STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – The Epic Pass offered by Vail Resorts is arguably the most disruptive business innovation in the ski industry so far this century. Priced at $769, it allows holders to ski or ride at 21 different resorts in the United States and Europe.
Make that 22 with the addition of Park City Mountain Resort this winter.
This fact certainly has not gone unnoticed in Steamboat Springs or, for that matter, just about any other ski area on the continent.
The question has become how do you compete with such an attractive option. Or, as
the Steamboat Pilot & Today put it, “Once they sign up, will traveling skiers ever leave the fold?”
To answer its own question, the newspaper tapped the expertise of Tim Cohee, director of the ski business and resort management program at Sierra Nevada College. His assessment is a grim one for competitors.
“As far as passes go, they are creating a product that no one can compete with,” he told the Pilot & Today’s Tom Ross. “That pass is ridiculous. It’s insane. You have the best resorts in the best market in the United States, and where it goes from here, nobody knows.”
Others have been trying, of course. Intrawest, the operator of Steamboat, has a Rocky Mountain Super Pass, good at Winter Park, also an Intrawest resort, as well as Copper Mountain, Eldora, and Crested Butte.
The Mountain Collective offers skiing privileges from Lake Louise to Mammoth, and Whistler to Snowbird, Jackson Hole to Squaw Valley to Aspen and Snowmass.
Other ski passes of smaller ski areas have also been assembled.
But Vail Resorts has also been assembling a farm team in the Midwest.
“If I’m a family of four living in Minnesota and I ski Afton (Alps, which Vail purchased in 2012), why would I not ski Vail with my Epic Pass?” said Mike Martin, associate professor of ski and snowboard business at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus.
Martin said that the mega ski passes are a means to claim more market share absent true growth in skier days. U.S. skier days first reached 50 million in the late 1970s and now have only reached a high of 60.5 million before faltering last winter back to 56.49 million.
Cohee said it’s clear to him that Rob Katz, chief executive of Vail Resorts, and his executive team set out to capture the high-end luxury market. “Strategically, they are clearly carving out the absolute top end of the business,” he said. “There are 5 to 6 million (skier) visits in that top echelon of wealthy skiers.”
Deer Valley looks at gondola link
PARK CITY, Utah – Will Park City’s three ski areas become cheek to jowl? Vail Resorts plans to link Canyons with Park City Mountain Resort to create the largest ski area in the United States.
Deer Valley, meanwhile, has announced hopes of creating a gondola from Old Town Park City to its slopes to the south. If this occurs, the lifts for the two, competing ski areas would be just a few blocks away.
Bob Wheaton, the general manager for Deer Valley, also outlined plans for an additional 800 to 1,000 skiable acres, with at least seven and perhaps eight new lifts.
JACKSON, Wyo. – Avalanche Awareness Night in Jackson Hole last year drew 579 people, and this year it pushed 650.
Cloud seeding study
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – In 1946, scientists at Schenectady, N.Y., came up with the idea of seeding clouds to induce precipitation.
In the West, the technique was broadly embraced, especially after droiught in the 1950s. At Vail, the technique was first employed in 1972 and has been used every winter since 1977, and off and on at a good many other mountainous areas of Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and California.
But does it work? That’s what Wyoming decided to answer a decade ago with what turned out to be a $14 million experiment. Good science had been done in the 1960s in experiments conducted between Vail and Leadville. But a 2003 report said stronger science was needed.
The experiment set up in Wyoming used two parallel mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre and Medicine Bow, located southwest of Laramie. Clouds with the proper amount of precipitation that were cold enough and were moving in the right direction were seeded—but never over both ranges at the same time. Rather, in random fashion, one was seeded and the other was not. In that way, more than 100 storms were seeded over the course of six years.
Last week, at a meeting in Cheyenne, the results were announced. Scientists said that storms that were seeded yielded between 5 and 15 percent more snow. But in terms of total water increase in the North Platte River Basin, the results were less stellar: 0.4 to 3.7 percent.
Results seemed to change nobody’s mind. Those who were skeptical about cloud-seeding before were unimpressed, and those who believed in it before thought the results confirmed their case. What all agreed is that cloud-seeding costs relatively little money, at least in the big scheme of water.
Already, more than $1 million is spent each winter in Colorado seeding clouds above Winter Park, Crested Butte, and Telluride, among other locations.
In Wyoming this winter, 10 silver-iodide generators have been set up along the Wind River Range, south of Jackson Hole but at the headwaters of the Green River, the largest tributary to the Colorado River. In both cases, water agencies in Arizona, California and Nevada are chipping in 75 percent of the $922,000 cost.
In California, Pacific Gas and Electric seeds winter storms to produce more water, which in turn produces more electricity. Idaho Power does the same in Idaho.