Mountain Town News: Have Ikoneers ruined the ski experience of locals?
March 5, 2019
ASPEN, Colo. – As a business product, the Ikon Pass seems to be working. Too much so?
That's the sentiment of at least some local skiers at the 28 participating resorts in North America. Locals complain of crowded roads, parking lots, and lift lines. That's not all – there are also complaints about skiers on the slopes who just aren't that good.
The Aspen Daily News suggests unprecedented lift lines– at least in recent times – at Aspen and Snowmass.
"We're on our way to becoming more like Vail," said Ian Long, the owner of a local construction company.
Just how many Ikon Passes are being used? Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co., declines to answer. "We're a privately held company, and we don't want to tell our competitors what we're doing or how we're doing it," he told Mountain Town News.
Hanle said the Aspen Daily News story – and the perception of some locals – is fundamentally wrong. Aspen's ski areas are definitely busier than they have been, but for a variety of reasons, he said. One is the good snow, bringing on demand suppressed by last year's drought.
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The Ikon Pass has produced new visitors, he said, but many pass holders had previously purchased other pass products, including the Mountain Collective. The Ikon Pass offers two versions, either 5 days or 7 days at Aspen, Snowmass, and the other two local ski areas.
As for lift lines? Hanle said other than early morning lines, he saw none at all on Saturday.
At Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Ikoneers—the new word to describe pass holders—account for 14 percent of skier days so far this season, reports the Jackson Hole News& Guide.
"I haven't seen it this busy in 30-plus years of skiing this mountain," Nick Londy told the newspaper. "There's no doubt the Ikon Pass is part of that."
But as with Aspen, these are not necessarily all new skiers, but rather return customers with a new product.
Jackson Hole has set many records in recent years, and this year looks to have yet another all-time high of nearly 700,000 skier days. Based on current trends for the season, 100,000 will have used the Ikon Pass, while almost 300,000 will come from locals.
For those locals, though, many see a perfectly wonderful ski season ruined by newcomers. But Bill Maloney, who lives at the base of the ski area, concedes that it's difficult to pin down cause versus correlation.
The News&Guide points out that the pass, at least to anyone able to afford extended trips to far-flung ski mountains, "is a bargain hunter's fantasy." Purchased early, the pass costs $900 and provided unlimited skiing at 14 resorts and up to 7 days at each of the other 14, including both Jackson Hole and Aspen, but also 3 resorts outside of North America.
Among those getting their money's worth is Bobby Johnston, of Oakland, California. He and his girlfriend were skiing at Jackson Hole after previous stops at California's Squaw Valley and Utah's Solitude, Snowbird, and Deer Valley. All are Ikon resorts.
After Jackson Hole, they planned to head north: Montana's Big Sky, the three ski areas near Banff in Alberta, and Revelstoke in British Columbia.
"Jackson is definitely one of the big reasons why we went for it," he said. "I think seeing that name kind of sealed the deal in my mind."
One idea with some buzz is whether the premier resorts like Aspen and Jackson Hole should start offering a premier pass-plus. Such a pass would give buyers a full-season pass at the local area or areas but also provide some of the benefits of the Ikon Pass.
The Ikon Pass was launched by the Alterra Mountain Co., which was formed by KSL Capital Partners and the Crown family. The Crown family also owns the Aspen Skiing Co., while the key executives of KSL Capital Partners mostly worked for Vail Resorts or its predecessor at one time. The Ikon Pass competes head to head with the Epic Pass of Vail Resorts.
From an adopted child to now a ski area competing with dad
DILLON, Colo. – Twenty-two years ago, when Vail Associates reinvented itself as Vail Resorts and set out to dominate the ski world its first expansion was from Vail into Summit County, Colorado. In one fell swoop, Vail and Beaver Creek became joined at the hip with erstwhile competitors Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin.
Competitors in Colorado cried foul! The U.S. Justice Department agreed, ruling that in getting three of the four resorts in Summit County, Vail had violated antitrust regulation. Vail would have to spin off one of the three resorts. It chose Arapahoe Basin, which was sold to Dundee Realty, a firm based at Beaver Creek.
Competitors were not amused when Vail, as it began crafting the pass program that eventually became branded as the Epic Pass, began selling season passes that included Arapahoe Basin.
At the time, A-Basin was a very different place. Little changed since its opening in 1946. No snowmaking, your basic foodstuffs, and adequate lift infrastructure but not a quick-sprint of a lift ride up the mountain.
So much has changed: Snowmaking came first, putting A-Basin into the game of being North America's first ski area to open each year. Then came terrain expansion, plus new lifts and new high-end food service to match the terrain that reaches 13,000 feet. Altogether, $40 million has been invested in the last 15 years.
A-Basin has been so successful that it is now breaking up with Vail Resorts. The Epic Pass will not include A-Basin next winter.
"'We think we're ready to go this on our own and handle this in a different way than we have the last 22 years," chief executive Alan Henceroth told the Summit Daily News.
Precipitating the split, he said, was the traffic congestion along Highway 6. There's just no room to park, nor is there room in the vicinity for another parking lot.
A-Basin now is evaluating its options. The Summit Daily notes many people would like to see the Ikon Pass, although that presents some obvious questions about whether that would mirror the current problem.
Vail Resorts quickly responded by announcing a new pass called Keystone Plus that seems to provide a direct competition to whatever pass A-Basin ends up with. The new pass would be good at Keystone, located just 5 miles from A-Basin, unlimited late-spring skiing at Breckenridge, and five days at Crested Butte (except for holidays). Such a pass would seem to appeal to bargain-hunting skiers from Colorado's Front Range.
Breckenridge, meanwhile, has set out to compete in the late-season skiing market. It plans to remain open until Memorial Day this year and in years to come.
New record snowfall in Jackson, and flakes in L.A.
JACKSON, Wyo. – What a lot of weird, wonderful, wacky weather during February. Most of all, it's been snowy across much of the American West.
In Wyoming, Jackson set a February snowfall record with days to spare. The town had 43.3 inches of snowfall for the month as of Sunday. The Jackson Hole News&Guide reported that on the big ski hill, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 131 inches of snow had fallen at Rendezvous Bowl during February, not a record but close.
In California, February snowfall records were also being challenged in the southern Sierra, noted Daniel Swain on his California Weather Blog.
More noteworthy was the snow falling at low elevations. Redding, located 500 feet above sea level in the central valley north of Sacramento, got nearly a foot of snow. Los Angeles got some flakes, and the coastal hills above San Diego even got significant accumulations.
Swain attributed these abnormalities to weather patterns in Alaska and the Arctic. Still, he added, temperatures across much of California since October have been substantially warmer than the long-term average.
Figuring out where buyers of real estate come from
VAIL, Colo. – A land-title company recently reported that only 1 to 2 percent of buyers of real estate in Eagle County, where Vail and Beaver Creek are located, are from outside the United States.
Too low, say several real estate agents who deal with high-end properties. Double that, they say.
Ron Byrne, who deals with high-end real estate, told the Vail Daily that federal rules governing real estate purchases often cause buyers to work through attorneys in the United States. Others have from U.S.-based limited liability companies. They do it this way, both for legal purposes but also to protect their privacy.
Local residents were the No. 1 purchasers of real estate in the county during 2018, followed by other Colorado residents. Among those from other states, Texas led the list, followed by Florida, California, and Illinois.
Another ski town making plastic bags more difficult
WINTER PARK, Colo. – Come July, stores in Winter Park will be required to tack on a 20-cent fee when disposable plastic bags are used.
The fee approved by the Winter Park Town Council echoes that previously adopted by the nearby town of Fraser except in the most minor of ways. Of the money collected, 60 percent will go to the town while the remaining 40 percent will go to the businesses, explains the Sky-Hi News.
The bag fee got approving remarks from the Winter Park-Fraser Chamber of Commerce. "I think (the fee) does send a good message about who we are as a community," said Catherine Ross, the executive director.
Breckenridge previously took actions to crimp use of thruway plastic bags. Keith Belifi, representing a business that has stores in both Breckenridge and Winter Park, testified that the Breckenridge law has been effective. There, the fee is 10 cents.
Oh so many ways to die in the winter wonderland
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev.— Oh, such wonderful snow. And so many ways to die in it.
At Heavenly, the ski area that straddles the California-Nevada line above Lake Tahoe, the body of a 62-year-old man was found about 100 feet from the groomed trail, immersed in deep snow. Sheriff's investigators believe he could not extricate himself from the deep snow and likely suffocated or died from exposure.
Octogenarian skiers have had a tough time in Colorado. At Crested Butte, an 87-year-old skier ended up in a tree well and died. At Beaver Creek, a hard fall was all it took to kill an 85-year-old woman at Beaver Creek.
Avalanches have claimed several lives. In the backcountry of the Elk Range, between Aspen and Crested Butte, two men training for the annual race between the two towns triggered an avalanche on a 37-degree slope. While avalanches have occurred on slopes of as little as 11 degrees, most deadly avalanches occur on slopes of between 30 and 45 degrees.
In the sidecountry of Telluride, a man died while skiing up Bear Creek. It was his eternal misfortune to be below several snowboarders who set off an avalanche on the slope above him.
And an avalanche also claimed the life of an Australian woman snowboarding in closed terrain on Whistler Blackcomb.
Near Sun Valley, heavy snows caused an avalanche that created a 30-foot-tall ice dam in the Wood River, causing the river to flood into adjoining areas, threatening several homes near the community of Hailey.