John Baum

Lake Tahoe resident John Baum enjoys a leisurely ski down Snowmass Ski Area Wednesday morning using a few of his Ikon pass ski days while visiting Aspen/Snowmass. Many locals have commented on the increase in mountain traffic brought upon by the Ikon Pass, though neither Aspen Skiing Co. nor Alterra will confirm how much impact the passes have had on the four area mountains.

If anecdotal evidence or one-on-one encounters with guests on lifts, restaurants and skier shuttles is any indication, the Ikon Pass that made its debut this season is a smash hit.

But just how many people are using their Ikon Pass, which includes Aspen Skiing Co. as a “premium destination partner” offering a set number of redeemable days, is proprietary information and won’t be released either by SkiCo or Alterra Mountain Co., spokespersons for both companies said this week.

“I am happy to hear the Ikon Pass has so much buzz up there,” said Kristin Rust of Alterra, the Denver-based company that was formed in 2017 when Henry Crown and Co., which is connected to the Crown family who own SkiCo, and private equity firm KSL Capital acquired Intrawest’s resort holdings like Steamboat and Stratton, Vt. and later, additional assets in California and elsewhere.

“However, we do not release any kind of sales numbers or partnership details,” Rust reiterated in two separate emails.

The Ikon Pass, which counters Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass, “gives skiers and riders the opportunity to access nearly 50,000 skiable acres of unique terrain across the continent, with pass privileges that range from full unlimited access to a set number of days that vary by destination,” according to the initial press release from Alterra that announced the concept in early 2018.

Ikon includes other partner resorts outside of the Alterra ownership umbrella. For Roaring Fork Valley locals, it was never intended to be a replacement pass for the one SkiCo sells to the four area mountains.

But given that the Aspen/Snowmass areas seem generally busier on Fridays and weekends with out-of-towners making good use of their Ikon Pass, some locals who shell out for a SkiCo Premier Pass are starting to ask, “what do we get in return?” That point was noted last week by a long-time practitioner of the healing arts who asked his name not be used for this story.

A Steamboat Springs resident who is planning a trip to Aspen next week shared that she paid $899 for the super early season Ikon Pass for 2018-19. The price rose to $999 between May and Oct. 8, and ascended to $1,049 after that time. It includes unlimited access to her home mountain and 13 others, plus seven days at Aspen Snowmass, Alta Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Taos, Big Sky and about a dozen other resorts.

For Ian Long of Snowmass Village, the Ikon issue is more about crowding than parity.

“I think we’re on our way to becoming more like Vail,” Long, the owner of a local construction company, said during an interview Thursday. He said he has observed more lift lines and more crowded restaurants of late, which he sees as evidence of the pass’ impact.

Long said he had recently met some visitors who were dismayed by the new phenomenon of Aspen-area lift lines, which they found off-putting in light of the cost of vacationing here.

“They may rethink where they’re going to go next and maybe try to find a place that’s ‘uncrowded by design,’ Long said with a laugh, as he referenced SkiCo’s former marketing tag line.

 

Playing the long game

The positive impact on the local resort economy could be considered one barometer of the Ikon Pass’ success, according to some business operators.

“For us, it’s proven to be very popular. I think there are a lot of Ikon Pass holders in Colorado,” said Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman.

“From personal experience, I’ve met plenty of people who haven’t been here before. That’s a success. Once someone comes, it might dispel some preconceived notions they might have had about this place,” Hanle said. “We feel it can help create long-term guests.”

Hanle said he also suspects the impact will be seen in occupancy numbers — “I don’t think all these people are sleeping on their friend’s couch” — and pointed out a TripAdvisor review that was submitted by an Ikon Pass user who stayed at the new Limelight Hotel in Base Village.

He said it’s harder to gauge the impact of pass holders on local restaurants.

Up at Gwyn’s High Alpine, the Ikon effect is clear, according to general manager Whitney Gordon.

“We have seen a lot of the Ikon Pass holders and although many of them are from the Denver area, we have also seen customers from all over the country who have access to a local resort through the Ikon Pass and then use them to vacation here,” Gordon said.

While she said it’s not possible to provide “definitive numbers, we are made very well aware of them because many of the other ski areas offer them a discount so they tend to flash them and ask what kind of discount they might get here. We don’t offer one but they always say it’s worth asking,” she said.

It’s possible that the advent of passes like Ikon and Epic is bringing another breed of snow sport enthusiast to the table, one who in recent years has been shut out due to the sport’s high costs.

“We also have seen an uptick in sack lunches which seem to be associated with the pass,” Gordon said. “We heard a rumor from a SkiCo employee that there have been days when 25 percent of the skier traffic were Ikon Pass holders but that could just be hearsay.”

Hanle allowed that so far this season the Ikon Pass “is pushing the numbers up on the weekends for sure.”

 

Madeleine Osberger is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at madski@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @Madski99