When the Epic Pass was unveiled earlier this year, it received a tepid welcome. Skiers and snowboarders rejoiced ” ski when and where you want all year for $579?! Others in the community, notably some Town Council members, foresaw parking problems and unending lift lines.
What a difference a few months can make.
Now, with pillars of the economy toppling, in President Bush’s words, “Like a house of cards,” the Epic Pass is seen as Vail’s saving grace.
“Initially I had some serious concerns based on the fact that it seemed to be converting a lot of local and Front Range skiers from the Colorado Pass to the Epic Pass with no restrictions on holidays, and that would have compromised the quality of skiing on those days with our high-end guests, who are a staple of our economy,” said Andy Daly, Vail’s mayor pro-tem and former president of Vail Resorts. “Now, with the financial crisis our nation faces, we’re all anticipating curtailed destination skier numbers, both international and domestic, and as a result, the Epic Pass looks brilliant.”
Mark Gordon, Vail Town Council member, said he’s always favored the Epic Pass, and thinks there will be some challenges, but those come with any new strategy. He said the Pass should lure destination skiers for second and third trips to the Vail area.
“I hope that we are worried about overcrowding this year,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek. “That is my goal. My personal mission is to be concerned about the overcrowding in Vail this year.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Michael Norton, director of the Vail Chamber and Business Association, said he fully supports the Epic Pass.
“There was a lot of early speculation on if this was the right thing for Vail Resorts to do, but now in hindsight, in the face of the economy, it will bring more people to the high country,” he said. With what could have been a rough season for businesses, Norton said the Epic Pass could “make it an epic season.”
Buzz Schleper, longtime owner of Buzz’s Ski Shop in Vail didn’t shy away from heaping praise upon the Epic Pass, calling it “the greatest thing ever.”
“With the way our economy is, the timing couldn’t have been better,” he said, agreeing with Gordon’s belief that the Pass could bring destination skiers out for multiple trips. “I don’t know if the timing was intentional or not, but if we have an overcrowding problem this year it will be a good problem.”
It was tough finding anyone who had a legitimate gripe about the Epic Pass, beyond a natural and selfish desire for vacant slopes.
Dick Cleveland, mayor of Vail, offered more guarded optimism.
“I don’t think any of us know what the effects will be, but one thing all of us know is that the Epic Pass is great deal for locals to be able to enjoy the mountains here,” he said. “We don’t know what the impacts are going to be for Vail on parking and mountain crowding, but with the economy the way it is, the Epic Pass was a stroke of genius. It has the potential to be very good for our community.”
Meanwhile, Rob LeVine, the general manager of the Antlers at Vail, said he looked forward to seeing how successful the Pass would be for the Vail area. He felt it could help bring visitors to the area during a season with paltry reservation numbers across the board, but stopped short of offering any sort of prediction.
“Ever since it was announced, I’ve been more amused than anything,” he said. “I’ve been amused at people who screamed bloody murder in the beginning because it would bring in people and cause parking problems, and now I’m amused at people who think it’s our saving grace because the winter was shaping up to be less than robust.”
Nathan Rodriguez may be reached for comment at email@example.com