To say that Katie and Conor Bryant like to ski is a little like saying Cookie Monster likes cookies.
The Delmar couple likes to ski a lot.
Katie, a teacher at the Brown School in Schenectady, logged an impressive 46 days on the slopes last year. Conor, an area financial adviser who grew up in Voorheesville and leaned to ski at Maple Ski Ridge, tallied more than 70 days.
Now the Bryants are clearly near the top of the charts when it comes to time on snow. They drive to Stratton Mountain in Vermont regularly on weekends and holidays, and plan a Western U.S. trip on the school vacation in February, and sometime in April, too. Not done when the snow melted around here last spring, they took a bucket-list summer vacation to New Zealand in August and tacked on six more ski days.
What makes this possible? Each has an IKON Pass.
By now, all ski regulars in our area know something about the IKON Pass and its main multi-area competitor, the Epic Pass. Most of the marquee day-trip areas in our region are now affiliated with one or the other. There are versions of each available, but one thing is the same: they have changed how outdoor enthusiasts approach the winter season.
If you ski 10 days or more each year, or take a travel-to-ski vacation, chances are you already own one of these passes. They offer great value. Three years ago, an unlimited access adult season pass at Stowe in Vermont cost about $1,900. Then, the area was bought by Vail Resorts, and it became part of the now 10-year-old Epic Pass program.
The cost for a season pass? Less than $1,000 if bought in advance of the ski season.
Even better? Included now with Stowe are local favorites Okemo, Mount Snow and Hunter.
Want to head West? Your pass is also good at Whistler Blackcomb, Park City, Telluride, Heavenly and more than 30 other areas including ones in Europe and Australia.
The IKON pass is the successor to the Max Pass, which was first offered four years ago by the Denver-based Alterra Group. In addition to Stratton, others in the program include Killington, and recently Sugarbush in Vermont, plus Western favorites Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Jackson Hole, Big Sky and Taos, plus international options in Canada, Switzerland, Chile, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
“Where we ski mainly is based on acceptance of the IKON pass,” Katie Bryant said. “In New Zealand, it worked just like in Vermont. We simply showed our pass and we were handed lift cards for skiing at three areas on the South Island.”
The choice between the Epic Pass and the IKON pass is a simple matter of deciding where you are likely to ski most often. The passes cost about the same. When figures are released for this year, it is expected that both will sell more than 1 million of the passes in various versions. Some people buy both. There are other multi-area pass programs, too. They include The Mountain Collective, which offers two days of skiing at 18 major resorts; The INDY Pass, which features two days of skiing at 46 smaller areas across the country, including Windham and Catamount in our area; and, locally, the Ski 3 pass that is the ORDA areas — Whiteface, Gore, and Belleayre.
Make no mistake, while cost savings can accrue to skiers, the idea behind the programs is selling season passes. Generally that brings in revenue before the first snowflake flies. You can still buy a day pass, but try it at the ticket window on a holiday weekend at Vail and it will cost you $209. But with all the deals and discounts available, no one who is paying attention will pay that price.
Passes are becoming so prevalent that Vail Resorts chief executive Rob Katz has gone so far as to suggest that there may be a day where there are no ticket windows at ski resorts.
The pass programs are not without critics. Some people, especially residents of small ski towns, believe that the passes have created uncomfortable crowding on their local slopes. Other observers say that the areas in the programs cater only to ski regulars and do nothing to grow the sport. Some in our area complain about the elimination of bulk discounts for day tickets, which have long been a staple of local ski clubs and bus groups.
Does it hurt areas not involved in any of these programs?
Jim Blaise, who has owned and operated Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake for 50 years, doesn’t think so. His area serves primarily a local clientele, and this year he has sold a record number of passes.
“We have many skiers who also have the big area passes,” Blaise said. “But often these are people who also want a nearby area to ski regularly. If anything, the multi-area passes broaden the interest in skiing which benefits all of us.”
Most of us won’t have the chance to ski as often as the Bryants. But even if that is true, the introduction of the multi-area ski passes has opened options and lowered costs for all who want the snow-covered outdoors often and even year-round.
WHO IS OPEN
With the big storm at the start of the week piling on top of early snowmaking efforts, most Alpine and Nordic areas in our region are open for skiing. But before you go, call ahead or check websites to be sure.
Of special note, Royal Mountain is at almost full operation this weekend and a new program at West Mountain offers a 20% day ticket discount to anyone showing a season pass pass from any ski areas.
MARGIN OF VICTORY
While it was not a surprise that Mikaela Shiffrin won the slalom World Cup at Killington last weekend, in a sport where fractions of a second often matter, her margin of victory was a stunning 2.29 seconds.
For comparison, the difference between first and second place at the women’s World Cup singles race last weekend at Lake Placid was 0.067 of a second.
NAPIER IN CHARGE
John Napier, a Schenectady native and 2010 Olympic bobsled pilot, is now the person in charge of the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg. In his debut as manager of the ice surface for World Cup competitions last weekend, new track records were recorded in both the men’s and women’s luge events. Napier gets to show off his work again in back-to-back World Cup bobsled competitions this weekend and next at Lake Placid.
Reach Phil Johnson at [email protected].