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Opinion: This is How Vail Resorts Could Ruin the Ski Industry

Vail Resorts is the biggest ski resort management company in the world. They own several mountains in Colorado, and also some of the best resorts in California, Utah, and now even in Canada and Australia. They've even started to acquire smaller local ski mountains in the Midwest.

If you're an avid skier or snowboarder and you live even remotely close to one of their mountains, it's undeniable that their Epic Pass is the best deal in the ski industry. If you're unfamiliar with the Epic Pass, it's a season pass that grants you access to all of Vail Resorts' mountains all over the world. Depending on the time of year you buy and which option you chose, you can ski all of those mountains for around $800 for the year. That's much cheaper than most single resort passes.

This is a great deal if you already ski or ride a fair amount every year. It also makes perfect sense for Vail. People will buy the pass for their local mountain, but they'll also travel to other parts of the country and world to ski the other mountains on the Epic Pass. And when they do that, they'll stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, buy gear at the shops, and go out to bars; all of which Vail also owns. Vail has also diversified their portfolio. If California has a bad winter, they can make up for it with their other areas. The whole thing is an incredibly smart business model.

So what's the issue? Well one thing is pretty clear: this model will probably start to drive out smaller market ski areas. You know that local mountain that you grew up skiing at? There's a good chance it will be deserted in 10 or 20 years. They won't be able to compete. That's fine. That's business. It will be good for Vail. They'll have a bigger share of the market now. And for everyone that has the Epic Pass it's no big deal either. That's life, things change.

So what's the real problem? It's pretty simple. Vail isn't trying to get any new people into skiing or riding.

How did you get into skiing? You probably had your parents or friends take you to a local ski hill. You probably bought a lift ticket for the day for $40 or got a really good "learn to ski deal" that might have even included a lesson and rentals. You wanted to try it all out before you went all in and bought your own equipment or bought a season pass. That local mountain was critical to getting you into the sport.

Now imagine a world where those local mountains are few and far between. Try getting into skiing or snowboarding at one of Vail's properties. A one day lift ticket at Vail or Breckenridge could cost you over $160. There's no wiggle room in that price either. They never offer discounts or any special deals for beginners. If you want to convince a friend to try skiing, or you want to get your kids into the sport, a single day on the mountain could literally break the bank. The barriers to entry are just too high.

It's certainly not going to happen overnight, but over time fewer and fewer new people will try skiing or snowboarding for the first time. As the current generation gets older and 'retires' from skiing, there won't be anyone left to fill their shoes.

That's bad for everyone. Not only will the local mountains suffer, but the restaurants and local economies that depend on them will feel the pain. The ski and snowboard manufacturers will have nobody left to sell their gear to. The clothing and equipment companies will be out of luck too. Entertainment companies? If there are no new skiers, who's going to watch the new Warren Miller movie or read the latest issue of Ski Magazine? It will even start to hurt Vail Resorts at some point.

This is not going to happen tomorrow. It may not even happen in our lifetimes. But on this current trajectory, it's bound to happen eventually. The biggest player in the ski industry should be continuously trying get new people into the sport. They shouldn't be building walls to keep new people out.


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