Early birds ski cheaper

Partnership trends launch M.A.X. Pass giving east coast skiers access to 22 resorts nationwide

By Karen D. Lorentz

Once upon a time there was just one season pass rate for two age groups, adults and children. They came in two permutations, seven- or five-day (midweek) passes and were available for fall/winter purchase to just one area.

Now, there are more age groups, more permutations, and many more areas that can be skied on one pass!

And there are “early-bird” spring/early summer deadline that feature deep discounts.

Asked why resorts sell the following winter’s passes before the current season is finished, Sarah Wojcik, director of public affairs for Ski Vermont, said, “Many, if not most, resorts in Vermont offer early-bird pricing on season passes to catch folks while they are still thinking about skiing and to commit them to another season. It also boosts revenue for summer improvements and operations. Many have pricing in several levels that get more expensive the closer you get to the new season.”

Saving money is just one of the reasons many dedicated skiers and riders buy next winter’s passes now.

“It forces me to commit and make time to ski. I have to ski so many times to make my pass pay for itself, and that means I get out more. Plus, it’s convenient not to have to go get a ticket each day and saves time,” skier Bobbi Ballou said.

Additional benefits include discounts on food, ski shop purchases, lessons, rentals, tunings, or other services with these perks varying with the pass type and resort. Early-bird deadlines vary from resort to resort, but all offer the lowest price on their respective 2015-16 season passes.

Bottom line? It pays to commit early.

Partnerships lead to more options

One of the latest trends that picks up steam this year is the expansion of multi-area passes. It started when areas owned by a single corporate parent offered a season pass option that included all the sibling areas. Triple Peaks, operator of Okemo, Mount Sunapee, and Crested Butte, is an example. The EPIC Pass for all Vail Resorts owned areas (in the West and Mid-West) is another.

More recently, areas have partnered with a non-sibling area to offer a partnership-pass option as was the case with Killington and Pico joining forces with Okemo to offer three days at the other area for those purchasing a season pass. They also partnered on a College 4.0 Pass for full-time students.

A new partnership pass for 2015-16 is the College Breakout Pass ($269 best price by August 31) with Pico, Gunstock, and Mount Sunapee participating.

Also new for 2015-16, Okemo has partnered with Song and Labrador Mountains in central New York to offer their season passholders two free days at Okemo. Bonnie MacPherson, Okemo’s public relations director, said, “It is an added bonus for their passholders and will be good for us as it introduces some people to Okemo who might not know about us. Feeder mountains [smaller, local areas] are really important to the industry overall because up-and-coming families and people new to the sport can learn there. They serve as stepping stone to bigger areas like Okemo.”

Stepping up the partnership trend to unheard of heights is the new M.A.X. Pass. While some may see it as the East’s response to the West’s Epic Pass, the latter which provides unlimited access to 12 western and mid-western areas plus one in Australia, it is truly a game-changer for East Coast snowsports athletes — especially those looking for variety across the country.

M.A.X. maximizes options

As befits a “beast,” Killington Resort is part of the groundbreaking M.A.X. Pass, which its parent Powdr Corp owner helped initiate. It came about as a result of discussions among ski-industry giants Intrawest, Boyne Resorts, and Powdr, explains Rob Megnin, Killington’s marketing director.

Each of these companies owns several areas for a partnership total of 22 mountains, ranging from mega resorts to large and mid-size areas.

The Multi Alpine Experience (M.A.X.) Pass comes in two forms — as an add-on to a qualifying season pass purchase or as a M.A.X. season pass. There are no blackout dates and in either. The holder can ski five days of his or her choosing at each of the following areas: Loon, Sugarloaf, Sunday River, Stratton, Killington, Pico, and Snowshoe in the U.S. Northeast; Boyne Highlands and Boyne in the Midwest; Copper, Steamboat, Winter Park, Boreal, Mt. Bachelor, Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard, Crystal, Summit at Snoqualmie, Brighton, and Big Sky in the West; and Blue Mountain, Mont Tremblant, and Cypress in Canada.

Partnering makes sense for Killington

For those who are dedicated Killingtonites but still want to sample other areas, the Killington Unlimited Season Pass offers the option of a M.A.X. Add-on for $249 for adults (18+); $199 for ages 13-17; $149 for 6-12; and $29 for five and under if purchased by April 30. (There is also the option to hold this rate for a $49 deposit.)

It’s a nice bonus for Killington loyalists or those whom Megnin refers to as “the committed” core skier. They can sample other Eastern areas and/or take a trip out West. A Colorado vacation with visits to Copper, Steamboat, and/or Winter Park, for example, would net huge savings on lift tickets for 15 days of skiing that could help offset the cost of airfare and lodgings, too.

For those who haven’t purchased a season pass, the cost for the MAX Season Pass is $699 for 18+; $499 for ages 13-17; $249 for 6-12; and $29 for five and under. That’s 22 resorts, 5 days each, for 110 days total.

Megnin doesn’t think this will hurt Killington or Pico season pass sales as he notes proximity is a major factor among pass purchases. He also thinks the great number of uncommitted skiers in both the East and West and those “on the fence” will see the value of this pass. “It’s a great way to get the uncommitted to come our way, especially those in the New York Metroplex and Boston areas,” he said.

Calling the M.A.X.  “a great sampler,” Megnin noted one can ski from Oregon to Mount Tremblant with an exciting array of experiences for the intermittent skier as well as for diehards who haven’t wanted to narrow down to just one area.

We’re excited about the M.A.X. pass as it’s the first big collective passport featuring East Coast resorts, including three in Vermont. Nice parameters as well — it can only be used five times at each resort,” Wojcik commented.

“It’s great for an East Coast skier/rider who wants to explore some mountains locally, as well as take a trip out West.  As the number one ski state in the East, Vermont should see a high percentage of use at its resorts, which are Killington, Pico and Stratton…We hope to see new visitors at the Vermont resorts due to the pass,” she added.

For the best deals on next winter’s passes, visit Killington, Pico, and Okemo websites. But do it soon as some early-bird savings need to be locked in by April 30.

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