The ski industry has been experiencing a game-changer in the form of resort consolidation and passes like the Mountain Collective, Ikon, Epic, and Max that allow users access to numerous resorts. This year, Sun Valley Resort will leave the Mountain Collective and join the Epic Pass, which allows users access to a number of Vail Resorts-owned destinations and partner resorts (like Sun Valley, which will remain independently-owned) in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and worldwide.
“Joining the Epic Pass was a logical fit for Sun Valley and our sister resort in Utah, Snowbasin,” said Kelli Lusk, public relations and communications manager for Sun Valley Resort. “We wanted to provide more options for our guests and to be a part of the industry-leading pass.”
Whether to join a pass and which one is a major decision for a resort. When consolidation—the financial merging of multiple resorts and the offering of multi-resort passes—began 20 years ago, it was thought it might re-energize the ski industry. And it has definitely had its benefits: more mountains under one company or pass is an insurance against bad snowfall, most passes pay for themselves after only a handful of visits when compared to the cost of one-day tickets, and it offers skiers and snowboarders the chance to visit mountains they might never visit otherwise.
“The decision to go with one partnership pass or the other would largely depend on what each resort is seeking from joining it,” offered Lusk. “For us, it made sense to go with the Epic Pass. It offers different pass options, it includes other resorts that match well, and it includes many of our target markets with skiers who might visit Sun Valley for the first time.”
On the other hand, the passes that are so good for those weekend warriors hitting numerous resorts don’t necessarily benefit local skiers who want to ski at resorts close to home or for vacationers spending a full week at a resort. Some complain that consolidation and joint passes has also hurt the “soul” of skiing, putting much more emphasis on development and less on the skier experience.
According to Bloomberg News, since 2012, most of North America’s 50 largest mountains have joined a collective or have been acquired by one of the industry’s two heavy-hitters: Aspen Skiing Co. or Vail Resorts. In addition to those two corporations/holding companies, the market is dominated by three others who own some of the biggest ski resorts in North America: Powdr Corporation, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, and EPR Properties.
“Consolidation is a normal stage in the evolution of many industries, including skiing,” said Tim Silva, vice president and general manager of Sun Valley Resort. “The primary benefit to skiers from this current wave has been a significant reduction in the cost of season passes, coupled with access to an impressive array of resorts.”
This season, Sun Valley Resort will offer four Epic Pass options: the Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass, Epic 7-Day Pass, and Epic 4-Day pass. The Epic Pass offers unlimited, unrestricted access to 20 resorts, as well as other perks like access to 30 European resorts, five consecutive days at Hakuba Valley and Rusutsu, Japan, and a number of Buddy Tickets and Ski-With-A-Friend (SWAF) tickets. The Epic Local Pass offers unlimited, unrestricted access to only nine resorts with other resort access restricted by holidays. Options like half-price tickets during blackout days and advance lift ticket rates give access to other resorts while this passholder gets the same number of Buddy Tickets and SWAF tickets as the unrestricted Epic.
The Epic 7-Day Pass and 4-Day Pass simply allow the holder access to 21 resorts for either seven or four days and discounts increase with each additional day a guest plans to ski or ride. Sun Valley season passholders with an unrestricted Challenger, Young Adult Challenger, and College Pass will also receive a reciprocal benefit of 50 percent off Vail Resorts-owned and operated destinations.
“Resorts might join a partnership pass for various reasons,” noted Lusk. “For us, it is an excellent way to welcome skiers and boarders who have yet to experience Sun Valley and at a reasonable cost. We all benefit from cross marketing and promoting to new and existing skiers and boarders. We want our sport to thrive and grow, so if being a part of a partnership pass helps us to get there, then it can be beneficial for everyone in the industry.”