There have been a few letters to the editor recently regarding the Epic Passes, specifically the price of the Epic Pass and “pricing out locals.”
I opine that the Epic Pass is not only a great value, but also a huge boon to business, a massive benefit to visitors and yes, a great thing for locals. I’m an unabashed supporter of the Epic Pass for all these reasons and more.
To be clear, my main professional concern and ongoing, daily focus is business vitality — how do we (and by “we” I mean the community at large) create an environment of business vitality and an environment that allows businesses to succeed? One key, and arguably the key, way to help ensure an environment that is conducive to business vitality in our resort oriented economy is by increasing visitors.
Maintaining Market Position
The Epic Pass helped us maintain our market position during the “great recession” of 2008-2010 and has been a tool to grow our market position in the years since. In many ways, the Epic Pass and associated marketing benefits associated with it (EpicMix, EpicMix Photo, Epic Race) have been a game changer. Combined with the vast array of resorts available — including international resorts — the Epic Pass has very likely resulted in more frequent visitation and increased loyalty among our destination visitors.
The benefit of the Epic Pass and associated marketing benefits hit home for me this past summer as I was walking to the Vail parking garage after a Bravo! Vail concert at Ford Amphitheatre. I ended up walking with an older retired couple who it turns out were second-home owners. We got to talking and they mentioned that while they had thought about giving up skiing due to their advancing ages, the Epic Pass encouraged them to continue skiing and spend more time in the Vail Valley so they “could brag to their friends and family on Facebook” via the EpicMix app. Given the economic impact of second homeowners to our community, anything that encourages them to spend more time here is a benefit to businesses. I don’t believe these kind people are the exception — most of us have similar stories of friends, family, second-home owners and customers who spend more time (and money in our local businesses) due to the creation of the Epic Pass.
Products such as the Epic Pass are increasingly important as skier numbers flat line across the industry, as our core market of baby boomers increasingly age out of the market and as we face continued competition from other vacation destinations.
A Value Product
The Epic Pass is clearly a value product, offering unlimited skiing at Vail and Beaver Creek, as well as other Vail Resorts properties. The quality of the Epic Pass offered at our local mountains is among the highest in the industry.
Lest we make the mistake of forgetting, it wasn’t that long ago that local ski passes in Eagle County could not be found anywhere near the rate of $729 (next year’s Epic Pass rate). Prior to the Epic Pass, the Merchant Ski Pass model — available to members of qualifying merchant groups who met some other basic criteria — was the only way to avoid spending upwards of $1,600-$1,800 for a pass. In fact, the Merchant Pass cost $869 in 2007-08 for those who went to the class (each pass-holder to attend class was required to take the class back in the stone ages of 2007-08, not just one per business as it is today). How many businesses do you know who have lowered their prices by 16 percent from 2007 prices yet are disparaged by their customers for increasing prices?
Ironically, our competitor resorts still have more expensive ski passes compared to the Epic Pass. The fact is, compared to other ski resorts throughout the United States and Canada, the Epic Pass price of $729 is a flat-out bargain. A quick survey of other season pass options and some of the associated benefits:
• 2013-14 Sun Valley: $1,999 (also gets access to Sugar Bowl, Tahoe.)
• 2013-14 Deer Valley: $1,910 (does have other resort benefits but no snowboarders)
• 2013-14 Jackson Hole: $1,695 (have not launched next year’s passes yet.)
• 2013-14 Aspen-Snowmass: $1,649 (have not launched next year’s passes yet and does have some other resort benefits through mountain collective partners.)
• 2014-15 Whistler-Blackcomb: $1,399 (does have some other resort benefits through mountain collective partner.s)
• 2014-15 Killington: $1,099 (does have other resort partners but not unlimited access.)
• 2014-15 Steamboat: $999 (currently have buy one adult get one kid free — $319 value — and a $250 “Intrawest snow bucks” offer to be used at Intrawest properties.)
• 2014-15 Park City: $725 (does have other resort benefits but not unlimited at other resorts.)
Maybe it’s just human nature to complain. Maybe the letter writers have short-term memories or didn’t live here when pass prices were more than double next season’s rate. Maybe, but there are other things worth complaining about. The price and value offered by the Epic Pass isn’t close to being one of them.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.