Colorado pass price war unlikely to spread to Whistler
Whistler stands alone among North American ski resorts, in more ways than one.
While Whistler-Blackcomb is still winding down the busiest season in the history of North American ski resorts, in Colorado they are already selling next year’s season passes — for less than $300!
A pass price war among Colorado resorts, which started last fall, was rekindled just before the Easter weekend by Winter Park. The resort owned by the city of Denver announced it was bringing back the Everyday Four Pack — four adult season passes — for $895. The limited time offer included free skiing for the remainder of this season.
Since then, Intrawest’s Copper Mountain Resort, Loveland Ski Area and Keystone and Breckenridge — two resorts owned by Vail Resorts — have offered 1999-2000 season passes for between $250 and $300 US. And last week, Big Mountain in Montana, Bogus Basin in Idaho and White Pass in Washington got into the act, offering adult season passes for between $200 and $289.
While some areas are limiting the number of discounted passes they will sell and others are selling them for a limited time only, the fact that some of the best ski areas in Colorado are offering season passes for less than half of what it cost for a Whistler-Blackcomb season pass last fall ($1,159 at the early bird price; $1,039 for an Ambassador Pass) speaks volumes about what kind of winter Colorado has had.
"It’s been interesting to watch," said David Perry, vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler-Blackcomb.
"It’s a different situation there, with all the ski areas competing for the Front Range (Denver area) market," said Perry.
While Colorado is the biggest single destination ski area in the hemisphere, there has been a history of cost cutting measures among Colorado resorts as they fight for Front Range skiers.
Last fall, Copper launched its Family Pass, passes for four members of the same family for $795. Winter Park responded by offering a four-pass package at the same price, but the four pass purchasers didn’t have to be related. The $200 per person passes were between $300 and $600 off the full price.
"That changed it. It blew the lid off things," said Perry.
Vail, through its Keystone and Breckenridge resorts, also got into the pass price war.
Winter Park said it started discounting passes to get people back into the sport, but the cheap passes generated national media coverage and quickly the passes that were aimed at Colorado residents were being bought by destination skiers.
"It was cutting into the destination market. People who would normally book a tour were buying season passes," said Perry.
"It’s one thing to stimulate interest in skiing. It’s another thing to drop the price of the product so low."
And with Colorado having such a poor snow year, Perry suggested it’s difficult to read the impact of last fall’s price war.
As for the current pass price war’s impact on next season, Perry said it’s too early to tell what it means.
"Their numbers were down for this past winter, so their revenue was down, too."
And now Grouse Mountain is offering discounts on next winter’s season passes ($200, until April 30). But don’t expect Whistler-Blackcomb to get into a price war. For one thing, there aren’t any other ski resorts in B.C. that really compete with Whistler-Blackcomb.
Perry says Whistler-Blackcomb will maintain its regional pricing strategy, offering a variety of discounts for locals and Vancouver-area skiers. But a $250-$300 season pass isn’t in the cards.