Ski resorts turn to subscriptions

Hanging out with a fancy group of friends and don’t know what to talk about? As if they prefer Epic or Ikon, and watch the ensuing debate light up the room. 

Driving the news: Ski resort conglomerates across Canada and the U.S. are turning to a subscription model (tell us if you’ve heard this before) to lock skiers and snowboarders into their networks — which means selling as many season passes as possible, per The WSJ. 

  • Vail Resorts had locked down 2.3 million “subscribers” before the season last year, securing a steady income stream as the weather becomes increasingly volatile.

Catch-up: Vail Resorts, which owns the iconic Canadian ski resort Whistler Blackcomb, introduced the first mega-pass model back in 2008 with the launch of Epic Pass, kicking off an acquisition spree in the sector that has created two dominant forces in the industry. 

  • Alterra Mountain Company, which acquired Canada’s Mont Tremblant and Blue Mountain, followed suit with the launch of its rival multi-resort Ikon Pass in 2018.

  • The vast networks can mean that independent operators get squeezed, either from the loss of skiers or having to surrender their revenue to be part of the program.

Why it matters: While these passes can enhance the mountain experience and offer great value for powder hounds who can’t get enough of the slopes, the push to get people to sign up means single-day lift tickets are getting expensive — as much as $299 during peak times

Bottom line: Skeptics also worry that big resorts are “homogenizing mountain culture” by increasing the cost of living in ski towns and stoking over-tourism. But in a sector that makes $4 billion every year in Canada, it’s clear the mega pass movement is here to stay.—MH, SB