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The pandemic isn’t done changing the ski industry landscape quite yet. The next potential thing to go: Storm chasing and last-minute weekend getaways. At Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, at least.
The Wyoming big-mountain mecca brought back reservations last season and has been a huge proponent of advance ticket sales to control crowds and lift lines. Next season, however, they’re cranking the model up a notch. Last week, the Wyoming resort announced the first program of its kind offering guests the same pricing model as season passes, but for day tickets. The catch? You have to reserve your days between now and October 1. After that, the price goes up.
Terming it an “early-bird” ticket sale, day tickets for the 2022-’23 winter are on sale as of August 1 at a 15 percent discount. The option to buy at the sale price is a limited run for two months only. Advance purchase motivation stems from JHMR’s continued cap on daily ticket sales, therefore, guests can secure their days before supply gets scarce. The resort reports the last two years of advance ticket sales as very successful, with sold-out holidays and weekends. For example, the resort was completely sold out the two weeks leading up to New Year’s Day. But if the resort doesn’t sell out each day, walk-up tickets will still be available. Multi-area season pass holders are always required to make reservations.
“JHMR believes the benefits to managing capacity outweigh the cons as we offer a much-improved guest experience with more time on snow and less time in lift lines,” said Eric Seymour, director of communications for the resort. “We have received very positive feedback from our guests and employees and look forward to this winter.”
There are other single-day advance-sale discount programs in the industry, including Epic Day passes where skiers can purchase one- through seven-day lift tickets for as low as $38/day. However, with Epic Day, unlike the new JHMR program, you don’t need to designate your specific dates.
For JHMR skiers and snowboarders, this move isn’t entirely a surprise. Skier visits at the iconic big mountain mecca had been creeping up even before the pandemic, resulting in frustrating tram and lift line waits, parking shortages, and a diminished experience for everyone both on and off mountain. Even for people flexible enough to ditch work and chase powder, standstill lines at the end of a 10-hour road trip are never fun. Public backlash on crowding and lines at JHMR and other high-profile resorts over the last few years has not been kind.
Nonetheless, this controlled sales direction for resort access seems to have some of the skiing public feeling conflicted. Reservations and limited ticket sales will control the overcrowding, but certain ski areas have seen intense pushback to reservations systems. Others felt that capacity controls such as reservations enhanced the overall experience and don’t mind the minor inconvenience of planning ahead.
For local skier Brandon Smith, the continued control of sales volume is positive. Smith, who works at one of the Jackson Hole valley’s high-end destination hotels, reports that guests who came to visit just before and during the pandemic were dismayed by the long lift waits and diminished skiing time. Last year, with advance planning for tickets, reservations, and visitor caps, those problems were alleviated.
“Skiing is supposed to be fun,” Smith said. “It’s not fun if it’s so crowded you can’t ski, and everyone is angry, aggressive, and frustrated.”
Whether these kinds of limits are going to spread across the entire industry, quashing spontaneity and interest from casual skiers, is a question on skiers mind. For Sara Silver, it’s been an annual winter tradition to head to the Tetons and ski powder with her husband from their home near Kalispell, Mont. “I can’t make plans that far ahead, in August for late-winter ski days. Plus it’s complete roulette to buy still very expensive ski tickets without knowing what the snow will be like,” she said. “I’d be so disappointed if we couldn’t go ski a big storm when it arrived because all those days had been scooped up by people who can plan trips from August.”
But other destination resorts report that more restrictions aren’t likely. Purgatory, near Durango, Colo., also has new ticket pricing options but they won’t cut out last-minute skiers with long-term planning and reservations. “To encourage guests to plan ahead, Purgatory has moved away from traditional window rates to dynamic, demand-based pricing on lift tickets,” said Amanda Anderson, marketing director at Purgatory. “Most less-frequent skiers and riders, especially families who do not live in day-drive ski markets, are still looking for flexibility,” added general manager Dave Rathbun. “Guests who purchase tickets in advance get the best pricing, and they are proving to us they like it.”
“We’ve always had the option to buy in advance and save, and we have reservation requirements for Ikon and Mountain Collective passholders. But we have four mountains to spread out to, so it’s not likely we will have to limit sales.” said Jeff Hanle, a spokesman for Colo.’s Aspen Snowmass. He noted that different resorts face different pressures in keeping a quality experience for skiers.
“I think this year will be illuminating. Will we see this drive in outdoor recreation continue on the same trajectory? It’s great, we want people out skiing, but I don’t think anyone can answer that quite yet.”