Aspen-Snowmass expects snow, Ikon Pass to boost tourism
The Aspen Times
ASPEN — Aspen Skiing Co. officials are optimistic that better snow conditions to start the season and the creation of the Ikon Pass could fuel growth in skier visits at its four ski areas this season.
Last season, Steamboat Resort fared better than Skico, which saw a 7 percent decrease in skier visits mostly due to poor snow conditions. This year, natural snow has fallen and cold temperatures have created ideal snowmaking conditions, allowing Aspen Mountain to open five days early on Saturday. Steamboat opened Wednesday.
Then there’s the unknown factor — the effects of the Ikon Pass. Skico’s affiliated resort operator — Alterra Mountain Co., which owns Steamboat — created the new pass that includes up to seven days at the four Skico resorts.
Skier visits at Colorado Ski Country USA member resorts:
2017-18: 7.1 million
2016-17: 7.3 million
2015-16: 7.4 million
2014-15: 7.1 million
2013-14: 7.1 million
“The hope is that the Ikon Pass will drive trial. We are encouraged that many folks purchasing this pass may have not yet experienced Aspen-Snowmass, and that this year they will come check us out,” said Katie Ertl, Skico’s senior vice president of mountain operations.
Stay Aspen Snowmass, the central reservations business owned and operated by Skico, reported this week that reservations on the books as of Oct. 31 were up 0.7 percent for the winter compared with the same date in 2017. Bookings are down in December and January but up in February and March.
Last season’s ‘snow hangover’
The ski industry grapples with something known as the “snow hangover.” When there’s average to above-average snowfall one season, it will build momentum for the next season. Skiers will have confidence, warranted or not, that the coming season will be good.
The reverse is also true: A bad snow year creates problems generating bookings the following season.
Poor conditions in parts of the country appeared to have hurt the ski industry as a whole last season. Skier and snowboarder visits — the purchase of a ticket for any part of a day — totaled 53.3 million. That’s down 4.3 percent from the 10-year average. Last season was just the 23rd best out of the past 40 seasons.
For the 2017-18 season, 38 percent of ski resorts opened late while only 21 percent opened early, according to data collected for the National Ski Areas Association. Another 41 percent of reporting resorts opened on time, including Steamboat.
Rocky Mountain resorts fared better in 2017-18 than the industry as a whole. The region’s resorts accounted for 20.8 million skier visits — higher than the 10-year average. However, it was an uphill fight. Visits were down 20 percent in December in the Rocky Mountain Region and another 9 percent in January before snow started falling regularly in March.
That’s why resorts are trying to build excitement by letting consumers know the slopes are already covered with snow.
Some critics contend the ski industry’s biggest problem is charging prices that create a barrier to entering or staying in the sport. The average single-day lift ticket price was $128 last season, according to an end-of-season survey conducted for NSAA. In the Rocky Mountain Region, which includes many of the destination resorts where travelers take extended vacations, the average daily lift ticket was $149. Discounts are typically given by resorts for multiday purchases.
Nevertheless, that’s why the pass war between Alterra Mountain Co.’s Ikon Pass and Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass looms large. The Ikon was initially sold for $899 for unlimited skiing at 12 resorts, including Steamboat, and up to seven days at other participating resorts such as Aspen. That can drastically reduce the cost of a day on the slopes.
An Alterra official said at a conference in Vail this fall that the company expects to sell 250,000 Ikon Passes in the first year, according to an article in the Colorado Sun. Vail sold about 750,000 of its Epic Passes last season, the article said.
NSAA’s survey showed that paid tickets accounted for 49.1 percent of the national visits last season while season passes accounted for 42.6 percent. Complimentary tickets and off-duty employee use generated the remainder.
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