Long, long ago, in this very country, if you wanted to try out several different ski resorts throughout your winter, you could simply buy day tickets at that mountain. Visiting a resort for four days, but have no intention of visiting more throughout the season? Purchase four day passes. Looking to go on vacation in Colorado and want to check out Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Vail, and Aspen? Purchase a lift ticket for each of those mountains. Sure, if you lived near a resort and intended to ski there a ton, it made sense to purchase a season pass, but, otherwise, lift tickets were generally the day.
Now, however, with lift tickets rising more and more every season, reaching over $200 at some mountains, its become incredibly non-cost effective to purchase simple day passes. Instead, mega passes are generally the way to make your ski season happen, and visiting multiple resorts that don’t sit on the same season passes is impossible for many. You may be reading this and thinking “I already know all of this, why is any of this significant?” Well, it’s entirely possible that you still believe lift tickets are the dominant forms of mountain access in this country. If that’s your belief, well, I hate to tell you this, but you’re wrong.
According to Aspen Daily News, season pass holders have been the dominant form of mountain access since 2019-20 season. In that year, 45.5% of visits were by season pass holders, while only 43.5% were made up by single day passes. Since then, it’s only gotten more severe, with last season seeing season passes representing 51.9% of visits and lift tickets representing only 37.3% of visits (the remaining percentage is represented by employee passes and complimentary tickets).
So why, exactly, is this the trend? The most obvious reason is, of course, prices and access. The day prices for many mountains are so high that skiing only five or six days can completely pay off a season pass, depending on the resort and pass. Incentives for short term visitors of mountains to purchase passes also exist, driving the changing trend even further.
On top of those factors is the reach that major companies have over the ski industry int he United States. The major passes featured in the pass war, the Ikon Pass and the Epic Pass, provide access to a combined 92 resorts across the world, with Ikon providing access to 51 and Epic providing access to 41. The Indy Pass, a rapidly growing ski pass that provides two days of access to 110 resorts across the world, is also a part of the change. Finally, some mountains have begun limiting day-pass sales, meaning, in some areas, the only way to really guarantee a day of skiing is by purchasing a season pass.
There are plenty of resorts that still sell more local day passes than season passes, and local season passes are still more common than the major group season passes at some resorts, but the trend of season passes representing significantly more visits than lift tickets is continuing to grow, and, according to Aspen Daily News, the 2022-23 season is set to be no different.
I have very mixed reviews on this matter. First of all, I love having a large pass. Personally, I go with the Ikon Pass every year, as it gives me access to several mountains near Denver and I’m a big fan of all of them. However, I would say it makes it quite difficult to get into skiing as a newby. Skiing is expensive, and with day prices reaching over $200 on top of the prices for rental gear and transportation, someone who’s never hit the slopes before could very easily be scared away by the intense costs. I would love to see as many people having access to this sport as possible, but it doesn’t really seem like that will be the case any time soon.