Taking on the big conglomerates
The age of the multi-resort pass
Call me a whatever you like, but I hate the recent development of multiple resorts joined under one (relatively) expensive (or inexpensive?) pass. While some would argue that such consolidation is actually good for skiing and boarding, allowing for more access to more resorts at a fraction of the cost of daily tickets or, in many cases, a single resort season pass, I would state that overall, the corporate outlook and approach to what makes a ski area and community “profitable” destroys something fundamental about it. One only has to look to Steamboat Springs to see how this works.
The perfect ski town and resort
First of all, this does not exist. But about ten years ago, my partner at the time and I purchased a fantastic mid-century condo in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and thought we had found it. The condo was one of the first developments on the hill with only 9 units and, despite being surrounded by newer condos and multi-million dollar houses, made you feel like you tapped into the soul and history of the hill. For me, this was essential.
As a kid in Southern Wyoming, Steamboat was the “dream hill”. We actually could drive faster to Granby or Winter Park than any Wyoming or Colorado hill, but Steamboat remained something special. In the 1970s, my parents spoke about their first trip there, fondly recalling how after learning to ski in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the sheer size of the mountain seemed unbelievable and they had no idea how they were going to get down from the gondola’s long, steep slopes. And in my teenage years, the “independent” resort offered $20 daily lift tickets to our high school ski club so we could giddily talk about skiing the “Shadows” or getting blasted by powder on Storm Peak. The fact that Steamboat Springs remained, to a degree, a quaint western town with ranches just outside the limits only added to its charm and appeal.
On the mountain, summers were quiet while winters were full-on but bearable with most structural improvements being simply about comfort and modernization, not about developing a new base of activities. In fact, for most of my life, Steamboat as a ski hill remained pretty much the same. When the resort was bought out by Intrawest, some improvements were in the cards but overall, the resort’s feel didn’t change much.
But if you go to Steamboat now, after being purchased by Alterra Mountain Co (who offers the Ikon pass), the differences are stark and oppressive. In the summer, you now find a roller-coaster, a putt-putt golf course, and multiple “attractions” to keep adults and kids happy. In the winter, the resort may continue to promote its “champagne powder” but skiing is secondary to the “experience”, which is tailored to a certain class.
Luckily, you can still go to T-bar for an, dare a say, authentic aprés ski experience.
But the point is this: I ended up selling my condo not because Steamboat changed but because it stopped being the hill I could feel “at home”. And I could not support the direction it was taking, no matter how many amenities or packages were being offered. This is not simply about how globalization and modern markets work. This is about saving the soul and culture of a ski community.
The alternative is simple: support independent and local resorts. But the sheer appeal of the Epic or Ikon pass is undeniable. So, how to appease your want for the freedom, diversity, and economy of either pass while not selling yourself out to companies that have little to no interest in keeping the roots of a hill? Look to a local hill that has teamed up with other resorts and the Powder Alliance. For me, this pointed to one hill: Loveland Ski Area.
The best ski season pass in the US: Loveland Ski Area
If you live in or close to Denver or are traveling through, the best resort to purchase a season pass from is Loveland Ski Area. At $439.00, the pass is a steal in its own right, but add all the perks (such as 3 free days at multiple partner resorts) and automatic membership into the Powder Alliance, no other pass compares, especially if you are able to be a mid-week skier. But even if not, you can purchase a lot of 1/2 price tickets to add up to the $500 more you would spend on a Epic or Ikon pass and not feel like you sold yourself to the devil.
Furthermore, Loveland remains a truly a local mountain. Just 50 miles west of Denver and with no town attached to it, this unpretentious ski area is all about skiing and boarding. The mountain features enough terrain to keep any skier, from beginner to expert, satisfied. Combined with the area’s friendly staff, affordable dining options, and long season, this is a great mountain to buy a season pass for and frequent either on an extended holiday or throughout the winter.
My parents, the same who fell in love with Steamboat back in the 1970s, buy 4-packs to this mountain every year and praise its “simplicity”. Having now skied across the world, I couldn’t agree more.