What Windham’s Controversial, Cloudy Future Tells Us About the Current State of Lift-Served Skiing
“Windham Mountain Club will always continue to sell season passes and lift tickets, and it won't be exclusive to members" - Windham President Chip Seamans
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“Elevate your Winter with unlimited access to lofty peaks, maximum slope space, and indelible memories. Whether you’re looking to cruise corduroy or plunder powder, savor sommelier selections or rediscover a rarified reality, a season pass ensures you’re always ready for exclusive on- and off-mountain happenings.” – Windham Mountain Club’s season pass page.
The following things are true
Windham IS NOT:
evolving into a private ski area
exiting the wedding business
walling the resort off from the outside world
or eliminating public parking.
changing its name to “Windham Mountain Club”
offering club memberships for $175,000 while…
still selling lift tickets and season passes to the general public, this season and into the foreseeable future
implementing a two-day minimum on Saturday (and holiday Sunday) lift tickets starting the first week in January 2024
further reducing existing limits on lift ticket sales and Ikon Pass redemptions
continuing its partnership with the Adaptive Sports Foundation
providing local schoolkids with free season passes
building a new parking lot directly adjacent to the Whisper magic carpet to replace those that new housing developments will pave over
eliminating buses on peak winter days (a policy that began last year)
eliminating advanced bike park operations
and, eventually, erecting a gatehouse, primarily to direct traffic.
Windham IS PROBABLY:
exiting the Ikon Base Pass prior to the 2024-25 ski season (and possibly, eventually, the Ikon Pass altogether).
Is that all clear? It hasn’t been. On Monday, Windham announced a name change to “Windham Mountain Club,” renovations to its on-mountain restaurants, upgrades to its golf course and other facilities, and the addition of year-round activities so niche that they make skiing look like the National Football League (shooting, horseback riding, fly-fishing). The mountain reiterated previously announced upgrades to East Side Express (a new haul rope), and snowmaking enhancements on several trails. Existing homeowners could apply for “community memberships” starting in November.
Windham may have been better off saying nothing at all. Monday’s announcement, communicated via a spare and opaque press release and backed by a website that could have been designed by a time-traveler from 1996, achieved the PR double-fail of maximum confusion and minimal clarity. An Instagram post mascotted by a low-rent Paddington Bear rip-off urges us to “Say Goodbye to Windham Mountain”:
Another Instagram post pans away from a pile of vintage Windham trailmaps as an off-camera figure sweeps them to the floor. In their place, our history disrespector places a tablecloth, wine glass, cloth napkin, silverware and stylish triple-layered plates, topped off with a flower:
Anger flared (read the comments), but confusion reigned. Conversations with several long-time Windham season passholders, many of whom own or rent property on or near the mountain, veered off like choose-your-own-adventure books, with each person offering competing versions of the mountain’s long-term plans. Several were certain the mountain was destined to go completely private. Others expressed disdain for the notion of a private club or worried how middle-class race families would continue to participate. Some worried about the value of on-mountain homes that sit on private property – would a $175,000 membership requirement now come attached to the deed if Windham stopped offering season passes to non-members? Many wondered if non-members would have access to children’s racing and seasonal programs. Several questioned whether Windham could justify such premiums with its existing terrain footprint. Few seemed sold on the appeal of the Catskills as a summer destination for the wealthy masses, who may prefer oceanside escapes in The Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard. Those who currently spend summers at Windham were crushed by the imminent shuttering of the advanced MTB park.
“I just wish they would be transparent with whatever their long-term plans are,” said Ken Peters, who has been skiing Windham with his family for 13 years and is in the process of purchasing property nearby.
Longtime Windham President Chip Seamans clarified the mountain’s intentions in a conversation with The Storm Skiing Journal on Wednesday. “Windham Mountain Club will always continue to sell season passes and lift tickets, and it won't be exclusive to members,” he said. Race programs, even for non-club members, would continue to be “a priority.” Windham will “continue to support the local school” with season passes for all students. And the mountain’s commitment to its adaptive program, which Seamans described as “one of the biggest in the country” would remain.
He acknowledged some misses in the campaign rollout. “Yeah, I think we may have gone a little strong on that, honestly,” Seamans admitted, when asked about the reel discarding Windham’s vintage trailmaps. “We really want to build on the foundation that's been so great for Windham for 60 years. We're not trying to tear that foundation down and build something completely new. You'll see more of that messaging as we go forward.”
Which is no doubt welcome news for many. But the turmoil online and among hardcore Windham skiers seemed to be less about the ski area’s specific plans than that the mountain’s officials had the nerve to say them out loud. Nothing that the mountain articulated in the past week would have been particularly surprising for anyone who’s been paying attention. Windham has spent the past decade transforming itself into Not-Hunter, with a season pass price more than double that of its combustible Vail-owned neighbor, $175 peak-day lift tickets, and Ikon Pass reservation requirements. Its season pass is currently the ninth-most-expensive in America, and the highest in the Northeast by several hundred dollars. The mountain invested $5 million last year on a 387-vertical-foot beginner lift, giving it 14 high-speed out-of-base seats. In 2014, Windham dropped the 41-unit Whisper Creek luxury condo development on top of a popular, lodge-adjacent parking lot.
That is to say: Windham has been going upscale. Everyone knew that. With Vail dropping Hunter’s pass prices to bubblegum-machine levels, the Olympic Regional Development Authority aggressively updating formerly rundown Belleayre, and Plattekill riding a wave of megapass backlash to locavore popularity, that was fine. The four big Catskills ski areas were each evolving to meet different markets that all needed different things out of a ski day.
But Windham’s new owners, accustomed to Tennessee bourgeois affability, couldn’t help themselves. They wanted to brag about their “reimagined culinary program” and “reimagined and enhanced private members’ club offering.” As I wrote last month regarding Hatley Pointe, North Carolina’s rebranding along similar lines, this sort of language plays well in the Southeast. But in the brass-knuckle Northeast, it lands like a Red Sox cap in the Yankees dugout. Proclamations like this, riddled across Windham’s new website, hit the New Yorker’s ear not as aspirational, but as cringey and condescending:
“Don’t just escape the everyday; elevate it. Whether you choose to wander winding trails, cast a line in pristine Catskills streams, embark on guided mountain biking expeditions, or canter on horseback, Windham Mountain Club’s team of dedicated outdoor experts has packed itineraries for the whole family. Every moment is an inspiring chapter of your mountain story.”
Barf. But what Windham is proposing is neither new nor radical for the ski area or for the broader industry, where a medley of super-resorts and family-owned bumps – from Jackson Hole to Mt. Baker to Magic Mountain, Vermont – have quietly distinguished themselves with capacity limits and price points that thin crowds and create a pseudo-private experience. There is as much a place for fancy-pants Windham in skiing’s future as there is mobbed-out Epic headliners and the Indy Pass and indoor skiing and Poconos death-ribbons. Zoom out a bit, and it all makes sense.
Below the paid subscriber jump: building a modern mountain, will Windham flee Ikon Pass?, what the Hermitage Club tells us about Windham’s prospects, $1,800 season passes, and more.