On a recent 50-degree bluebird day at Big Bear Mountain outside Los Angeles, skiers in short sleeves partied with loud music and beer and bragged about how many days they have spent at the mountain this season.
“It’s been at least 10,” said Daniella Gogatz.
“This is day 31,” said Ken Ryan. “It’s cost me about $20 or less a day at this point.”
While the prices of ski lift passes have been skyrocketing, the industry has been embracing new multiresort season passes that are cheaper than ever. They’ve proven popular though also controversial.
Gogatz and Ryan are able to afford to ski so much because they bought Ikon passes, which were just introduced this season by the the Alterra Mountain Company.
Ikon is priced starting at around $600 and includes access to dozens of resorts and some of the most famous ski mountains in the world, including Aspen, Jackson Hole and Deer Valley.
Ikon, and its main competitor, The Epic Pass, which was introduced a decade ago, have made it possible to ski for an entire season for what you could spend on a three-day lift ticket, as long as you commit early.
But some locals complain the passes are destroying the character of their beloved mountains.
“We’re seeing more people on the hill and longer lift lines and whenever you’re waiting in one of those lines you’ll hear some local quip about the Ikon passholders,” said Matt Maydick, who lives in Carbondale, Colo., right outside Aspen.
Maydick, himself an Ikon passholder, says he is happy more people are getting to enjoy his favorite sport but he is frustrated by the growing pains.
Ikon passholders have been accused of not only making the mountain too crowded but also of being in over their heads.
There has been more hostility in Jackson Hole. When Joe Cascia of New Jersey visited recently, he encountered a local who griped about Ikon passholders for being cheap and not spending enough at local restaurants.
“I’m not sure why he would seen that as a negative, because I think everybody should be trying to save money,” said Cascia, who said he pointed out that he had just spent almost $200 on dinner.
Cascia’s girlfriend usually proudly displays her Ikon pass on her helmet but at Jackson Hole he thought it would be better for her to hide it.
“I even told her you might want to put that in your pocket here because it just didn’t feel 100 percent welcome,” Cascia said.
Resorts have tried to ease tensions by pointing out that Ikon passholders are not the only reason for overcrowding and that resorts gain valuable revenue from the pass.
Taylor Middleton, the general manager of Big Sky Resort in Montana, even penned an open editorial to local residents ordering them to be nicer.
“Recently, local social media channels are revealing a rash of really negative postings, shunning new visitors and treating new arrivals differently than we were treated ourselves,” wrote Middleton. “We were all new at some point; these guests are our newest visitors.”
In fact, Ikon passholders only account for a small increase in the number of visitors at most resorts this season. The biggest reason for the crowds is this season’s heavy snow, according to resort owners.
“I think the Ikon pass is somewhat unfairly blamed by some,” said Middleton.
Like it or not, the pass is here to stay, according to Erik Forsell, Alterra chief marketing officer.
“We definitely launched with the idea of disrupting in a positive way the ski industry and we did,” said Forsell.
Forsell says resorts like locking in guaranteed revenue in case of a bad snow year.
Next season’s pass went on sale last month, starting at $649.
One skier from Salt Lake City commented on the Facebook announcement: “You have ruined skiing. Please stop.”