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Effects of cheap season passes in CO?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Effects of cheap season passes in CO?

Seems to me the relatively cheap season passes (~$350-600 for a lot of ski acreage) offered by the Vail Resorts and Copper/WP/Steamboat have been a major force in the recreational ski industry for a number of years now. Are they a win-win for resorts and guests? Is there a downside? What are the pros and cons of this approach to the market? Are skier visits doing well? What about the state of local economies and real estate? Is year-round population growth on the increase near these resorts?   Too much/too little growth?  Pressure on other ski markets around the US?

 

What do you think? Any predictions on the future of this pass strategy or its long term effects on Colorado or the rest of the ski industry?

post #2 of 14

I look at it as a favor to the returning local customers every year.  They are truly hooking up anybody who buys one.  I think they make most their money off vacationing texans.  These Colorado resorts set a good example.  Some people pay twice as much the Vail/Colorado/Epic/Summit passes cost, and get one mountain.  Talk about getting ripped off.  Those Colorado passes are the best bargain in the industry.  /rant

post #3 of 14

Been skiing SLC since '81. Hit summit county a few times late 80's, didn't think much of it compare to SLC. With the exception of A-basin & Loveland. We usually go out west few times per year. 

 

Last season the low price of the epic pass sucked me back after 20 yrs. Repeating for this season. Lodging & food overall is a bit more expensive. Overall trip cost is about even with other areas. What really offends me is the paid parking, and I'm from NYC. 

 

Terrain wise, could use a bit more steeps. That where the Taos pass comes in. 

A-basin is my favorite. good steeps, bumps are cut by good skiers. Had some great laps on Pallavincini lift.  

 

Overall most area are more crowded during the holiday than I'm used to compare to other large destination areas - SLC, Tahoe, Whistler.

Most tourist skiers at these large areas are front side skiers. The lift lines in the backside of Vail is quite acceptable. Same with the Bird of Prey lift @ BC. Ski the better terrain and un-groom - the crowd will not follow.    

      

Don't complain about the Texans, Vail & BC have a more vile breed - South Americans. Base on observations in the lift line - perhaps they are just practicing European lift line etiquette in advance of their European trip. Didn't see them @ Breck or A-Basin.    

Seems like Taos draws a different breed of SA. A better mannered breed.    

 

Hard to turn down the epic pass for the no black out dates thing - have kid in school. Last season, he put in 25 days on his Epic pass - good deal. Also adds variety to the ski season - his first time in CO Vail Resort. He skied A-basin & Aspen couple yrs back.

 

With the total skier days in NA being flat for the last 2 to 3 decades, the severe economic slump (can we call it a recession now?), and having lost a bit of luster after SLC & Whistler both hosted the Olympic - Summit county was on a downhill slide. The number of beds and other infrastructures added to those two areas to support the Olympic also created another couple of hungry mouths to feed in the proverbial ski area nest. Summit county areas have to do something drastic to stay attractive. Lower the price of admission as a loss leader - sucker them in. As they say - we can always kill them with lodging & food once they are hooked.              

 

Skier visit - Getting a seat at the Spruce Saddle lodge in BC during lunch will take 30+ minutes (Christmas). An instructor commented the year before, one can have a pick of several tables at anytime - even during the holiday week. She was totally overwhelmed by the crowd. 

So look like whatever they are doing - its working.

    

Not sure how SLC, Tahoe & Whistler will respond - there are only so many skier days to go around. Probably price war next season (2011 / 2012). 

Can't wait.

post #4 of 14

I could write a book on this subject.  Instead, I'll just try to succinctly answer your questions:

 

It's not a win-win and there are downsides.  In the beginning, this all stemmed from the new competition (as of 1998) between Vail and Intrawest.  The idea was the market could be significantly grown based on front-range growth.  Getting new people to try out the mountain and hopefully keep them as lifelong guests was the goal.  For a large part, it's been quite successful - the resort numbers have been significantly grown since 1998.  Copper which hadn't hit the 1 million mark is now routinely around 1.1 million skiers a year.  Downsides: it's led to capacity issues at the resort where there isn't enough lift capacity, enough parking capacity, cafeteria, etc.  Because those issues take time to solve, you risk hurting your brand and delivering below average products.  For the most part, those issues are completely ignored.  The mentality is very much, "Let's cram as many people on the mountain come hell or highwater."  There has been discussions of raising prices in order to decrease skier visits and keep the quality of the experience high.  

 

The effects on the state and local economies are largely positive, but it depends on who you ask.  Summit/Eagle Counties have seen a lot of growth in the past decade.  However, if you ask the bartender at the bar, he'll be pissed because he has no chance of ever owning a home and even condos are pricey.  If you ask the CPA with his own private business, he'll be pissed because the commercial real estate rent he has to pay all goes out of state to some millionaire.  If you ask me, I'm pissed because I could no longer go to Daylight Donuts on a Saturday morning in May and get a table.  

 

So, the questions to start asking are, what does that net effect do to the culture.  Well, there are people you'll meet who have lived in Summit County for over 20 years.  They're in the minority.  The net effect seems to be an extremely transient population (more so than other resort towns), increased numbers of baby boomers retiring to their "dream" home, and trust fund kids.  The ski bums who want to work 9 months a year and take the other three off are fewer and fewer.  

 

With regards to other ski markets, I don't think the pass pricing has much effect on them.  Pass pricing doesn't seem to be a factor for people when they choose their destination visit.  

 

Future predictions: more of the status quo.  Aspen will set the day ticket rate in Colorado for all other resorts to follow.  Vail and Copper with WP and Steamboat in town will joust with pre-season pricing.  Several others will get caught in the melee and forced to compete - Monarch, Loveland, Ski Cooper and Eldora.  Others will completely ignore everything going on in central part of the state and do their own thing, e.g. Telluride and Silverton (to give two completely different examples).  

 

Here's what I'd love to see: Copper capping day skier visits to 9000, season totals to around 900,000 skiers, RAISING pass prices - but don't do it evenly by calendar date - sell the first 1000 passes for $350 /each, the next 1000 at $400 each, the next 1000 at $450 etc etc.  Do the same for day tickets each day.  Overwhelm with guest service.  

post #5 of 14

I would agree that they've grown the numbers of skier days.   But they are replacing the lucrative destination skier with a more value oriented day skier.

I spoke with several wealthy South Americans in Aspen last year, that had skied Vail for years, but left as it became more crowded. I think last years marginal skiing at Christmas in Summit/Eagle county hurt the brand even more and VA will continue to see an exodus of destination skiers. 

We saw Vail instructors bring there private lessons to Aspen at Christmas, because our conditions were much better and they don't even have to wait in line.

post #6 of 14

Quote:

Originally Posted by SHREDHEAD View Post

I would agree that they've grown the numbers of skier days.   But they are replacing the lucrative destination skier with a more value oriented day skier.

 

Probably less than you'd think.  Room occupancy rates have climbed steadily in the past decade even taking into account the large number of new beds.  Still, the front range accounts for 80+% of the skier visits in Summit County.  Aspen is probably more like 60%.

post #7 of 14


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by vinn View Post

I could write a book on this subject.  Instead, I'll just try to succinctly answer your questions:

 

It's not a win-win and there are downsides.  In the beginning, this all stemmed from the new competition (as of 1998) between Vail and Intrawest.  The idea was the market could be significantly grown based on front-range growth.  Getting new people to try out the mountain and hopefully keep them as lifelong guests was the goal.  For a large part, it's been quite successful - the resort numbers have been significantly grown since 1998.  Copper which hadn't hit the 1 million mark is now routinely around 1.1 million skiers a year.  Downsides: it's led to capacity issues at the resort where there isn't enough lift capacity, enough parking capacity, cafeteria, etc.  Because those issues take time to solve, you risk hurting your brand and delivering below average products.  For the most part, those issues are completely ignored.  The mentality is very much, "Let's cram as many people on the mountain come hell or highwater."  There has been discussions of raising prices in order to decrease skier visits and keep the quality of the experience high.  

 

The effects on the state and local economies are largely positive, but it depends on who you ask.  Summit/Eagle Counties have seen a lot of growth in the past decade.  However, if you ask the bartender at the bar, he'll be pissed because he has no chance of ever owning a home and even condos are pricey.  If you ask the CPA with his own private business, he'll be pissed because the commercial real estate rent he has to pay all goes out of state to some millionaire.  If you ask me, I'm pissed because I could no longer go to Daylight Donuts on a Saturday morning in May and get a table.  

 

So, the questions to start asking are, what does that net effect do to the culture.  Well, there are people you'll meet who have lived in Summit County for over 20 years.  They're in the minority.  The net effect seems to be an extremely transient population (more so than other resort towns), increased numbers of baby boomers retiring to their "dream" home, and trust fund kids.  The ski bums who want to work 9 months a year and take the other three off are fewer and fewer.  

 

With regards to other ski markets, I don't think the pass pricing has much effect on them.  Pass pricing doesn't seem to be a factor for people when they choose their destination visit.  

 

Future predictions: more of the status quo.  Aspen will set the day ticket rate in Colorado for all other resorts to follow.  Vail and Copper with WP and Steamboat in town will joust with pre-season pricing.  Several others will get caught in the melee and forced to compete - Monarch, Loveland, Ski Cooper and Eldora.  Others will completely ignore everything going on in central part of the state and do their own thing, e.g. Telluride and Silverton (to give two completely different examples).  

 

Here's what I'd love to see: Copper capping day skier visits to 9000, season totals to around 900,000 skiers, RAISING pass prices - but don't do it evenly by calendar date - sell the first 1000 passes for $350 /each, the next 1000 at $400 each, the next 1000 at $450 etc etc.  Do the same for day tickets each day.  Overwhelm with guest service.  

 

 

I don't have real problem with your analysis or suggestions but as a Front Ranger who skis 50-70 days a year almost exclusively on weekends and holidays I thought would add my input.  I used to buy the VR pass and ski the VR resorts with an occasional trip to Copper.   3 years ago I switched to the Copper pass and couldn't be happier.  Last season I never had to wait more than 5-10 minutes for a lift at Copper and only waited at all for the Flyer, Eagle, Timberline and the Poma.  The Poma can be a longer wait if the line includes a bunch of rookie snowboarders.  Flyer can be a crap show but other than that most of the lifts you just cruise right into.  Timberline gets backed up during peak times and Eagle is a bear around lunch and early season when it's the only thing open.   The good news for most pass holders is that with the exception of the Poma none of those lifts service any terrain you'd want to be on anyway so the net effect is you almost never wait in line at Copper if you aren't skiing greens and low level blues. 

 

Lunch in the lodges is not a problem either as long you aren't talking Jack's....East village and solitude are fine and both have microwaves for your use......
 

post #8 of 14

Exactly right Dave, but don't tell anyone the secret.

 

IMHO, I think the reason for the cheap season passes is a financial one.  It's basically a financial swap of the variable revenue the resort would receive if dependent only on day pass sales, which are highly dependent on snow quality and quantity, for the fixed income that comes from the forward sale represented by a season pass.  The passes have enormously stabilized the resorts revenues, although they still were hurt quite badly by the recession and it's impact on lodging occupancy, lodging rates, and (to a lesser extent) then number of passes (day and season) that were sold.

 

Two seasons ago, VR upped the ante with the Epic Pass, which switched a lot of front range pass selection to VR along with selling a large number of passes to out-of-staters.  The result has been twofold:  Copper has suffered losses in revenue, and the Vail resorts are jam-packed.  It'll be interesting to see how Powdr feels about their acquisition going forward.

 

Mike

post #9 of 14

 


Originally Posted by habacomike View Post

IMHO, I think the reason for the cheap season passes is a financial one.  It's basically a financial swap of the variable revenue the resort would receive if dependent only on day pass sales, which are highly dependent on snow quality and quantity, for the fixed income that comes from the forward sale represented by a season pass.

 

It would certainly seem that way... at least most normal companies would consider that operational decision.  Ski resorts aren't quite that savvy.  It's a numbers game that shakes out in other ways.  Stats like yield and skier visits come more into play.  It is simply about trying to get as many people to the hill as often as possible and trying to get an extra $ or two out of them.
post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the informative posts.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"So, the questions to start asking are, what does that net effect do to the culture.  Well, there are people you'll meet who have lived in Summit County for over 20 years.  They're in the minority.  The net effect seems to be an extremely transient population (more so than other resort towns), increased numbers of baby boomers retiring to their "dream" home, and trust fund kids.  The ski bums who want to work 9 months a year and take the other three off are fewer and fewer."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

How do the above folks get along?  Do the boomers stay around all year?

post #11 of 14

I think it's a win for all.  I know with a family of five buying passes in Utah would be pretty tough at their rates.  We did Copper / WP and thought it reasonable and had a good time.  I think all the resorts end up getting a good bit of additional money over the season.  A couple days we parked, lunch now and then, t-shirt here, gloves there, etc.  It adds up over the ski season particular since I was up there most weekends.  I took two groups of people who came to visit for the purpose of skiing and in many ways the pass holders become another form of advertising for the resorts.  I have two more groups of friends coming up in December again.

 

I can see some of the complaints on crowded conditions.  The one day I went to Breck last year was brutal and I'm very hesitant to try it again.  Being new to Colorado I've never been to Vail/BC yet but it's my understanding they aren't the easiest (or cheapest) to get in and out of either.  From my experience Copper / WP were both breezes.  Free parking was on the fringes and you had to walk a tad more but not so much that I thought it a pain and lift lines were always bearable, imho. 

post #12 of 14

I'll be interested to see what Powdr corp does with the Super Pass and Super Pass Plus.  I love skiing at Copper over the other Summit Resorts but the only reason I am still on the Copper Pass is the availability of the 6 days at Steamboat and the WP days.  If they took that away...I'd switch to the Epic Pass and ski A-Basin and the Eagle resorts.  I was pleasantly suprised that they kept the Super Pass + for this year.....

post #13 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by UGASkiDawg View Post

I'll be interested to see what Powdr corp does with the Super Pass and Super Pass Plus.  I love skiing at Copper over the other Summit Resorts but the only reason I am still on the Copper Pass is the availability of the 6 days at Steamboat and the WP days.  If they took that away...I'd switch to the Epic Pass and ski A-Basin and the Eagle resorts.  I was pleasantly suprised that they kept the Super Pass + for this year.....


I imagine this will be the last year for that one. Talked briefly to a guy in Christy Sports a few weeks back who said they aren't really getting along very well. (I don't know what he really knows, though.) Keeping the coalition for one more season was a no-brainer, Powdr didn't really have time to do anything else, but next season they will have done something, whatever that might be.

post #14 of 14

I think they are going to have to stay paired up to compete effectively against Vail Resorts.  Powdr and Intrawest are smart enough to know that they'd both risk losing business if they offered Copper only or WP/Steamboat only.  I love both but definitely don't want to have to choose one or the other.  There is no reason why it couldn't work.  If I'm correct Vail doesn't own A-Basin and that relationship for season pass holders seems to have worked out well for both resorts.

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