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Mt. Rose-Courtesy of Andy Mink
We are finally seeing the pushback against high-priced daily lift passes. One of the trends we saw this past Christmas in the Tahoe Basin was that many day skiers were bypassing the major resorts with their $200+ day tickets and heading to the smaller resorts and ski areas. We heard the names Diamond Peak, Donner Ski Ranch, Homewood, and Mt Rose mentioned more this season than in any year past. These smaller resorts might not have the sex appeal of the Epic and Ikon destination resorts, but they offer a level of affordability for Joe and Jane Skier and their two kids. The Skier family is frustrated because unless they purchased a season pass months in advance, a day on the hill could easily cost $2,000, once you add up lift tickets, parking, rentals, lunch, lessons, and maybe a snack.

Diamond Peak-Textrovert With the advent of the Epic and Ikon multiresort passes, along with the Mountain Collective Pass and competitive pricing of local mountains' passes, we are seeing the dreaded Christmas holiday traffic become more like midseason crowds. We see the multiresort passes becoming the industry norm, but what is more interesting is the breakdown of the unlimited full passes versus the regular passes that have blackout days over the holiday periods. I was unable to get official numbers for the breakdown, but the unconfirmed number that keeps coming is that only about 25% of the Ikon passes bought this season were the unlimited full version. We could not get any intel from the Vail side, but I would expect the numbers to be similar. What does that mean? Well, the only people who were out on the slopes during the 12/26-12/31 week were full passholders and skiers who bought day passes, while the rest of the passholders were home doing other things or maybe skiing in the backcountry.

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Heavenly Resort
This past Christmas break, Tahoe was in midseason form. There were minimal road closures, fantastic midwinter conditions, near 100% lift operations -- but no horrific crowds. We believe this is where the passes are leveling the skier days. “Locals” and the regular weekend warriors who have the base Ikon or Epic Tahoe passes stayed away over the holiday week. We even saw it at Mt Rose, where we have seen longer lift lines on a powder day in March than there were this past season between Christmas and New Year's.

Homewood-Socalgal.jpg Why are we seeing this much of a discrepancy in percentages from the passes that have minimal blackout days and the unlimited passes? These differences vary from resort to resort, but in most cases are in the $100 to $200 range, less than the cost of a single day ticket at these resorts. IMHO, the why comes down to skiortophobia, aka the fear of skiing over the holidays. We have all heard the horror stories of having to park three ski areas away and take four shuttle buses (one you have to take twice) to the resort, 3-hr rental lines, 6-hr lift lines, and lesson groups with 20 beginners per instructor. Yes, these are slight exaggerations, but you get the idea. People used to hate skiing over the holidays, but now crowds are indeed less holiday-like. So for next season, the smart money will be to buy the full unlimited pass and ski over Christmas because everyone is skiing over the holidays because it’s not too crowded.
About author
I started skiing in the mid-70s in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania; from then on, I found myself entrenched in the industry. I have worked in various ski shops from suburban to ski town to resort, giving me a well-rounded perspective on what skiers want from their gear. That experience was parlayed into my time as a Gear Review Editor and also consulting with manufacturers as a product tester. Along with being a Masterfit-trained bootfitter I am a fully certified self proclaimed Gear Guru. Not only do I keep up with the cutting edge of ski gear technology, but I am an avid gear collector and have an extensive array of bindings as well as many vintage skis.


I noticed a shocking lack of crowds at Northstar over the holidays. I never once waited in a lift line for more than 5 minutes, and never sat in traffic. The traffic thing may be because I was always gone by 1pm, but even when I'd have pickups or deliveries there in the evenings, traffic was only bad one night.
I think the drive from the bay to Tahoe has also started to wear people down.
FWIW, Crystal Mountain parking is now officially a big issue during the holiday period. Even with limited terrain open this season in that time frame, parking is full and cars turned around by 9 am. For those working at the mountain, chances of long delays and temporary road closurs/long delays due to unprepared drivers and cars are now a common reality rather than rare occurence. With 55k IKON passes sold locally, Crystal desperately needs the help of state patrol to monitor chain up area, and simply educate those new to the area and region about the drive up, as well as say the dreaded "no" word to those who are in vehicles with no chains, improper or severely worn all season tires.
High prices and really high lift ticket prices at Whistler have pushed many Vancouver and area skiers to other resorts. It is partly by design as WB Corp clearly do not want day skiers at the resort, they want out of town skiers who rent rooms and spend more. The Whistler mayor (might have been the former mayor) has in the past said that the town wants to cater to out of town skiers, and they do not want locals from Vancouver and the trash that they leave behind.
Honest, if the situation at Crystal is the new norm, weekend skiing for the kiddo and me will move to Mission Ridge.
I'm not sure you can make any conclusions from holiday patterns alone. What we do know is pass blackouts apply during holidays and that means fewer locals/weekend warriors there (plus a perception that holiday crowds will be big)

I know the article makes the point and the maths is solid - often an unrestricted upgrade is less than the cost of a day ticket yet on a pass which breaks even at 4 days is a huge proportionate upgrade
Been going to Crystal for a decade. It's by far the worse it's ever been. They had a 7600 hundred skier ski day yesterday. Record breaker. If you weren't 30 miles from the area at 7:38 yesterday, you were texted to go home.
Crystal just announced yesterday that they will now limit day pass sales (which were up to an insane $140 this past weekend!) in response to the disaster that was this past weekend. I’m pretty dissatisfied with how Alterra has been running the mountain this season (food service is the worst it has ever been, shuttles not running on a snowy day because they didn’t put the chains on, and the “no water” disaster) but I appreciate they are listening and trying to take action.

Pray that it helps. I’ve heard the statistics on Ikon pass sales for western WA and they keep creeping up, but even if you go with the first numbers I heard (27K sales this year vs. 9K last year) its a huge increase. A buddy who has a place in Greenwater which they rent sometimes says they are now seeing mid-week renters from around the country coming to use their Ikon pass where in previous years they would never have anyone mid week.
I've got the Basic Ikon pass (cuz who wants to deal with amateur hour anyway during the holidays). Ended up going to Diamond Peak (where I learned to ski way back when it was know as Ski Incline and Mt. Rose didn't include what was then known as Slide Mountain) where I had a great day with a couple buddies. As a bonus, they were giving discounts to any other pass holders.
Yep, advanced terrain at Vail was pretty empty during the xmas holidays. Bottlenecks in the lower mtn catwalks were dangerous though and intermediate level groomers were downright scary at times.
Ok. So I think I will buy the full epic pass for next season and ski during holiday period.

I intentionally didn't buy a full Ikon this season as I thought the holiday crowds will be really bad. We went to San Diego instead. Looks like that was a mistake.
Yep, advanced terrain at Vail was pretty empty during the xmas holidays. Bottlenecks in the lower mtn catwalks were dangerous though and intermediate level groomers were downright scary at times.

we flew out of the 27th, but you are right - it’s was pretty empty esp. Christmas Day and the 26 - skied on to most lifts.
Hmmmmm. This year Christmas and New year's were on Wednesday, which spread the XMAS/NY holiday out over two weeks instead of the usual one week. That seemed to spread out the crowd as well.

Maybe the limited blackout-day-included mega passes contributed to the lower crowds, but my take is that it was mainly the calendar. Next year should provide another data point.
I'm pretty sure the photos of the lines at Vail the last few days attest to high prices not scaring everyone away....

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