Aspen Skiing Co., partners will ponder how to offset Whistler’s exit from Mountain Collective ski pass | SummitDaily.com

Aspen Skiing Co., partners will ponder how to offset Whistler’s exit from Mountain Collective ski pass

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Highland Bowl beckons skiers and riders at Aspen Highlands Friday. Aspen Skiing Co. and 13 resort partners offer a combined pass. The Mountain Collective is designed for competition with Vail Resort's Epic Pass.

The Mountain Collective Pass offered by Aspen Skiing Co. and 13 other resorts has grown significantly since it was introduced in 2012, but faces a stiff challenge next winter.

Whistler/Blackcomb will drop out of the pass program (a Whixit?) after its purchase this fall by Vail Resorts. Whistler will join Vail's Epic Pass, which already boasts 13 resorts, next season.

The Mountain Collective Pass will take a "hit" from Whistler's departure, acknowledged Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of marketing Christian Knapp, but he's still banking on continued success and even growth of the program.

The member resorts in the Mountain Collective are meeting in Sun Valley, Idaho, next week to discuss what they want to do with the program next season.

"We have an amazing core product. We're not going to mess with that," Knapp said.

Humble beginning

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The Mountain Collective came from humble beginnings in fall 2012 when Aspen Skiing Co. teamed with Jackson Hole, Alta-Snowbird and Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows for the first combined pass.

The program has added partners every year and now boasts 14 participating resorts. A skier or snowboarder who purchases the pass is entitled to two days on the slopes at each of the 14 member resorts. (The pass is good for two days combined at Skico's four mountains, not two days on each mountain.)

Since its founding, the program has added big-name partners, including Sun Valley, Mammoth, Stowe, Taos and Whistler/Blackcomb. This year the prize was the addition of Telluride and Revelstoke.

The program also has reached overseas to offer two days at Ski Queenstown/Coronet Peak/The Remarkables in New Zealand, and Thredbo in Australia. Global affiliations also exist with Valle Nevado in Chile, Hakuba Valley in Japan and Chamonix, France, though they aren't full-fledged members.

The members and affiliates combine to offer 56,478 acres of skiing on 41 mountains, with 2,616 trails accessed by 479 chairlifts.

In addition to the two days of skiing at each of the destinations, pass holders can buy additional days at 50 percent off. The best rate on the collective pass for this season was $409.

The Epic Pass provides unlimited skiing at 13 resorts, including Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Park City, Breckenridge and Kirkwood for $829. After Vail's purchase of Whistler/Blackcomb was finalized, it added five free days of skiing there for its Epic Pass holders.

Knapp said sales of the Mountain Collective didn't slow down despite the addition of days at Whistler to the Epic Pass.

Sales keep climbing

Knapp said the growth in pass sales was greater this year than it was in 2015 from 2014. The organizers drove sales by offering a six-week special where a children's Mountain Collective Pass was just $1 if paired with the purchase of an adult pass at regular price.

"We're astounded by the year-to-year growth" Knapp said.

Mountain Collective Pass holders tend to be loyal, based on the number of return buyers.

"If people visit more than one resort in a season, they're likely to renew," Knapp said.

For those reasons, Knapp is confident of continued growth even with the exit of Whistler/Blackcomb. It might result in the loss of sales to some Seattle customers, he said.

Collective passes have become standard in the ski industry, spurred by Vail's creation of the Epic Pass in 2008. Copper Mountain, Winter Park and Eldora have teamed to offer The Rocky Mountain Super Pass, which also offers limited skiing at Steamboat and Crested Butte.

Resorts in other regions of North America also have teamed with joint passes.

What's next?

There's been some speculation in ski press that the Mountain Collective partners will have to up their game to compete with Vail's Epic Pass. One writer suggested the Mountain Collective will have to offer more than two days at each destination.

Knapp said the organizers of the program are always evaluating partners and terms, but they want to remain careful not to "dilute" the pass by sacrificing quality to quantity.

"This is not a commodity," Knapp said.

The Mountain Collective typically announces in August the plans for the following season.

scondon@aspentimes.com