Future of Ski Passes

Below is the first third of the article:

The ski resort superpowers and the future of ski


Published on December 5, 2017



As with
other large industries,
the ski industry has felt the steady force of
consolidation during the last several years. Whereas economist and author Adam
Smith would refer to this as the invisible hand, most others would describe
this force by name: Vail Resorts. Already the largest operator of North
American ski resorts in 2014, during the next two years Vail shrewdly bought
the two most consequential destination resorts it didn’t already own—Park City,
Utah and Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia. With these additions, Vail’s
role as the singular empire in skiing, as the company that dictated terms to
not only skiers but also to other resorts who sought those skiers, seemed set.

just as Vail’s utter dominance seemed assured, a new player emerged this spring
by making a series of moves that created a worthy, if not quite equal, rival to
Vail’s collection of resorts. A Denver private equity group, KSL Capital,
teamed with the Crowns, a Chicago family who owns the four mountains that
comprise Aspen Snowmass, to buy Intrawest, a resort operator whose major
holdings include Colorado’s Winter Park and Steamboat.

days after the Intrawest deal was announced, the new entity said it had also
acquired Mammoth Mountain and three smaller ski mountains in California. In
August, filling its Utah void, the company acquired Deer Valley, the
skiers-only resort in Park City that’s long been known as one of the best
operators in the industry. The newly formed and yet to be named resort company
also includes Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, California, which KSL already owned.
The company clearly wants to emulate the path taken by Vail Resorts, a public
company whose stock has nearly quadrupled in price during the last five years,
valuing it at $8.7 billion.

Of the
27 or so major destination resorts in western North America, 18 are controlled
by Vail Resorts, KSL or Aspen Skiing Co. If consolidation continues to creep,
the world of skiing will start to resemble that of telecom, with two or three
main choices—to which go pricing controls—and a smattering of regional options.

Crown-KSL foray has roiled an industry that had found an uneasy, albeit
fleeting, equilibrium. On one side, there were major independent ski resorts,
including Whistler Blackcomb and Mammoth, who joined together to offer the
Mountain Collective Pass, which, at $489, gives skiers two full days plus 50
percent discounts on additional days at a basket of more than 14 independent
destination resorts. On the other, there was Vail’s deep lineup of destination
resorts joined together by its Epic Pass, which grants holders full unlimited
skiing at 15 mountains for $859.

locals who tend to ski one mountain, choosing a pass has always been easy: buy
the one that includes the local resort. For destination skiers, however, who
generate more lucrative margins and periphery business—lodging, rentals,
food—for ski resorts and are thus more sought after, the choice has grown more
complicated. Buying individual lift tickets remains an option, but Vail Resorts
in particular has made this route punitively expensive: one-day tickets at some
of the company’s top-tier mountains hit $189 last season.

leads many skiers to make a choice that determines where they will spend their
ski holidays and their money. As Vail Resorts grew, so did the portfolio of the
Mountain Collective as independent resorts sought to challenge the Epic Pass.
Skiers who planned a destination trip to Aspen for Christmas would buy the
Mountain Collective Pass and, if they put another trip on the books for
February or March, would pick another Collective resort such as Jackson Hole.
Likewise, skiers traveling to Vail or Breckenridge for the holidays might
combine that with a spring trip to another Vail Resort such as Park City.

Vail has also purchased three regional ski hills in the Midwest close to major
metros, such as Wilmot Mountain near Chicago, to steer skiers from these
locales into the Epic Pass. Vail also bought Vermont’s Stowe, perhaps the most
recognizable name in the East, to get more New York and Boston-based skiers
into the Epic fold.



  • Good article.  As
    consumers, we are in the fun "price war" stage and have a relatively
    inexpensive window of opportunity to visit many interesting mtns.  But the article offers valid caution about
    long term outcome of all the ski area consolidation that could lead to just a
    few giants with costs going up due to less intense competition - like the cable
    and telecom industries.  

    It sounds like
    the big passes for 2018-19 will be Epic, Max, Powder Alliance, Peak, KSL
    (Winter Park, Mammoth, Deer Valley, Squalpine, and maybe Aspen), and some form
    of MCP that may or may not include Aspen. 
    Aspen is playing coy about whether they become part of a KSL pass or
    remain mostly independent with a foot in the MCP.  

    Sheesh, lots of possible options;  skiers - enjoy it while it lasts;-)

  • I did not read the whole article but I feel in general with the price of passes being let's say the max pass of roughly $800 if you can get in 25 to 30 days it's a bargain. I am hoping to get in 15 days at least in Michigan at 15 different areas which should bring my cost down to less than $20 per day which is still a bargain a matter where.

    And then you still have lift Topia where you can purchase within a week or so of your date and get a pretty good savings so yes the consumer WinsI believe with all these offers
  • Interesting that when ASC was consolidating its holdings in New England, the threat of an anti-trust lawsuit convinced them to divest a couple of areas they had acquired (I think WV and Cranmore).  How the winds and times change!
  • edited December 2017
    I'm loving the age of the multi-area passes.  The western resorts are pretty remote in many cases and need traffic driven there and these passes are the perfect vehicle.  Not unlike all inclusive packages you see for island resorts in the Caribbean. Having the skiing all paid for is a great incentive to get me to go to particular places.  This will be our 2nd year on Max and it got us to Copper, Winter Park and Steamboat in Colorado, and Solitude and Brighton in Utah. (+ weekends in New England at several more resorts) A pretty good selection if you ask me. (BTW $630, not $800 Cisco)

    New England is a different beast with the closeness of the resorts and more of a weekend market as opposed to vacation market out west.  Maybe that is what hurt ASC the most. I was at a different part in life and didn't get to experience the ASC pass,  but, I don;t remember them trying to get people to travel to their western resorts even though they had a couple,( maybe they did, I just don't remember ) which is more the point of these newer pass products.  

    I'm not that concerned about 2 companies taking over the industry.  Freedom Pass is a testament to that with good variety and choice for reasonable price.(east and west)  Max Pass should roll on even with the exit of the Intrawest group of areas.  Peak's and White Mountain Super Pass are good products as well if you are going to stay east.  The ones I wonder about are the true independents Like a Smugglers Notch.  I know for me there is no incentive for me to go there right now (and don't get me wrong I love the place).  I'll bet there are many more like me. (Rumor has it that SN has installed RFID which may be precursor to joining something like Max).  One surprise to me is that the 3 Pocono areas of Camelback, Shawnee and Blue have remained independent.  It seems to me that any one of them could be a plus to any ticket consortium.  I know Camelback has a good solid base of pass holders. Mountain Creek has joined Max and will get me there 5 times this year because of that.


    Lake Hopatcong, NJ 

  • I will be looking for yourFIVE trips to VVERNON OR MCAFEE Alex, maybe you can poach the pipeline ⛷⛷⛷
  • ciscokid said:

    I will be looking for yourFIVE trips to VVERNON OR MCAFEE Alex, maybe you can poach the pipeline ⛷⛷⛷

    No poaching for me Cisco.  Not my style.  I will go in the woods in a heartbeat, but not south of Albany NY or east of Georgetown, Co.  Too risky.

    I am looking forward to being in Vernon and Mc Afee.  Been a while since since I've done the Creek.  Through my daughter I know the GM (ex CBK'er) and he's a good guy so I want nothing but good things for them.  I saw an ad for Mc Afee Ski Shop the other day and in the background base area of GG South could be seen with white on it so I know they're making it.   Plan on hitting it in Jan, Feb and beginning of March giving them plenty of time to get it stocked up on snow.  

    Right now I'd settle for a 2 hour session at CBK as work is bear in December. 


    Lake Hopatcong, NJ
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