Vail Resorts considers blackout days for Breck
BRECKENRIDGE – Skiers and boarders who hold Buddy passes and Colorado passes might not be able to get in as many days on the slopes if Breckenridge Ski Resort officials decide to implement skier blackout days for the 2002-03 ski season.
Merchants, however, fear such restrictions would drive away potential customers.
Blackout days typically are scheduled during peak skier days, including the Christmas holidays, Thanksgiving weekend and Presidents Day weekend, to reduce crowded conditions on the slopes and provide a better ski experience for destination skiers who often pay more for lift tickets than do those holding discounted ski passes. Roger McCarthy, chief operations officer for Breckenridge Ski Resort, told merchants at a recent Breckenridge Resort Chamber meeting that resort officials are considering implementing blackout dates for the 2002-03 season, but they won’t make that decision for another month or so.
This spring, Colorado Pass holders paid between $299 and $319 for 2002-03 ski passes. Buddy Pass holders paid between $249 and $269. Other pass prices will be announced in the late summer or early fall. How blackout dates might affect pricing has yet to be determined.
Blackout dates already exist at Vail Mountain, but they were implemented in the early 1990s because of long waits – some in excess of two hours – on the off-ramps into town from Interstate 70, said Bill Jensen, chief operating officer for that resort. Town officials asked the resort to limit skier numbers to 20,000 on any given day, and to do so, blackout dates were imposed. Once roundabouts were installed, the traffic problems were pretty well solved, Jensen said, but the blackout days remain to control the number of skiers on the mountain.
“On those days when we had the potential to exceed the limit, we start with the highest-paying customers and work your way down the customer chain,” Jensen said. “The first people who lose is the employees and their dependents, then the locals and then the people with the Colorado Pass.”
Sometimes, it backfires, Jensen said. There are days when resort officials expect, say, 18,000 skiers and only 12,000 show up. That’s when the merchants get vocal. And there are the days when it goes the opposite way.
“On Martin Luther King weekend, it snowed 30 inches and we had no pass restrictions,” Jensen said. “We had every local, every dependent, every in-state person heading to Vail. The sun and the moon and the stars aligned and added 30 inches of snow the next morning under blue skies. It was challenging.”
Some Breckenridge merchants said at last week’s meeting they are concerned about the impacts blackout dates might have on retail sales in town, primarily because sales have been down for the past 15 months.
But Vail merchants say blackout days won’t make things worse.
Restrictions were imposed on the Colorado Pass two years ago, said Kelly Ladyga, director of corporate communications for Vail Resorts. That pass is good at Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge ski resorts and for 10 days total at Vail or Beaver Creek. On restricted days, that pass is good at the Summit County resorts, but passholders wanting to ski Vail or Beaver Creek must pay an additional fee.
“The dates that are blacked out are the days that no local wants to be on the mountain, anyway,” said Rick Bell, assistant manager at Pepi Sports in Vail. “We’re here for the destination skiers; they spend a lot more money. It’s kind of a good thing.”
Mike Moore, manager at Valbruna, a skiwear shop in Vail, agrees to an extent.
“They pick those days because it’s busy,” he said. “If it’s a serious crowding problem, I can see why they’d do it. But for the ill will they get out of it, I don’t think it’s good for them.”
“The reason we implement restrictions on the Colorado Pass is because those are the highest demand days,” Ladyga said, adding that guest surveys indicate satisfaction has increased since the implementation of blackout dates. “We do it to manage the quality of the guest experience because the goal is to build loyalty to our resorts in the form of return visits. It’s worked well for Vail and Beaver Creek.”
They could be feasible for the Breckenridge Ski Resort, which hosted a record 1.468 million skiers last season, making it the most densely packed resort in the nation.
Because some skiers and merchants are opposed to blackout dates, town and ski area officials have brainstormed ways to ease crowding without barring skiers from the slope.
According to Breckenridge Town Manager Tim Gagen, one of the ideas is to create a “premium day,” on which passholders can present their ski pass and pay an additional fee to ski on busy days. Another idea is to let discounted-pass holders ski on the pass if they stay overnight somewhere in Summit County.
Ski officials don’t want blackout days to affect skier numbers. But they don’t know at which point restrictions might begin to have negative implications.
“We want every guest – whether they’re here with a discounted pass from the Front Range or a destination skier from Texas – to have a quality experience so they buy a pass next year or visit us next season,” Ladyga said. “This is just a way to manage the whole experience.”
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