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Mountain News: Vail Resorts takes on competition with Epic $579 pass



VAIL, Colo. – Ten years ago Winter Park Resort introduced mayhem in the ski industry with its decision to heavily discount its season ski pass. This step caused operators of other ski areas catering to the huge number of skiers from the Colorado’s Front Range urban corridor to similarly discount their prices.

Now, Vail Resorts has upped the ante. It has drastically reduced the price of admission at Vail and Beaver Creek, its top resorts, with a new pass called the Epic Season Pass. The cost of $579 for the season provides unrestricted access to Vail and Beaver Creek, but also Breckenridge, and Keystone, plus California’s Heavenly Mountain.

Before, the company had offered a season pass to Breckenridge and Keystone, with 10 days at Vail and Beaver Creek.

Seen as a business proposition in the highly competitive ski industry, the new season pass is expected to have two big waves. The first wave is to make life difficult for other ski areas which compete for Front Range skiers, and particularly Copper Mountain and Winter Park, which are both operated by Intrawest, but also several smaller ski areas, including Loveland and Eldora.

Vail Resorts officials discounted the effect to the Front Range market. John Garnsey, chief executive vice president of the Vail Resorts Mountain Division, said the company expected to sell an additional 12,000 passes for next winter in Colorado. Denverites won’t want to shell out another $150 for unrestricted skiing at Vail and Beaver Creek, instead of just 10, Garnsey told the Vail Daily.

Even so, Vail town officials are greatly concerned about increased traffic from Denver on I-70. The town already has a severe parking problem, although much of that problem is because of the growing number of so-called “locals,” and not skiers from Denver and other Front Range cities.

Andy Daly, a former executive of Vail Resorts and now a town councilman in Vail, said 12,000 additional passholders would mean a 10 per cent increase in cars. “I think the parking situation is one that we can’t leave to, ‘Well, let’s see how it works, and if we can sell more passes, then we can address it.’”

But the new ski pass will ripple broadly across the ski industry, especially at resorts catering to destination guests who stay for one or more nights.

The new pass is clearly intended to give Vail Resorts a competitive advantage against Intrawest, Aspen Skiing Co. — “and everybody else,” adds Jerry Jones, a four-decade veteran of the ski resort sector with experience in the Aspen, Summit County and Vail markets.

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