Much discussion (and cussin’) of Ikon Pass

Have the ‘Ikoneers’ ruined  locals’ ski experiences in this year of great snow?

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.

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 vs. 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. Alterra Mountain Co. does not own either Jackson Hole and Aspen (although owners of Aspen are part owners of Alterra).

Among those getting their money’s worth is Bobby Johnston, of Oakland, Calif. 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.

Also acknowledged by people in both Snowmass and Jackson Hole is the fact that the ski industry has for decades been essentially flat in in its numbers. Jackson Hole, Beaver Creek and a few other ski areas have had big growth. So has Arapahoe Basin. But not the industry as a whole. In that regard, shouldn’t this be welcome?

Madeleine Osberger at the Aspen Daily News rummaged around this question in a story posted Friday.

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.

Allen Best