Collective ski pass adds Telluride in effort to rival Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass | SummitDaily.com

Collective ski pass adds Telluride in effort to rival Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

The Mountain Collective ski pass offered by independent ski areas broadened its appeal Tuesday by adding Telluride and Revelstoke to its impressive lineup.

The consortium of independents also announced Tuesday they will charge $409 for the pass, which provides two lift tickets each to 14 ski destinations in four countries. The lineup includes Aspen Skiing Co.'s four resorts. A Mountain Collective buyer gets two lift tickets at Aspen Snowmass, not two lift tickets at each of its four ski areas.

Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan said Monday that the Mountain Collective is one effective way to compete with Vail Resorts, the industry powerhouse that expanded its reach Monday with the acquisition of Whistler Blackcomb, the resort in British Columbia that boasts the largest amount of ski terrain in North America.

The purchase is supposed to be completed this fall. Ironically, Whistler Blackcomb is part of the Mountain Collective for 2016-17. It will bow out of the collective pass next season and will be included in Vail Resorts' Epic Pass.

“I don’t look at it as ‘Oh my God, we have to have a response to Vail Resorts and the Epic Pass.’”

— Bill Jensen, CEO at Telluride resort

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Telluride Ski and Golf Resort CEO Bill Jensen said Tuesday that Telluride started talking to Aspen Skiing Co. and the Mountain Collective operators six months ago about joining. The southwestern Colorado resort made its pitch in May and was accepted into the fold. The announcement date was selected some time ago for Tuesday. It was a coincidence that it came right after Vail's announcement that it was acquiring Whistler Blackcomb, he said.

Jensen is bullish about the Mountain Collective pass. "I think it's a collection of some of the finest ski mountains in North America," he said. It will appeal particularly to skiers and snowboarders "who live for the sport," he said.

Jensen said the potential for exposure for member resorts is greater than it seems at first blush. Nearly all the resorts make single-day lift tickets available for 50 percent for a premium ski pass holder at one of the member resorts. In other words, someone who buys a premium pass at Aspen Snowmass for 2016-17 also is eligible for half-price lift tickets at Telluride — regardless of whether they buy a Mountain Collective Pass.

That could be added incentive to hundreds of thousands of skiers and snowboaders to try out other member resorts, Jensen said.

That said, he doesn't want to overstate the importance of the Mountain Collective pass in the competition with Vail Resorts.

"I don't look at it as 'Oh my God, we have to have a response to Vail Resorts and the Epic Pass,'" Jensen said.

He believes that many of the resorts teamed in the Mountain Collective are poised to compete well on their own in the ski industry.

The members in the Mountain Collective are AltaSnowbird, Aspen Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Revelstoke, Ski Banff/Lake Louise/Sunshine, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Stowe, Sun Valley, Taos, Telluride, Thredbo, Whistler Blackcomb for one more season, and Ski Queenstown/Coronet Peak/The Remarkables.

Mountain Collective buyers get two free days at each resort and 50 percent off additional lift tickets.

The Epic Pass offers unlimited skiing at all of Vail Resorts' ski areas, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado and Park City in Utah. Whistler Blackcomb will be added next season. It is now being sold for $809 for an adult. An Epic local pass, with some restrictions, is sold for $609.

John Norton, a former Skico executive and current director of the Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association, said he believes the Mountain Collective resorts are on the right path but need a product that's easier to use.

The Mountain Collective Pass is "a little clunky," Norton said. Buyers have to educate themselves on the fact that it is good for two visits per destination resort, not two visits per ski mountain.

"If I buy (the Epic Pass), I just have it. There's no fine print," Norton said.

The Epic and Mountain Collective passes are intended to appeal to international travelers as well as domestic skiers. The Mountain Collective has a dedicated telephone number and support team for buyers from Australia, for example.

David Withers, managing director of Travelplan Australia, one of the largest trip planning firms in the country, said Whistler Blackcomb's addition to Vail Resorts will "substantially enhance the attraction of the Epic Pass in future seasons." There is no doubt some of the firm's clients in Australia will be attracted by a pass good at Vail, Whistler and Park City, according to Withers.

While that's not good news for Aspen, he said, this season is shaping up to be strong.

"Our Aspen sales are up substantially over last season, and Aspen represents well over 50 percent of our U.S. market, the highest percentage ever achieved," Withers said in an email interview. "Over 70 percent of our Aspen clients are purchasing our 10- or 30-day long stay lifts, and these have done much to combat the attractions of the Epic Pass."

Canadian resorts have registered a "huge jump" in business for 2016-17 from Australia, he added. For the first time ever, Whistler Blackcomb is ahead of Aspen Snowmass for skier numbers for the season, though Aspen is catching up, according to Withers.

"No doubt this switch is currency driven," he said.

In the long term, he believes Aspen Snowmass is still positioned well to compete with Vail Resorts, even with the addition of Whistler Blackcomb.

SKI PASS PRICES

Aspen Skiing Co. says it will announce the prices of its 2016-17 ski passes on Monday. There is nothing “new or dramatic” to announce this season, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.

Skico raised prices $20 to $50 across the board last year. That equated to increases of between 2.3 to 3.1 percent over the prior season.

The price of a premier pass — unlimited skiing for the season — was $1,749 last season. The discount to employees of businesses that belonged to a chamber of commerce in the valley was $1,259.