As Vail’s Rob Katz heralds the innovation of Epic Pass, a new competitor drops name of rival Ikon Pass
Competition heats up between Vail and Alterra
January 25, 2018
"It's not every day you get to see Darth Vader."
That quip, from the fellow at a table in a Hyatt Regency convention room Wednesday, is not an uncommon designation for Rob Katz, head of resort industry behemoth Vail Resorts.
Katz has grown accustomed to the "evil empire" analogy since taking the reins of the publicly traded company in 2006 and acquiring nine resorts, including North America's most trafficked, Whistler Blackcomb. Katz said he was initially reticent to take such a high-profile gig in an industry heavy on emotion and passion.
"It comes with challenges and public feedback. Some good, a lot bad; and in all kinds of online and in-person forms," he said, addressing the standing-room only crowd in a rare public address that kicked off the "Industry + Intelligence" day of seminars preceding the opening of the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show this week at the Colorado Convention Center.
Katz's casual and candid talk focused on the innovation at his company, centering on Vail Resorts' 750,000-plus annual sales of its Epic Pass.
It was a good idea, he said, crafting a pass that offered unlimited skiing to all of Vail Resorts' now 11 destination ski areas, which includes Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. When Katz launched the Epic Pass in 2008, "people thought we were crazy, had totally lost our mind," he said. By slicing his season-pass prices from close to $1,800 to $600 back then, Katz heard from competitors and locals that his resorts would be overrun and he was devaluing his company's assets.
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"People were convinced it was going to ruin the ski industry," he said. "By the way, all this still lingers even this many years later."
The angst over the Epic Pass may linger among locals, but not competitors.