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Mountain News: Four-resort pass part of long-time trend

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DENVER, Colo. — The fundamental story in the ski industry for the last 15 years has been how companies will compete with Vail. The new Mountain Collective pass announced last week by Aspen, Jackson Hole, Alta and Squaw Valley can be seen as a response.

Costing $349, the pass offered two free days at each of the four resorts, after which pass holders are entitled to purchase lift tickets at a 50 per cent discount.

Rick Kahl, editor of Ski Area Management, called it a "really smart move" on the part of the four ski area operators.

"You have these sort of iconic ski areas on the same ticket. It's a relatively inexpensive way to ski two of the four, and if you ski three of them, you're in fat city."

It's also an obvious response to the Epic Pass offered by Vail Resorts. That pass, which costs $659 for the full national benefits, allows buyers unlimited skiing at the four ski areas owned by Vail in Colorado plus Arapahoe Basin, a close ally, and the three ski areas now owned by Vail in California.

Inside the ski industry, the Epic Pass has been seen as a home run for Vail Resorts. It has allowed the company to lock in customers the summer before, evening out income — and delivering revenue even in low-snow years, such as last winter.

The idea of discounted season passes didn't originate with Vail, however. That distinction goes to Idaho's Bogus Basin. With a big ski area and too few skiers, the ski area saw that less could be more: lower season passes caused more people to buy them, and a net increase in revenue.

Colorado's Winter Park next adopted the discount strategy, and then Vail Resorts, which only a few years prior had expanded from its origins in Vail into a publicly owned company that swallowed two other ski areas in Summit County. Since then, many ski companies have toyed with passes that offered discounts, allowed greater variety, but created brand loyalties.

The Sierra Sun traced the origins of the new pass to a conversation last winter among chief executives of Squaw Valley, Aspen and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The Vail Daily talked with Will Marks, who analyzes Vail Resorts for JMP Security. He said he believes the new Mountain Collective pass will have a minor impact on sales of the Epic Pass. But he said he does believe that discounted pass products are the wave of the future within the ski industry.

David Belin, a ski industry analyst for RRC Associates, a research and consulting firm, said he believed the new pass was crafted carefully so as not to cannibalize any of the resorts' client bases.

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