The proliferation of such programs reflects a strategy in which member resorts can guarantee an early-season revenue stream while pitching passes that they say can pay for themselves with just a handful of days on the mountain. Single-day lift-ticket prices can range from $84 at Mount Bachelor to $175 at Vail's eponymous Colorado resort.
Vail Resorts has thrown an additional wrinkle into that strategy in recent years by acquiring smaller resorts near urban markets and pitching the Epic Pass to skiers who make both single-day trips from home and longer excursions to the Rockies or out west. In late 2012, Vail acquired Michigan's Mount Brighton and Minnesota's Afton Alps, and earlier this year it added Wisconsin's Wilmot Mountain to pull in Chicago- and Milwaukee-area skiers.
"There are more skiers in Chicago than in the entire state of Colorado," Lynch said. "Putting those [urban-based skiers] on the path [to buying the Epic Pass] has been a hugely successful strategy for us."
That hedge has been all the more valuable amid a winter-resorts sector where visitor numbers has fluctuated in recent years. Last season, the number of skiers visiting U.S. resorts fell for the first time in three years, declining 5.1%, to 53.6 million visits. That was the second-lowest figure in 15 years and marked an 11% drop from the record 60.5 million visits in 2010-11, according to the National Ski Areas Association trade group.
This season, things have improved, if only slightly. Lodging occupancy in Western U.S. and Rocky Mountain winter resort towns through the end of February was up 3.6% from a year earlier after more February bookings turned the season to "respectable" from "marginal," according to DestiMetrics, which tracks the lodging demand at 19 mountain-resort towns across California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
While DestiMetrics director Ralf Garrison cited better snow conditions in the West after four relatively dry seasons, he said that warmer weather throughout other ski regions and the stronger dollar, which has constrained ski visits from overseas, is preventing faster growth.
The partners behind multiresort passes such as the MAX Pass and Mountain Collective appear to be both emulating and taking on the Epic Pass, and for good reason. For the quarter ending Jan. 31, Vail Resorts boosted its season-pass revenue 21% from a year earlier, to about $131 million, nearly three times the $49.2 million Vail sold in season passes for the first season of 2008-09.
In addition to buying the Midwest ski resorts, Vail connected its Park City and Canyons resorts in Utah with a gondola in time for this season.
While much of the recent revenue gains are a result of sheer resorts growth, Vail has also used its Epic sub-brand of products to broaden its skier appeal while touting its technological advancements.
Notably, Vail debuted its EpicMix Time app this season to provide crowd-sourced, real-time lift-line times at the Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone resorts in Colorado. Lynch said user feedback has been "incredibly positive," and Vail is looking at broadening that feature to its other resorts.
Of course, the calculated risk of selling a multiresort seasonal pass and foregoing the incremental sales of single-day lift tickets cuts both ways. Las Vegas resident and winter-sports enthusiast Zachary Beimes has bought various seasonal passes for more than 15 years and used to rack up as many as 75 days a year on the slopes when he was living in California. He would pay about $400 for a season pass at Mammoth.
That type of investment hasn't paid off for Beimes in recent years, though, as job and family obligations prevented him from taking advantage of the Mountain Collective passes he bought for both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
"The first year, I didn't use it," Beimes said. "The second year, I used it at Whistler for two days. I felt so bad about not using the days. But I'm already so ahead from when I had the Mammoth passes that I've been playing with the house money for a long time."
All of which makes the job of educating prospective winter-sports travelers on the ins and outs of the multiresort passes all the more essential when it comes to arranging the sale and ensuring that the pass's perks and a client's winter-travel habits match up, Danziger said.
"People are interested in it, but they really need to get educated on the subcategories with each pass," she said. "If they see the value, then they'll get it. But if we send them a link and say 'pick a pass,' they won't do it, because there are just too many options."