By Allen Best
Multi-resort pass part of trend
DENVER, Colo. – The fundamental story in the ski industry for the last 15 years has been how companies will compete with Vail. The new Mountain Collective pass announced last week by Aspen, Jackson Hole, Alta and Squaw Valley can be seen as a response.
Costing $349, the pass offered two free days at each of the four resorts, after which pass holders are entitled to purchase lift tickets at 50 percent discount.
Rick Kahl, editor of Ski Area Management, called it a “really smart move” on the part of the four ski area operators.
“You have these sort of iconic ski areas on the same ticket. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to ski two of the four, and if you ski three of them, you’re in fat city.”
It’s also an obvious response to the Epic Pass offered by Vail Resorts. That pass, which costs $659 for the full national benefits, allows buyers unlimited skiing at the four ski areas owned by Vail in Colorado plus Arapahoe Basin, a close ally, and the three ski areas now owned by Vail in California.
Inside the ski industry, the Epic Pass has been seen as a home run for Vail Resorts. It has allowed the company to lock in customers the summer before, evening out income – and delivering revenue even in low-snow years, such as last winter.
The Vail Daily talked with Will Marks, who analyzes Vail Resorts for JMP Security. He said he believes the new Mountain Collective pass will have a minor impact on sales of the Epic Pass. But he said he does believe that discounted pass products are the wave of the future within the ski industry.
David Belin, a ski industry analyst for RRC Associates, a research and consulting firm, said he believed the new pass was crafted carefully so as not to cannibalize any of the resorts’ client bases.
“They are leveraging each other’s customers to generate interest,” he told the Aspen Daily News.
Similar pass programs have also existed among smaller ski areas. For decades, the very small ski areas in Colorado have offered something called the Gems pass, which offers discounts.
More recently, Colorado’s Monarch Mountain has assembled a friends-with-benefits package that now has expanded to 31 ski areas, including five smaller ski areas in Europe, along with nine in Colorado, five in New Mexico, and others in Arizona, Michigan, California, Wyoming and Utah. Also: Revelstoke and Red Mountain in British Columbia.
Meanwhile, British Columbia ski areas are poling dollars to increase their marketing. A campaign by the province’s 13 destination resorts has tripled in the last three years to a budget of $1.8 million next winter.
Design firm makes Outside list
WHITEFISH, Mont. – From the stories in ski town newspapers in the West, you might think that Outside Magazine found groovy employers in each and every one of them to put on its list of good people to work for.
One of them was ZaneGray Group, located in Whitefish. It’s a design and marketing firm, and mid-day skiing or early morning single-track rides are very much permitted, as long as the work gets done.
“We balance work with family and having a full life,” said Reed Gregerson, president of ZaneGray, in an interview with the Whitefish Pilot. “It’s nice to have Outside recognize what we’ve been doing.”
Rockies mining rebounds
CREEDE, Colo. – The San Juan Mountains will soon be alive with the sound of high-powered mining drills, with new or expanded mining ventures planned at Creede, Silverton and Ouray as the result of rising prices for metals.
Similar plans had been in the news five to six years ago. But like the saws and hammers at construction sites, they were silenced by the recession.
In Creede, a company called Rio Grande Silver is seeking support to further explore the potential of silver deposits that would justify a new portal. The exploration would yield an added payroll of 40 employees, reports the Alamosa Courier.
On the west side of the San Juans, permits are moving forward for a mill at Silverton and a mine near Ouray, according to The Denver Post. The mining at Ouray would put 70 people to work to extract lead, copper, zinc and silver.
Breckenridge big ski expansion
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – The U.S. Forest Service has approved expansion of the Breckenridge ski area. The approval gives the ski area the right to use an additional 550 acres of terrain, four-fifths of it lift-served and the remainder hike-to. The terrain will require two new lifts.
The main purpose of the Peak 6 expansion is to reduce skier congestion and waiting time for lifts, said Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest. The ski area has twice in recent years been the most visited ski area in the Untied states, surpassing longtime heavyweight Vail Mountain.
The expansion had been fought by backcountry skiers, who argued that the ski area was poaching their powder.
Trying to rejoin the A League
KETCHUM, Idaho – The Los Angeles Lakers instantly returned to the ranks of elite teams in the National Basketball Association by acquiring talented center Dwight Howard.
Ketchum and Sun Valley, the original ski destination resort, have also been attempting to get back to the elite ranks. That strategy of the last 10 years has involved upgrading the bed base with new hotels. So far, the effort has been without success.
The other major thrust has been to improve accessibility by upgrading the air links. To deepen the pot for minimum revenue guarantees for airlines, boosters in the valley want to levy a 1 percent sales tax in Blaine County and the individual towns.
But, as usual, there’s a curious irony here. To ensure easier access, boosters hope to charge visitors more once they arrive. The sales tax they are designing would most specifically target purchases by visitors. Very specifically, they are thinking about levying the tax on car rentals and lodging, while sparing restaurants, which are frequented by locals.
The Sun Valley community is also awaiting an environmental assessment that will determine whether the CRJ-700 jets can be flown into the local airport. The jet can accommodate 76 people, compared to the 30-passenger capacity of the Embraer 120, which currently flies into the airport.
New owner of Jackson hotel
JACKSON, Wyo. – The 204-room hotel at the base of the Snow King ski area, the in-town ski area in Jackson, has been purchased by a company that plans to invest more than $20 million in an upgrade.
The purchaser, JMI Realty, is a subsidiary of the John Moores family of San Diego. The company, in turn, has contracted with Benchmark Hospitality International to manage it.
“The bones of this building are incredible,” said Greg Champion, chief operating officer of Benchmark. But the rooms are aging and don’t command top dollar, just $200 per night, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
Snow King Holdings, the prior owner of the hotel, will retain the adjoining ski area. To bring the ski area into profitability, Manuel Lopez and other owners want to install a zip line, terrain parks, ice climbing and a bike park. Snow King Holdings has talked about more snowmaking and an alpine coaster. The group just secured a paragliding service, Lopez said.
Lopez and his partners also retains about 90 percent of the development rights associated with the resort’s master plan. That entitles owners to develop about 450,000 square feet of buildings, Lopez said.