One Pass to Ski Them All
Alterra and Vail Resorts are going head to head snapping up resorts. Can they save skiing and make selling lift tickets a viable business?
Even among the world’s most polished ski resorts, Deer Valley—with its vast carpets of flawlessly groomed snow spread across four Utah peaks—was always conspicuously clubby. Skiers can pick up a free copy of the Wall Street Journal on their way to the fire, while instructors eat lunch in separate employee cafeterias, lest they mingle with the guests. “The idea was to replicate the service and experience of a five-star hotel,” says Bob Wheaton, who ran the resort for 22 years before stepping aside in January.
But when the lifts started cranking this season, things looked a little different. Among the affluent families were young couples and packs of Salt Lake City friends navigating the runs for the first time. The reason: Deer Valley had suddenly become a bulk-buy product. In 2017 a new conglomerate (later dubbed Alterra Mountain Co.) bought 11 of America’s most popular ski resorts and teamed with dozens more mountain owners to honor a single-season lift ticket called the Ikon Pass. Compared with buying a string of daily lift tickets for as much as $200 a pop, the Ikon Pass (which ranges from $599 to $899) can pay for itself in as few as three days. Only one other product is in direct competition with Ikon: The Epic Pass from Vail Resorts Inc. admits skiers to its aggressively expanding chain of 20 destinations including the company’s namesake ski area in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.