‘Indy Pass’ co-op signs its first Colorado ski area
Independent co-op pass is expanding into the region that spawned the corporate megapass
It’s true that prior commitment from skiers via season pass purchases is helping ski areas sustain their businesses during unpredictable weather years.
But you don’t necessarily need a $1,000 ski pass and a large ski resort corporation to elicit prior commitment from skiers, said Doug Fish, the founder of the Indy Pass.
Joining together independently owned ski areas in a cooperative agreement, Fish — a ski industry marketing specialist — created the Indy Pass in the 2019-20 season and saw immediate response.
The pass doesn’t allow unlimited access, only giving guests two days at each ski area, but it has a massive amount of resorts to choose from with 81 ski areas joining the Indy Pass as of January.
There’s just one major deficiency: Up until this week, Fish had yet to attract a Colorado ski area to join the Indy Pass.
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On Thursday, however, Fish confirmed a Colorado ski area, one located in the heart of the Colorado ski country, will be joining the pass yet this season. Fish said the full announcement will be coming in mid-February.
“It’s not ready to announce today, but it is imminent,” Fish told the Vail Daily on Friday.
Adding a Colorado ski area to the Indy Pass is significant as Colorado is where the Epic Pass, Vail Resorts’ industry-changing season pass, first came to be.
Fish said the Epic Pass got skiers in the habit of committing to purchasing their season pass well ahead of the following season.
(Vail Resorts) got everybody, instead of buying day tickets, to buy a pass, and to buy a pass you gotta buy it early,” Fish said. “Before it was like, ‘I’ll wait and see what the weather does and buy a lift ticket.'”
It’s a situation discussed by Vail Resorts Executive Chairperson Rob Katz recently on The Storm Skiing Podcast.
Before the Epic Pass, “The ski industry, historically, faced huge challenges because of weather variability, and that’s what was holding back a more consistent performance, a more consistent experience, a more consistent investment in the resort industry, more consistent employment and community support,” Katz said. “Back in the ’80s and ’90s, it was very common that if you had a bad season, resorts would stop investing, they would furlough employees for half a season, they would furlough people in the offseason, so they could make ends meet, because it was a very tough business.”
Fish said most ski areas at that time started realizing that prior commitment in the spring was helping sustain the business through the summer and fall, and that insight wasn’t necessarily unique to Vail Resorts or Katz.
“What (Katz) did was lower the price,” Fish said. “The industry thought we’ve got to charge $2,000 a season pass otherwise it doesn’t pencil, and (Katz) said, ‘No no no, the key is volume. Charge $500 and give them access to all your resorts and watch how many passes you sell.’ That’s what changed the industry; now you’ve got 10 times as many people who have a season pass in their pocket, and they’re saying, ‘Well I gotta get 10 days this season to make this thing pay for itself, so we gotta get up to the mountains.'”
The megapass era
That shift toward volume ushered in the era of the megapass, where we are today, as Vail Resorts sold 2.1 million pre-purchased passes entering this season between season passes and pre-purchased day tickets. Another megapass, the Ikon Pass, was introduced in 2018-19, joining together ski resorts that compete with Vail, such as Aspen, Steamboat and Copper Mountain.
Katz, in 2019, said the Ikon Pass was good for the industry as a whole, reinforcing the notion that “if you ski, you should consider a season pass,” in his words.
But while the Indy Pass is a product of the megapass era, it itself is not a megapass, Fish said.
“It’s a response to the megapass era,” Fish said. “We represent a whole bunch of mom and pops, they’re all independently owned … the biggest conglomerate we have is a two-resort ownership.”
By the standards of the federal government, all the ski areas on the Indy Pass are small businesses, Fish said.
“But there’s strength in numbers,” Fish said. “And when you get 81 resorts pulled together like we have, you’ve got some critical mass.”
The Indy Pass works like a co-op, with the small businesses sharing the profits.
“We take 85 percent of all the pass revenue, and we pay it out based on redemptions,” Fish said. “It’s really a marketing program, it’s designed to introduce people to new resorts that they probably haven’t been to, and it’s designed to give a collective voice of the oft-forgotten and overlooked little guys.”
‘No pow panic’
While those who visit independent ski areas and purchase day tickets are the primary target demographic of the Indy Pass, the pass also makes a nice complement to Colorado skiers who ski a lot at Vail or Copper but like to travel to small ski areas as a vacation, Fish said.
Ikon Pass holder Benton Inscoe of Boulder said that was his exact motivation for seeking out an Indy Pass vacation last season with his friend Kevin Arnold. In recent years, the longtime snowboarding friends have found adventure in getting away from the places they once shredded every weekend, such as Copper or Breckenridge.
In February 2021, Inscoe rented a van from KuKu Campers in Denver, picked up Arnold, bought two Indy Passes and hit the road. They traveled to ski areas in Utah, Idaho and Montana, finding plentiful powder along the way. They said they camped in the parking lot of most places in their van and didn’t encounter crowds scrambling to get to the lifts in the mornings.
Arnold made a YouTube video about their adventures titled, “What is the best season pass for van life?” (Spoiler: It’s the Indy Pass, Arnold said.) At the end of one of their deep snow days in Brundage, Idaho, Inscoe can be heard saying, “That was one of the most relaxing powder days ever.”
Inscoe said that was the best part of the Indy Pass and what he was seeking in his shred vacation with Arnold.
“Absolutely no pow panic at any point in the trip,” he said.