Ski resorts throughout Utah abruptly shut down with about a month of the season remaining this spring as the coronavirus crisis engulfed mountain communities. Skiers, snowboarders, resorts and communities tucked their tails and prepared to weather the storm before diving back into the natural rhythm of mountain life for 2020/2021. But recent developments hint a return to normalcy next winter may not be a sure thing.
In a non-Covid world, ski resorts would readying to transition into summer operations in the coming weeks. Meanwhile in our Covid-positive world, Park City’s economy has ground to a halt and major seasonal attractions like the Tour of Utah have already been canceled. Vail Resorts, owners of Park City Mountain, and Deer Valley have furloughed most of their employees with no firm timeline to resume operations. A Vail Mountain Operations Employee who asked not to be named said the company was preparing for the possibility they wouldn’t open at all this summer and wouldn’t be able operate a normal winter season next year either.
As the nation’s top health experts are predicting a return of Covid-19 in the fall, the hedging has begun. Alterra Mountain Company, seller of the multi-mountain Ikon Pass (Solitude plus select days at Brighton, Deer Valley and Snowbird/Alta), are offering $200 to discounts on for season pass renewals in addition to offering their new “Adventure Assurance” program which would allow Ikon Pass holders to defer their season pass purchase over to the 2021/2022 season any time between September 10 and December 10. That’s a nice piece of insurance to have should Covid come roaring back in the fall and early winter. Some neighboring resorts like Jackson Hole in Wyoming have also cut their prices for next season and extended their spring pass sales until June 30. Ikon’s main competitor, Vail’s Epic Pass (Park City Mountain), recently announced they are offering credits of at least 20% and up to 80% for renewing pass holders based on the mid-March closure. Vail also announced the “Epic Coverage” plan for 2020/2021, which offers cash refunds for certain resort closures such as Covid-19, as well as refunds for job loss, illness and other eligible personal events.
Discounted passes and increased flexibility are beneficial for consumers, but the fact so many ski resorts are throwing their resources behind early buying decisions means they’re forecasting a rough business climate next winter. Hopefully we’re all a bunch of Chicken Littles and the lifts will spin on time, but pass flexibility is certainly something I’d be looking for when making my buying decision.