WB announces 2017-18 pass pricing 

Is season's pass delivering more bang for your buck?

click to enlarge PHOTO BY PAUL MORRISON / WHISTLER BLACKCOMB - Whistler Blackcomb announced its 2017-18 lineup of passes this week, including Vail Resorts' Epic Pass and a cheaper season's pass.
  • Photo by paul morrison / Whistler Blackcomb
  • Whistler Blackcomb announced its 2017-18 lineup of passes this week, including Vail Resorts' Epic Pass and a cheaper season's pass.

Whistler Blackcomb (WB) has released its lineup of passes for the 2017/18 ski season, which includes the multi-resort Epic Pass and a cheaper season's pass, but not everyone is happy with the new price structure.

For the first time, WB will be included as part of Vail Resort's Epic Pass, which also offers unlimited access to Vail's U.S. and Australia resorts, along with limited access to 30 European resorts. It's priced at $1,117 until April 9.

Whistler Blackcomb's early-bird season's pass has been priced at over $100 more than the Epic Pass. For $1,229, passholders are given unlimited access to WB, along with deals on dining, retail and snow-school programs. The pass also grants 50-per-cent off winter lift tickets at any of Vail's 13 ski resorts. Additionally, those who purchase a season's pass before April 9 will receive two discounted bring-a-friend lift tickets as well as a Peak 2 Peak 360 summer sightseeing pass. The two free bring-a-friend tickets given to early-bird pass buyers in 2016 have not been offered this year.

As expected, the price of a season's pass came down — from $1,439 — following Vail's takeover of Whistler Blackcomb last summer. Historically, the ski-industry giant has come in and undercut pass prices at the resorts it acquires, boosting skier visits, while lift tickets and retail pricing have typically increased.

The company largely has two different markets in mind for its main pass options, explained Kevin Manuel, Vail's season-pass brand manager for Canada and the Pacific Northwest: destination visitors for its Epic Pass, and Sea to Sky skiers and "guests who are going to ski 15 days or more" in Whistler for its unlimited season's pass.

Manuel also addressed the elephant in the room and in local forums online: Why anyone would pay more money for a season's pass that doesn't come with the perk of unlimited skiing at Vail's resorts.

"It's a competitive option for other markets that Vail Resorts is well established in," he said. "We wanted to maintain as much of our unlimited pass products as we could while offering the value, benefits and perks that our guests are used to."

The Spirit Pass, a perk offered through the Whistler Experience customer-service training program, will continue through the 2017-18 ski season and will be priced at $1,229, compared to $1,439 this year. There has been some fear that resort employees wouldn't be enticed to take part in the program if the price of a Spirit Pass wasn't significantly less than either the Epic or season's pass, but Manuel said by the time it's up for sale in the fall and the current pricing campaign ends, there would "certainly be savings against" a season's pass.

"We're really excited to see the Spirit Pass is alive and well," said Melissa Pace, CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, which partners with WB on the Spirit Pass. "It's one of the larger benefits that employers have here for employees, so the pass price definitely comes to us as a great opportunity."

Vail has, however, discontinued the midweek, 15-day, graduate and parent passes, which allowed parents to share a pass for the price of a season's pass.

"With the $210 decrease on the adult unlimited pass, the gap between some of those restricted products was just that much lower where it didn't make sense to retain those passes," Manuel noted. In its release, WB encouraged guests to instead spring for a season's pass, Epic Pass or Edge Card.

Local mother of two Nina Moore is urging Vail to reconsider eliminating the parent pass — a sentiment shared by several parents Pique heard from — the only option affordable enough to allow her family to ski together.

"I know we live in a privileged town, that skiing is expensive, and we're really lucky to be here anyway, but the reason we make a lot of these sacrifices is because we get a chance to ski," said Moore, who likely won't be buying a pass next winter.

The super senior, youth and child passes have all gone down slightly in price from last year to $169; $729; and $429, respectively. The early-bird senior is $829 this year, up from $749 last year.

Residents of Canada and Washington State will once again be able to purchase Edge Cards offering five or 10 days of access to WB, as well as Vail's destination resorts in Colorado, Utah and Lake Tahoe. A 10-day Edge Card with holiday restrictions is available for $689, or $759 for unrestricted access. A five-day card comes in at $399 with holiday restrictions, and $439 for unrestricted access.

For full details on pass pricing, visit www.whistlerblackcomb.com/purchase/tickets-and-passes/season-passes/winter-17-18.

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