Ski Areas Project Founder Jeremy Davis | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | Lift Blog Founder Peter Landsman | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Burke Mountain GM Kevin Mack | Liftopia CEO Evan Reece | Berkshire East & Catamount Owner & GM Jon Schaefer| Vermont Ski + Ride and Vermont Sports Co-Publisher & Editor Lisa Lynn| Sugarbush President & COO Win Smith| Loon President & GM Jay Scambio| Sunday River President & GM Dana Bullen|