An Epic Change: Epic vs Ikon passes (and the book detailing the battle)

Purple mountain majesty

Commitment vs freedom. . . a battle individuals grapple with everywhere, including on the ski slopes! Particularly this winter, when appealing prepaid lift pass products abound, commitment can pay off. Vail Resorts continues to offer various iterations of the Epic Pass. Meanwhile, Alterra Resorts launched the Ikon Pass last ski season. Both the Epic and Ikon passes, as well as other resort value passes, are most affordable well in advance of the ski season. Brave individuals willing to commit to next season’s pass get the most favorable pricing as soon as the current season ends!

Now, author and ski industry insider Chris Diamond’s second book, Ski Inc. 2020 dissects the incredible resort consolidation of the past three years. Skiing has typically been viewed as a “rich man’s sport.” Wealthy last-minute types still sidle up to the ticket counter and drop upwards of $100 for a single day of skiing. However, Chris views the current season passes developed by resorts as a trend that “rescues” skiing from remaining an elite pastime. He notes that skier visits reached a record breaking 59.1 million in 2018-2019 and predicts 60 million skier visits annually.

In this deeply researched book, award-winning author and former Steamboat president Chris Diamond analyzes the roots of the renaissance, how it played out, and why resorts are stronger today than ever. Ski Inc. 2020 offers a detailed read for anyone who wants to know what it all means to skiers and to the resort industry—from the major destinations down to the smallest day areas.

Is Vail threatened by Ikon?

How much of a concern are Ikon pass sales to Vail resorts? Not much, apparently, and they do not seem to be affecting Vail’s bottom line. Rather than specifically acknowledge the enemy by name, Rob Katz, Chief Executive Officer, recently discussed Vail’s season pass sales as of the end of September, 2019. He indicated that pass sales for the 19/20 North American ski season increased approximately 14% in units and 15% in sales dollars compared to the prior year, including Military Pass sales in both periods.

Commenting on the Company’s season pass sales for the current ski season, Katz said, “pass sales growth was modestly ahead of expectations through this point in the season, with strong results in our destination markets. In particular, we have seen very strong growth in our Northeast markets, which are benefiting from the first full year of pass sales with unlimited access at Stowe, Okemo and Mount Sunapee included on the Epic and Epic Local pass products.” He acknowledged more modest sales growth within Colorado.

Future Trends

Ski Inc. 2020 explores the dynamics between Alterra and Vail resorts, and discusses trends like vertical integration in the ski industry. A ski resort company once existed to transport individuals up mountains to provide access to trails. Now, they also provide numerous options for food, lessons, goggles, skis, poles, lodging, and almost every other aspect of a ski vacation. The author further analyzes the marketing tactics each resort company or conglomerate uses, including the aspirational “adventure lifestyle” touted by POWDR, the “indie” flavors of resorts like Taos and Alta, or the exclusivity of the Yellowstone Club. The book also summarizes the major challenges facing the ski industry in years to come: climate change, participation, and ski towns losing their identity. Anyone looking for an in-depth, extremely well researched ride through the changing dynamics of the ski industry and sport should pick up this book!

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