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4.0 The College Pass and multi-day ticket purchasers can now ski/ride at Killington, Okemo, Pico and Mount Sunapee


New programs, partnerships bolster region

The Rutland Region received good news at the 32nd annual Winter in August held in Rutland on Tuesday, Aug. 13, when ski resort officials announced a new partnership and joint initiatives to bolster the winter market for snow sports.
Killington and Okemo unveiled a new value-laden pass, called '4.0 The College Pass.' This pass will enable college students of any age, including graduate school, to ski or ride any day at Killington, Okemo, Pico, or Mount Sunapee. There are no blackout days to access the most terrain and lifts available on one ticket in the East!
The 59 lifts, including 13 express quads and two gondolas, give access to 378 trails, 150 miles of skiable terrain, a total of 8,727 vertical feet, and 19 terrain parks. The pass, which costs $369 plus tax, can be purchased at any one of the four areas through Dec. 15, 2013.
In addition, these areas boast the most advanced grooming and snowmaking technology in the country. Killington and Pico are sister areas under Powdr Corp, and Okemo and Mount Sunapee are sister areas under Triple Peaks. While Killington pioneered snowmaking and was a test site for grooming machines, particularly the winch cat, and grew to number one in skier visits as a result, Okemo grew to the number two Eastern area after adopting a similar dedication to snowmaking and grooming when the Muellers (owners of Triple Peaks, LLC) took over in 1982.       

      
Discounts and other benefits
The new 4.0 pass also includes five 50-percent-off, college-buddy tickets and will be sold through each resort's website and at their respective season pass offices. Additional benefits vary from resort to resort.
The Killington Resort and Pico Mountain 4.0 The College Pass holders will receive 20% off select lodging, 15% off snow sports lessons, 10% off food and beverage purchases at all base lodges, and 10% off retail at all Killington Sports locations in addition to the five buddy pre-loaded 50% off lift tickets (valid with college ID) any day of the 2013-14 season. Additionally, they receive varying discounts at Killington Access Road's restaurants, nightclubs and ski shops during Killington College Weeks, January 5-10 and 12-17, 2013. (Some restrictions may apply.)
Skiers and riders who purchase their 4.0 Season Pass at Okemo receive 25% off multi-day lift tickets at Crested Butte, its Colorado sister resort, in addition to the five 'buddy' tickets benefit. Okemo will also extend the 4.0 pass offer to students who have recently completed their scholastic career and graduated in 2013.
The 4.0 pass is great news for early-snow aficionados as Killington Resort plans to open in early November so 4.0 passholders can enjoy a head start even if Okemo - which plans a mid-November opening - is their "regular" area. This also works at the end of the season as Killington strives to maintain its beastly longest season in the East. Since Mount Sunapee opens late-November and Pico Mountain will open mid-December, there are similar benefits to their 4.0 holders, too.
Other benefits include the obvious access to varying the snow experience with such a diversity of trails and parks, but catching fresh untracked powder more often. A Tuesday or Wednesday snowstorm will enable 4.0 passholders who missed those days to enjoy new un-skied powder at Pico on Thursdays (due to Pico being closed earlier in the week). Conversely, Pico 4.0 passholders will be able to enjoy the other three areas on days Pico is closed.
And for time-short students, the closer proximity of Mount Sunapee to greater Boston area colleges could make a half-day trip doable. This could work for upstate New York college students taking Vermont ski trips as well.

$369+tax gives students access to 59 lifts, 13 express quads, 2 gondolas, 378 trails, 150 miles of terrain, 8,727 vertical feet, and 19 terrain parks.


More partnerships
"We are thrilled to partner with Okemo and Sunapee to offer the best value in a New England college season pass. We are looking forward to strengthening our relationship with our new resort partnership," stated Mike Solimano, president and general manager for Killington Resort and Pico Mountain.
"This is an unprecedented partnership between four of New England's top resorts that will offer more for college pass holders, while at the same time allowing us to explore other partnership opportunities with Killington and Pico for the future," said Okemo Mountain Resort Vice President and General Manager Bruce Schmidt.
Already that exploration is bearing fruit, as the concept of offering more diversity and value is being extended to others this winter via multi-day packages of three or more days. Now, one day of a multi-day ticket may be used at a partner resort regardless of where purchased. So when an Okemo skier/rider purchases a three-or-more-days ticket, he/she can use one of those days at Killington, Pico or Sunapee. This applies for multi-day ticket purchases at each of the other three resorts as well.
This one-day benefit could mean perks similar to those of the 4.0 pass. In addition to sampling more fresh powder, the time-crunched multi-day-ticket holder might choose to ski their last day at Sunapee if heading home in that direction, or conversely at one of the Vermont areas if heading west.
Why it is good news for all
This foray into a joint effort to increase interest in snow sports is not just good for business, it is essential to the region's future.
Rob Megnin, marketing director for Killington Resort and Pico Mountain, notes, "Our new programs are absolutely necessary because if we don't bring new skiers and snowboarders into the sport, we'll see fewer and fewer participants in coming years. Our livelihood, our community's livelihood, and the state's depend on the economic impact the sports generate for Vermont…The greatest challenge is how to make snow sports grow."
Chief among the challenges the ski industry faces are two market segments - the aging baby-boomer population and the younger generations, Megnin noted. It was the burgeoning baby-boomer generation that drove the the sport, causing the "ski boom" in the 1950s and 1960s, when a proliferation of new ski areas made it easy for people to find a nearby hill to learn the sport. But now one baby boomer turns age 63 every seven seconds, according to Dr. Joseph F. Coughlin, director of MIT's AgeLab. This has repercussions as committed skiers and riders begin to "age out" of snow sports.
Ironically, this is occurring just as innovative developments in technology have made skiing more fun, through better terrain and ski/snowboard equipment. But for aging snow aficionados, there are a host of factors that are, or will, inevitably cause them to drop out -costs (especially with the past economic downturn), retirements to sunny climates, the fear of getting hurt, physical ailments, knee and hip replacements among others. That the attrition rate of this demographic will accelerate in the future is a national concern for the snow sports industry as well as all those in the region that depend on it.
But Megnin is not giving up on seniors and notes that Killington has already added more options for adults like the 4241 program inaugurated last year. The 55+ market segment has actually been growing faster than others due to "greater actual participation," he said, attributing it, in part, to more free time and better equipment. However, he noted a need to "do more to ensure that this group stays with the sport."
He also said that growing winter sports participation is not just as simple as letting younger generations know snow sports exist. The diversity of the younger populations is a challenge in itself, one that encompasses the need to address potential language barriers as population shifts occur (more Spanish speaking and foreign visitors), the competition for their time and more sedentary lifestyles, etcetera.
It is the coupling of these two demographic trends that most threatens to derail the great strides made in growing skier visits both locally and nationally. Climate change is another challenge, but for resorts like Killington and Okemo, which have a reputation for world-class snowmaking, it is a lesser challenge.
Additionally, Killington has been focusing on growing the market via learn-to-ski programs and has achieved an above average 35 percent conversion rate (one of the highest in the industry), according to Megnin, who attributes that accomplishment to Killington's historic focus on teaching methods.
This year's new initiatives continue those efforts, Megnin said, citing "the tremendous value that the college and multi-day tickets put into the product this year." Just as he projects "a 25-to-40 percent growth in college passes," Megnin sees the multi-day ticket as helping to keep people engaged and also appealing to foreign independent travelers who will benefit from the great diversity and be drawn back to the region as a ski destination.


Challenges of time, climate
David Kulis, new marketing director at Okemo, further explained the need for such new partnerships and initiatives, noting: "As an industry, we've tended to focus too much on attention on the details that excite only true skiing enthusiasts or insiders - the latest innovations in gear, skiable acreage, how many lifts we have, and so on. In reality, we have to entice an audience beyond our core demographic that very much needs healthy escape from the rigors of everyday life. The real question for our industry is how we maintain relevancy in a world that offers so much competition for one's time."
Noting Okemo Resort's efforts to widen its winter appeal through more activities (sports center, mountain coaster, tubing, etc.) and programs, Kulis added, "We've been able to stretch participation by the baby-boom generation through a combination of innovations in equipment, grooming and programming. We want to continue to focus on multi-generational efforts that allow these enthusiasts an opportunity to share their love of snowsports with younger family members. The opportunity to do so won't last forever, and it's not a complete fix for longer-term demographic challenges, but it's a good start."
Kulis also noted that addressing other challenges like climate change has been a priority as well.  "Okemo is a leader in snowmaking technology, and this year's investment [almost $1 million on snowmaking improvements, including 225 HKD high tech snow guns] is geared to do two things. First, it allows us to get a faster start at a time of year with limited snowmaking windows. Second, it affords us an opportunity to do this in a way that is sensitive to energy use and overall efficiency. The new snow guns allow us to make much more snow for the energy that we put into production," he noted.


Partnership benefits region
With the resorts expecting to see significant growth in college passes, they hope to create a passion for snow sports that ultimately leads these students to become "lifelong skiers." While they also hope to build "brand loyalty," they recognize that students may end up at other ski areas or parts of the country.
The hope is that these 'test' or pilot program partnerships might lead to other co-operative passes in the future. Since Killington and Okemo are the number one and two ski areas in the East (in skier visits), the perk of the extra areas one could ski on a "regular" season pass could entice even more people to commit to the region, thus enhancing the future market not only for the partner areas but also for area businesses.
Megnin and Kulis, Killington and Okemo are focused on the need to do more to ensure a successful future for their areas as well as the entire region so that visitors know Central Vermont as a premier travel destination.
The first step in that direction was making the announcement to locals at Winter in August, an event that seeks to honor the economic impact of the skis areas, two days before they released this news to the general media.