The little guys have teamed up and jumped into the multi-mountain pass fray with their own option.
The ski industry is in a state of radical transformation like never before, with dozens of mountains being bought and sold, mostly between two large corporate entities: Vail Resorts and Alterra. There have been large companies that own multiple ski areas for decades, but the changes in the last five years or so are of an entirely different magnitude.
Triggered by the aggressive acquisition strategy pioneered by Vail Resorts and its multi-mountain Epic Pass over a decade ago, and ratcheted up more recently by the creation of Alterra in 2018 (which announced the purchase of Vermont’s Sugarbush last week) and the introduction of the Ikon Pass last year – designed to compete with Vail’s growing influence and market share – the pace of consolidation has only heightened. These innovative multi-mountain pass products have made season passes and lift tickets more affordable, and they've put a whole host of destinations within financial reach of the average skier and rider Yet it is increasingly an industry in which two giants are slugging it out over every last skier dollar, and those mountains who have been left out are feeling the pinch.
Enter the Indy Pass. Rather than sit back and bemoan the consolidation facing the industry, a group of 44 mountains has decided to team up and offer skiers and riders a different way to get their variety fix. With member ski areas spread across North America, including mountains in California, Washington, Utah, and Idaho, as well as ten resorts across the Northeast, including Suicide Six, Bolton Valley, and Magic Mountain in Vermont, Pats Peak in New Hampshire, and Greek Peak in New York, the pass gives owners two days at each ski area – for only $199 (some blackouts apply at a few mountains – check the website FAQ for more details). It’s an almost irresistible option for those who value variety, saving money, and skiing at smaller, more family-friendly spots. Make sure to grab yours before the price goes up on December 1.
Spearheaded by Doug Fish and Nate Parr, two Portland-based ski marketing pros (with a little insider know-how help from Ken Rider, the general manager at Brundage Mountain, Idaho), the Indy Pass has a surprisingly large variety of mountains for its first year. The fact that they’ve been able to get so many well-loved local mountains signed up in such a short period of time speaks volumes about the pressure the Epic and Ikon passes have put on the market.
We met Doug at the Boston Ski Expo and we had the following conversation over email. It has been edited for length and clarity. ….
Ice Coast Magazine: The ski pass market has been in an almost constant state of flux during the past half decade or so, and this has affected the ownership structures of many North American ski areas. Tell me about the moment you decided to create a pass that would help smaller mountains team up and stay afloat in the face of this new pass arms race.
Doug Fish: My partner and I have been consulting ski resorts on their marketing for many years and it was the fall of 2017 after Alterra announced the Ikon and the Max Pass had been blown up that we started discussing a gap we saw in the market for small to mid-sized independents and occasional skiers who weren't being served by any of the existing pass products.
ICM: How did the negotiations come together? Did you reach out to all the owners at each member mountain? How long have you been working on this?
DF: We secured the commitments of a couple of resorts early on -- Brundage Mountain in Idaho and Mt. Shasta California -- and then attended the National Ski Areas Association Winter 2019 Conference at Snowbird where we launched the pass. We’d also like to give props to all the pioneering GMs, owners and marketing directors who took a chance on the first season of Indy Pass. Without these resort leaders we could not have done anything.
ICM: What did you do before creating the Indy Pass? (You mentioned that you were in marketing...) What led you to pursue this new product?
DF: I have been working with ski resorts as a marketing consultant for over 20 years.
ICM: What characteristics would you say are shared by all the mountains on the Indy Pass?
DF: They are fiercely independent (hence the name which is also derived from the Indy Grab snowboard move), mostly family-owned operations. They are generally small to mid-sized ski areas but a few have fairly extensive lodging and other resort amenities.
ICM: How many ski areas are on the pass this year, and how many are you planning on adding next year? You alluded in Boston to adding a bunch of new member mountains.
DF: We would like to add many more mountains for 2020-21, including in the East, but I won't speculate at this point as to what that looks like. We still have plenty of work to do for this season and will start working on next year in the spring.
ICM: Any chance we could get a preview of which mountains have already expressed a willingness to join?
DF: I can't say who we've talked to at this point but several have expressed interest.
ICM: How have sales been so far this early season?
DF: Sales have been solid across 45 different states and provinces but strongest in New England, New York, and the Pacific Northwest – which is what we expected. We're also seeing a recent surge in Minnesota since adding our fourth area up there.
ICM: When does the price go up? Is there a limit to the number of passes you will sell, or a final date by which the pass must be purchased?
DF: Our first price increase is scheduled for December 1 when we go from $199 to $219. On January 1 the price will go to $239 and we will continue to sell at that price until the end of February.
ICM: To whom is the pass being marketed? What does the typical Indy Pass customer look like so far?
DF: There are primarily two market segments buying the pass: frequent skiers who plan to travel and "occasionals" with less than 10 days last season.
For the right person, the Indy Pass is a dream product. For young families, kids get 25 percent off when skiing with a pass holder and if Mom and Dad both have passes, they can take a family ski vacation for under $600. We've received many kudos and supportive comments from people who are rooting for the indies.
ICM: Where do you see the ownership structure of North American ski areas in the next five or 10 years? Further consolidation? What sorts of pressures does this place on owners at smaller ski areas?
DF: I won't begin to predict the future but I think everyone agrees that more consolidation is inevitable. The independents who are left out of the corporatization movement can thrive by doing a few things. First, they need to stay true to their independence and offer a unique, welcoming, and "small-town" atmosphere to contrast the mega resorts. Secondly, they need to up their marketing sophistication with better use of analytics and market segmentation, and be diligent about data capture. Third, they need to continue investing in snow making, summer revenue streams, and non-pass related revenue sources like improved food options.
According to the NSAA, the number of lapsed skiers in the past ten years is more than double the number of "core" skiers in 2018-19. The number one reason they left the sport is the high cost. The Indy Pass offers an affordable option for casual skiers and the opportunity for small resorts to be part of a nationally branded pass program. We are excited to be a part of the future of the sport and look forward to working with our partners to grow participation and improve profitability.
Want to win a free Indy Pass for Christmas? We are giving away one free Indy Pass to one of our readers via Facebook and Instagram. Terms and conditions below:
TERMS AND CONDITIONS
The promoter is Ice Coast Magazine, sponsored by IndyPass. The competition is open to anyone aged 18 years or over except employees of Ice Coast Magazine and their close relatives and anyone otherwise connected with the organization. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this sweepstakes.By entering this sweepstakes, an entrant is indicating his/her agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions.This sweepstakes will take place via Ice Coast Magazine’s Facebook and Instagram pages.Only one entry will be accepted per person. Multiple entries from the same person will not be counted.Closing date for entry will be 12/24/2019. After this date the no further entries to the sweepstakes will be permitted.No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received for whatever reason.The rules of the sweepstakes and how to enter are as follows: Follow us on Facebook and/or Instagram and tag two friends in this post.
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12. The prize is as follows:
One IndyPass good for use in the 2019-2020 winter season. The prize is as stated and no cash or other alternatives will be offered.The prizes are not transferable. Prizes are subject to availability and we reserve the right to substitute any prize with another of equivalent value without giving notice.
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