Boulder, CO, Oct. 27--Last fall, when Winter Park, CO, offered a discounted season pass, or buddy pass, the response was overwhelming. Not only did the resort enjoy record-breaking season pass sales, Winter Park also got a good deal of heat from other ski areas who objected to what they called price gauging. Only a handful of resorts took heed and matched the discount season pass deal.
One year later, the buddy pass bonanza is in full swing. The idea has spread like wildfire, with most major US ski resorts offering some kind of bargain season pass. All the participating resorts agree that contrary to what they expected, the discount deal has been good for the industry and good for business. Not only did it reached the elusive "lapsed skier", it also brought in plenty of dollars in ancillary revenues made on passholders who regularly dined, shopped, or booked lodging.
"There are many good reasons why we continued it," said Joan Christensen, communications director for Winter Park, the Colorado resort that pioneered the discount pass idea. "We sold a lot of passes, we got a lot of people back into the sport, and we got some money in the bank."
Breckenridge and Keystone offered the buddy pass last season and renewed the deal this year, but at a slightly higher price. "Once you set a product like this one out in the marketplace, you can't just yank it away," said Bruce Mainzer, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Vail Resorts. He expects this year's sales to be close to last year's 60,000 figure.
While Mainzer and others felt that the pricing was "irrational" last year, business turned out to be much more profitable than expected--despite poor weather in Colorado. Mainzer said they were especially pleased with the spending habits of the passholders.
"We converted people from day skiers to overnight stays. It was great for us in terms of filling up our lodges," Mainzer added. The resorts found that if people had passes, they would ski no matter what the conditions. As a result, they would buy lunches, stay over night, and spend money in other areas.
This year, Booth Creek and the American Skiing Company (ASC) got in on the action, bringing the cheap pass trend to the East. ASC's Sugarbush Resort, VT, reportedly sold $1.2 million worth of its discount early-season pass. At Killington Resort, VT, news bureau director, Amy Phalon, reported, "we sold considerably more season passes this year than last year."
Booth Creek offered season passes for nearly half-price this year at it's eight resorts in both the East and the West. So far, according to vice-president of marketing, Julie Maurer, they've seen some good results from, "people who have not skied in several seasons." She added, "in general, we're seeing a large increase in the season pass business." The early boom of pass sales has made Booth Creek optimistic about skier turnout this season.
While the resorts say they have not yet been able to quantify how much money they made on discount pass holders last season, what is known is that the passes well made up for their discount prices. So with pass sales running strong this year, this could mean more skiers and more money for the resorts, despite La Nina and the fickleness of winter weather.