Ikon Base Pass will now (mostly) include Mammoth
Bowing to pressure from irate passholders, Alterra Mountain Company announced on March 1 that unlimited skiing (with holiday black out dates) at Mammoth Mountain will be included in the 2018-2019 Ikon Base Pass for $599. The change came one week after Alterra’s announcement that Mammoth Mountain would be excluded from the Ikon Base Pass. Research The Sheet conducted this week may shed light on why Alterra made its initial decision, and why that decision was reversed.
When Alterra first announced its multi-resort offerings on February 24, unlimited skiing at Mammoth Mountain was only available through the Ikon Pass, which is priced at $899 for the 2018-2019 season. At that time, the Ikon Base Pass afforded just 5 days at Mammoth Mountain.
Of the 12 ski resorts owned by Alterra, Mammoth Mountain was one of four for which unlimited skiing was not included in the company’s cheaper Base Pass (the other three being Colorado’s Steamboat Mountain, Vermont’s Stratton Mountain Resort, and Utah’s Deer Valley). But Mammoth was the only resort that would have seen a price increase for that unlimited access (early purchase 2017-18 season pass prices for Steamboat, Stratton and Deer Valley were $1,499, $999, and $2,295, respectively).
A Cali4nia Pass, which earned the purchaser unlimited access to Mammoth Mountain, Bear Mountain, June Mountain and Snow Summit for the 2017-2018 season, cost $699 if purchased in the spring of 2017.
During the past week, passholders expressed their displeasure over Alterra’s decision to exclude Mammoth from the Base Pass, as well as the company’s decision to eliminate its senior passes (previously $599 for those ages 65 to 80, and free plus the cost of processing for those 80 and up).
“I was going to die years ago, but I only lived this long so that I could ski free,” said soon-to-be octogenarian Colby Johnson, half-facetiously. “So next year I’m just going to go into the ticket window and die right in front of them. I’ll say, ‘See? With no incentive, what have I got to look forward to?’”
Mammoth’s Public Relations Manager Lauren Burke told The Sheet in an email on Wednesday, February 28 that Mammoth was “working on a plan for skiers 80 and older,” and that more information would become available in the future.
Other Alterra-owned resorts The Sheet reached out to, like Stratton Mountain and Ontario’s Blue Mountain, said that they were waiting until March 6, when the Ikon Pass goes on sale, to announce their full pass offerings for the upcoming season.
Shawn Cassel, Public Relations Manager at Snowshoe (located in West Virginia and owned by Alterra), said that their “Ridiculous Pass” would still be available to skiers for a price of $229.
Following Alterra’s initial announcement last week, Pork Chop, owner of Alpine Sports Outfitters in Mammoth Lakes, expressed his concern that the pass price increase would keep locals from skiing. He said that a $200 increase is a lot of money for a person living and working in a ski town. “Long time locals feel abandoned,” he said of the decision “If they can’t afford to ski, they don’t have a reason to stay.”
He said that if the pass remained at $899, the portion of the workforce comprised of 18-to-20-something ski bums would be incentivized to work for Mammoth Mountain instead of independent employers, or to move to Tahoe, where they can ski comparable terrain at Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows for $599 a season. “It’s tough on the locals struggling to make it work in Mammoth, and it just got harder. Employee housing? Employee pass? That’s going to be their focus.”
Pork Chop added, “Rusty [Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Company] said ‘Mammoth is in our hearts and minds.’ Well, he moved to Denver and said, ‘here you go, Mammoth. Have fun.’” He was skeptical that locals could afford to travel to ski at the other Alterra resorts included in the Ikon Pass, or that Mammoth has the air service to support the new travelers the Ikon Pass was poised to bring. “It’s tough. Mammoth is a small airport that is wind and weather affected. We’ve got to find a reliable way to get people here.”
In contrast, Pork Chop called the $599 Base Pass “doable” for locals.
Other resorts optimistic
In contrast, business owners in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which was also excluded from the Ikon Base pass, were optimistic about the Ikon Pass price.
Lisa Papovich, Executive Director of the nonprofit Main Street Steamboat Springs, which supports economic development in that community, said Steamboat is hoping to skim traffic from Colorado’s Front Range with the help of the Ikon Pass. “We are nowhere near capacity when it comes to filling our condo and hotel rooms,” said Papovich. “There’s room for growth.”
Like Mammoth Lakes, Steamboat Springs is remote. It’s about three hours from both Denver and Fort Collins. The bulk of its skiers don’t come for day trips. Unlike Mammoth, it has a nearby airport, Yampa Valley Regional, that offers multiple direct flights per week to 14 destinations during the winter season, including Chicago, New York, and Houston. The airport also offers daily flights to Los Angeles.
Pam Pole, owner of Fringe Boutique in Steamboat Springs, said on February 28 that the consensus in the business community is that the Ikon Pass will be good for the economy. “This is going to be great for us. We are thrilled… But I’m not so sure about you guys.”
Stratton Mountain, located in southern Vermont, was also excluded from the Ikon Base Pass, but the full Ikon Pass cut that mountain’s previous season’s pass price by $100.
Lisa Gosselin Lynn, Editor at VT Ski and Ride Magazine, has compiled charts that track pass pricing at Vermont resorts since 2015-2016. Vail Resorts purchased Stowe Mountain Resort in 2017, making that mountain the first and only Epic Pass-eligible resort in the state (the Epic pass being Vail’s multi-resort option).
According to Gosselin Lynn’s data, a season’s pass to Stowe for the 2015-2016 season cost $1,788 if purchased prior to November 1. The resort was included in the 2017-2018 Epic Pass, which dropped the price of a season pass to $859.
According to Gosselin Lynn, this dynamic has placed pressure on other resorts across the state to lower pass prices, and focus on marketing a more specialized, niche experience to skiers. “It changed the landscape in pricing, and it made it much more difficult for independently-owned resorts to charge more.”
According to the National Ski Areas Association, Stratton Mountain is one of 26 ski areas in Vermont (and the only one owned by Alterra). It is about five hours from New York City, which has a population of about 8.5 million, according to a U.S Census Bureau report from 2016.
Steamboat Springs is one of 31 ski areas in Colorado, and a three hour drive from Denver. According to a 2015 report by the Colorado Division of Local Affairs, the Denver/Boulder areas had a combined population of over 3 million in 2015.
Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, and Orange Counties were estimated to have a combined population of nearly 21 million people, the Census Bureau reported in July 2016. According to a 2016 Visitor Profile Report provided by Mammoth Lakes Tourism, 64 percent of visitors to Mammoth Lakes are from San Diego and Los Angeles.
Unlike in Vermont or Colorado, Southern California’s massive population appears to be a captive audience. Outside of the Eastern Sierra and Tahoe, the next closest major ski area to Los Angeles is in Park City, Utah—nearly 700 miles away.
Also unlike Stratton and Steamboat Springs, the Eastern Sierra is only accessible by air from coastal cities in California.
“The bulk of our visitors will more than likely always come from L.A. since so many people in Southern California consider Mammoth to be their home mountain,” said Lara Kaylor, Director of Communications for Mammoth Lakes Tourism in an email on March 1, prior to Alterra’s announcement that (almost) unlimited skiing at Mammoth would be included in the Ikon Base Pass.
With regard to pass pricing and regional air service, Kaylor said that MLT is not concerned about Mammoth’s L.A. clientele purchasing the Ikon Base Pass and opting to fly to the Rockies instead of driving to Mammoth Lakes to ski. “Perhaps people will plan one trip to a different resort during the season, but it’s not going to replace the multiple weekend trips that L.A. visitors make to Mammoth each winter because of the ease of getting here.” She said many visitors like the ability to drop everything and drive up when large storm cycles hit Mammoth.
Pork Chop said he thinks Alterra Mountain Company knows that Mammoth’s Southern California base of skiers will continue to ski at Mammoth Mountain, regardless of lift ticket prices. “Where else are they going to go? An east coast person has a choice. If you’re from the Bay Area, you have 20 options to choose from…Our customer base has no other choice, unless you’re past a certain income level and can fly.”
Tom Cage owns several local businesses in Mammoth Lakes, among them Kittredge Sports. He said on February 28 that he thought the $899 Ikon Pass was a good value for all the extra skiing it includes. He said that in order to compete with Vail’s Epic Pass, Alterra Mountain Company had to offer the Base Pass to Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows in Tahoe.
Cage also said Mammoth has a captive audience, adding that this new pass offering makes the need for reliable regional air service all the more pressing.
“The importance of a ski pass that attracts people from places like Chicago and Denver is that it provides the opportunity to grow our mid-week and multi-day visitor base,” said Kaylor on March 1. “Someone coming from further away is less likely to be the weekend warrior that our L.A. visitors often are.”
Cage said that he doubts a couple hundred dollars more or less on a pass price will determine whether people from Southern California will continue to ski at Mammoth Mountain. “This is not a cheap sport, and this is an expensive town. If you’re going to play, you’re going to pay.”
The revised Ikon Base Pass announced on March 1 will offer unlimited skiing at Mammoth Mountain except for blackout dates of December 26-31, 2018; January 19-20, 2019; and February 16-17, 2019. Passes go on sale March 6.