Winter Park in Colorado, which came under control of Alterra Mountain Co. in 2017, is is one of 33 North American ski resorts on Alterra's new Ikon Pass. The competition between Ikon and Vail Resorts' longer-standing Epic Pass mirrors the broader battle between Alterra and Vail as the dominant players in an increasingly consolidated U.S. ski industry.
Senior editor Robert Silk caught up with Winter Park vice president of operations C.A. Lane this winter to discuss the ways that the Ikon Pass, Alterra and consolidation have impacted the resort and the broader U.S. ski industry.
Travel Weekly: Has the Ikon Pass changed the makeup of your visitors or repositioned Winter Park in the marketplace?
C.A. Lane: I think we're still figuring that out. One of the things that we are working on is investing in data to find out who those visitors are and why they've chosen us. So, the first thing is, yes, we've seen an increase in visitors by 16% year over year through January. But we're really still in discovery phase. One of the positives of this year is we've had a great start to the season with snowfall.
TW: When you look at numbers being up, can you determine the cause?
Lane: Ikon sales have been very successful, and our Ikon Pass visitorship is definitely up from what we saw before in our season pass visitors, but I think we're still trying to evaluate both the patterns and trends.
TW: How do you believe the competition between the Ikon Pass and the Epic Pass is affecting the industry?
Lane: I think, one, it's presenting a great environment to be a skier, when we think about growing interest in the sport, growing value and growing opportunity for people. I think it is a wonderful time to be both a home-resort skier and a true destination skier. I think the ski industry is evolving to give the guest a really remarkable experience in the United States.
TW: Let's look at the flip side. How do you believe the strength of the Epic and Ikon passes is impacting the smaller mountains that aren't a part of them?
Lane: I think they are going to find their competitive niche. Whether it's a passionate skier base located around the resort, whether they are going to look in the industry to form different partnerships. I think the value equation of the list of resorts behind the pass is a very significant force within the industry, and finding your way through that as a midsize or small resort is going to be a bit challenging. But at the end of the day, I think it will also drive creativity within those groups to say, "what can we do different?"
TW: Do you also expect to see increased attrition among the weaker independent properties?
Lane: I think it is a trend that is a real possibility in the next 15 to 20 years. Both based on the demographics of the skier base and climate change and also the capital investments required to not only be competitive but just to maintain an operation.
TW: This is the third year since the relaunch of the Winter Park Express ski train, which goes direct on weekends from Denver to the resort and back. What does the train bring to your offering?
Lane: Winter Park Express is such a unique part of the experience for the resort. The arrival experience from Denver can be really challenging to people because of time and traffic. With Winter Park Express, the travel experience becomes a really outstanding part of the day. So there is a differentiator there. Within the destination market, the ability to fly into Denver and then have rail connectivity for your vacation up the mountain is a really awesome part of what they can look at in that travel experience.
TW: How many people are using the ski train?
Lane: Over the past two years we've sold over 30,000 tickets, and we're currently pacing ahead of our biggest year.
TW: You're also benefitting this year from a big capital expenditure investment, right?
Lane: This year we saw $28 million in capital improvements, which was our largest in history. One of the exciting advantages of Alterra is the number of resources that the company can bring to bear. The most obvious improvement is the new gondola, which can carry 3,600 people per hour. Over the Christmas holiday period, for example, we saw the gondola bring significant reductions in wait time on our lines, and we've seen skier distribution on the mountain improve.
TW: Any upcoming capital plans?
Lane: Not at the moment. At the corporate level, they are in the process of making decisions as far as allocation of capital. It is a very exciting time for us to be able to put a wish list out there and see what we get.