Pass wars aim at your wallet |

Pass wars aim at your wallet

Cliff Thompson
Vail Daily/Coreen Sapp Skiers and snowboarders buy lift tickets in Lionshead earlier this spring. Vail Resorts and one of its largest competitors, Intrawest, have already started next season's sales war by lowering down payments on certain types of ski passes.

If you listened carefully last week you might have heard the first shots of the 2004-’05 ski pass war.

Those shots were carefully aimed at your wallet and were fired by the large caliber marketing departments of the ski industry’s two heavyweights, Vail Resorts and Intrawest.

The ski companies are competing for the 500,000-strong Front Range and Colorado skier market and are trying to make it as easy as possible for customers to buy passes.

Last week they offered a $29 down payment on Colorado and Buddy Passes with the aim of getting skiers and snowboarders to commit to buying their respective passes, which in return for the early down-payment, will come with a guarantee of the lowest price. The price of the ski passes, known in the ski industry as “loyalty products,” will not be set until late summer or early autumn.

That means skiers or snowboarders can purchase some of the cheapest chairlift rides around, and ski at ride Colorado’s most well-known mountains.

Last year, Vail Resorts’ Colorado pass cost $329 and the Buddy Pass, $299. Intrawest’s Rocky Mountain Super Pass sold for $319. The average pass-holder used it less than a dozen times a year, according to statistics, but that brings the daily price of skiing down to that of a good bottle of wine.

The down-payment ends May 16.

Banking it

For the resort operators, pass sales are literally money in the bank before the ski season begins. Vail Resorts last year sold more than 120,000 ski passes, up 9 percent, to mostly-in state skiers, the company’s chief executive, Adam Aron, said. That’s nearly $38 million in ski-pass sales for Vail Resorts alone. Intrawest declined to provide the number of passes it sells at its two Colorado resorts.

On top of that, selling discounted passes is an efficient way of marketing to Front Range skiers, said Chris Jarnot, marketing and sales director for Vail Resorts.

“One of the underrated aspect of passes is that it allows us not to have to spend money during the season trying to get Front Range skiers and snowboarders to come up for a day,” he said. “Once we sell passes prior to the season, we’re largely done with our marketing effort for the Front Range. Pass sales allow us to spend more time and resources on bringing the destination (skier) market back.”

“Pass sales represent a significant portion of our total overall revenue,” added Bill Jensen, the chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. He declined to provide the number of spring passes that are sold for fear of providing an advantage to competitor Intrawest, but he acknowledged that the competition has one wide-spread benefit.

“Ultimately the consumer is the winner in the situation,” he said.

During the last quarterly report issued by Vail Resorts, Aron underscored the importance of ski pass sales. “We’ve got the money banked, whether they ski or not,” he said.

Many resorts

The competition over ski pass sales is heating up because both resort operators offer skiers and boarders passes that are good at multiple resorts. In Colorado, Vail Resorts operates Vail, Beaver Creek, Arapaho Basin, Keystone and Breckenridge resorts while Intrawest operates Copper Mountain and Winter Park. Last year the down payment price was $49.

The down-payment program makes it easier to get potential pass purchasers to buy, resort operators say.

“It’s designed to help make the commitment to our resorts for next winter, now,” said Kelly Ladyga, spokeswoman for Vail Resorts.

When Vail Resorts this spring offered the $29 down-payment and guaranteed lowest price, Intrawest quickly lowered its $49 down-payment and matched its competitor’s price.

On top of that the companies are bundling other incentives to get skiers and snowboarders to buy now. They include subscriptions to SKI magazine, two $25 lift tickets that can be used by family members and the lure of buy now and pay later.

The Colorado Pass allows unlimited skiing and boarding at Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin and 10 days of skiing at Vail and Beaver Creek. There are restrictions on this pass during busy holidays. The Buddy Pass offers unlimited skiing and boarding at Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin with no restricted days. The Rocky Mountain Super Pass offers unlimited skiing at Winter Park and Copper Mountain.

Intrawest hosts nearly 8 million skiers and snowboarders a year at its 10 mountain resorts, which include Whistler/Blackomb in British Columbia, Stratton Mountain, Vermont and Mt. Tremblant in Quebec. Vail Resorts is reporting 5.7 million at its five resorts, including Heavenly on Lake Tahoe.

Both resort operators also have diversified their companies to include real estate development, lodging and golf operations. Intrawest last year reported just over $1 billion in annual revenue while Vail Resorts reported $710 million in total revenue.

Cliff Thompson can be contacted via e-mail at or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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