The storm door is officially open and we could be measuring snow in feet at the upper elevations!
Tahoe Resort Report: Storm doors officially open
Tahoe Fund partners with SOS Outreach to get youth outdoors
When he participated as a mentor for the SOS Outreach program for the first time last year, Crew Stover had few expectations. He finished the first day of skiing at Northstar with his group of fifth graders with a renewed sense of purpose and understanding of the real, impactful ways the program gives back to the kids and the community.
“It has been incredibly rewarding to be part of the SOS Outreach program. Not only is it awesome to see these kids learn how to ski or snowboard and become passionate about recreating in the mountains, it’s a privilege to help them grow as people,” said Stover who is also a program and outreach coordinator for the Tahoe Fund. “The SOS Outreach program curriculum both on and off the mountain helps kids build confidence and develop skills they’ll use throughout their lives.”
The Tahoe Fund announced its support of SOS Outreach with a $30,000 program grant to expand its impact in North and South Lake Tahoe. SOS Outreach is a nonprofit that provides opportunities for underserved youth to experience the outdoors while participating in a mentorship program that is designed to prepare them for life’s challenges. Every winter, kids who would not normally have the opportunity, enjoy five ride days at Northstar or Heavenly with their mentors. Off the slopes, they engage in social service projects that help improve their local community.
In North and South Lake Tahoe, more than 250 kids learn to ski and snowboard, learn leadership skills and the importance of protecting the environment through service projects each year. In the summer months they learn to fly fish, river raft and mountain bike.
The effectiveness of the SOS Outreach program is clear. Over the past 10 years, SOS programs have led to more kids graduating from high school, attending college, finding careers and giving back to their communities. In fact, 96% of SOS youth plan to attend college, and 61% return to mentor peers.
“Our programs are designed to help underserved youth in our community discover joy through outdoor recreation they might not otherwise have access to, feel included, overcome challenges, improve their mental health, and become strong leaders,” said Theresa Papandrea, senior regional director, SOS Outreach. “We’re thrilled the Tahoe Fund supports our goals and has agreed to help us deliver this important programming to local kids.”
“The goals of the SOS Outreach program align perfectly with the Tahoe Fund’s commitment to sustainable recreation and environmental stewardship,” said Katy Simon Holland, Tahoe Fund board member. “On behalf of our donors, not only are we pleased to contribute to such a valuable program, we appreciate the opportunity for our staff to participate as mentors to the local youth who are part of this incredible program.”
Learn more about the Tahoe Fund and the programs it supports at www.tahoefund.org.
Source: Tahoe Fund
’An opportunity to honor and reflect’: Forlorn Hope expedition retraces historic steps of Donner Party
On Dec. 16, 2020, four Californian ultra runners left Donner Lake on snowshoes to cross the Sierra, in a reprise of the 1846 winter journey of the Donner Party’s ‘Forlorn Hope.’ Recreating one of the most renowned journeys in American pioneer history, the team wanted to establish the exact route taken by the ill-fated group, attempt to change the known narrative of this moment and tell the story of “these ‘normal’ people who accomplished extraordinary feats and embodied the core characteristics and tenets that became the backbone of America.”
The story of the Forlorn Hope has captured the imagination of friends and trail runners, Bob Crowley and Tim Twietmeyer, for over seven years leading them to spend much of their spare time delving into every aspect of the story. With Elke Reimer and Jennifer Hemmen completing the expedition team, the group set off on the route researched by Crowley and Twietmeyer, starting with considerably less snow than faced by the pioneers, 174 years prior.
In the winter of 1846, eighty or so members of the Donner Party became snowbound and trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains. They were among the first pioneers seeking a better life in California. On Dec. 16, 17 of the emigrants set out on snowshoes in a desperate attempt to reach a settlement 100 miles away and find help. After enduring punishing physical, mental and emotional hardship, only seven survived. The rest met a terrible fate. Together, this brave group became known as the Forlorn Hope.
Carrying cards featuring details and photographs of each member of the original Forlorn Hope party, the team aimed to spend time reflecting on the enormous ordeal faced by the group, in an appreciation of history and human nature in the struggle to survive.
“This will be an opportunity to honor and reflect upon the seventeen souls who dared this selfless and desperate act,” commented Bob Crowley.
The team planned for their journey to take them five days, camping out for four nights – it had taken the Forlorn Hope group 33 days to reach help in the Central Valley.
Although far better prepared and equipped than the fated pioneers, the expedition did face a number of obstacles nonetheless, from river crossings to a snowstorm and almost impassable thick whitethorn and manzanita undergrowth. The steepest climb after their crossing of American River involved 1.5 miles up a 40% slope with 2000 feet of elevation gain.
Followers of the expedition were able to track the team’s progress via GPS tracking on their website (forlornhope.org). The tracker itself was almost lost close to the site of the Camp of Death – spotted in the snow by Bob Crowley, when he turned back momentarily to search for his lost phone (not found!).
The journey of 100.7 miles was completed over five days, and all arrived at the trail’s end safe and well, holding the cards representing the members of the Forlorn Hope. The group held a short commemoration ceremony to the pioneers, after being met by a small number of family and friends.
The expedition members aim to further document their experiences via various media – with articles, exhibitions, possible material for schools, and plans for a documentary film. They are in contact with several descendants of the original pioneers, and hope to meet with some of them in the coming year.
Source: Judy DePuy, Forlorn Hope PR Representative
All aboard: 5 ways to get out on the water in the winter
Lake Tahoe is known for its abundance of summertime water activities, but what is one supposed to do when December comes around, the temperatures drop, and the snow starts flying and you don’t ski or snowboard?
Fortunately, even when all the jet skis, parasails, and Cobalts are put away for the season, there are still some ways to enjoy Big Blue without fully immersing yourself in its chilly waters (Fun fact: Since Lake Tahoe is so deep it never freezes). Here are a few memorable Lake Tahoe-based outdoor experiences that visitors and locals can take advantage of at any time of the year:
Climb Aboard the MS Dixie II in Zephyr Cove
Based out of Zephyr Cove on the southeastern side of Lake Tahoe, a 500-passenger paddle wheeler called the M.S. Dixie II shuttles visitors a few days a week to Emerald Bay and back all winter long. On a sightseeing or dinner cruise, gently glide through the beautiful blue waters on the 2.5-hour long adventure while learning about the history and formation of one of America’s most famous lakes. The M.S. Dixie II was built to be reminiscent of an original Mississippi steamboat, and watching it plow through crystal clear waters is an adventure. The M.S. Dixie II offers lunch and bar service at an additional cost; rates are $68 for adults, $39 for kids ages 3-11, and children three years old or younger are free. www.zephyrcove.com
Watch Out for Eagles While Aboard the Tahoe Bleu Wave
Floating in the Tahoe Keys Marina in South Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe Bleu Wave is a yacht that comfortably holds up to 47 people. The Tahoe Bleu Wave generally travels over to through Rubicon and over to Emerald Bay as its knowledgeable captain shares information and stories about the area.
Tahoe Bleu Wave offers tours throughout the year. Photo: Kayla Anderson
Indoor seating is available (there’s even a fireplace), a bathroom, and a bar featuring Tahoe Blue vodka is available to purchase, or breathe in the cool, crisp air on the party bow of the boat while keeping an eye out for birds and local wildlife. In the winter months, bald eagles, hawks, and ospreys can be spotted as well as coyotes or bears. Emerald Bay Sightseeing, Happy Hour, and Sunset cruises are all available for only $90 per person. https://www.tahoebleuwave.com/
Take a Scenic Cruise on the Safari Rose
Residing in the Ski Run Marina in South Lake Tahoe, the Safari Rose claims to be the largest luxury yacht on Lake Tahoe that regularly ferries people to Emerald Bay and back. Offering scenic cruises and a private charter, the Safari Rose is 80 feet long and 20 feet wide. It was originally built by the 3M Corporation and contains six bathrooms, a dining room, three staterooms, a full bar, heated salon, upper sundeck, and other amenities. Besides the friendly staff and relaxing setting, the views of the southwest shoreline are spectacular. The cost for the 2-hour Emerald Bay Sightseeing Cruise is $90 per adult and $49 for kids under 12. https://tahoecruises.com/
Rent a Kayak or Paddleboard at Waterman’s Landing
Directly in the middle of Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, a café/paddleboard rental shop called Waterman’s Landing is on the shores of a dog-friendly public beach in Carnelian Bay. Along with serving delicious Alpen Sierra coffee and breakfast burritos made with its signature house made bacon jam, Waterman’s leases kayaks and/or SUPs when the lake is calm, and the air temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the water is so cold (it can drop down to 42 degrees), safety is of utmost importance and people who want to rent a kayak or SUP must have experience- paddlers need to know how to swim, wear a leash, have a life jacket on them or their boat, and stick close to shore within the buoy line.
“I always tell people to paddle as far as you’re willing to swim back in case something happens,” says Waterman’s Landing Owner Anik Wild. The owners make the decision every morning whether they will allow people to go out on the lake that day and even if there’s a storm blowing through, the café will still be open 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., daily for food and drinks. Tahoe Waterman master Jay Wild also gives guided tours; call for more information and rates. Waterman’s Landing is located at 5166 North Lake Boulevard next to the Sierra Boat Company. https://watermanslanding.com/, 530-546-3590
Catch a Big Fish on Big Blue
For aspiring or experienced anglers, there are several fishing outfitters all around Lake Tahoe who are more than happy to take people out to try and catch a big Kokanee salmon or a brown/lake/rainbow trout. Fishing licenses are usually an extra fee, but many Tahoe charters sell them at their location or provide the information about how to get them.
Tahoe Sport Fishing Co. boat trips based out of Ski Run Marina in South Lake Tahoe are chartered by nine fishing experts who have cast lines all over the world, everywhere from Pyramid Lake to Mexico. Yet they’ve chosen to make Tahoe their home base for fishing. Five-hour early morning fishing trips are $150 per person, 4-hour afternoon fishing trips cost $140 per person, and private charters are available where you can book out the entire boat for your group. https://tahoesportfishing.com/
Over in the Tahoe Keys on the southwestern side of the lake, Mile High Fishing takes people out on half-day and full day fishing trips as well as accommodates private charters. Mile High captains are licensed in both Nevada and California, bringing 25 years of angling experience to the water. Along with trout and kokanee salmon, Mile High guests have also caught bass, bluegill, and whitefish. Up to six people can go out on a regular fishing boat trip; all ages and abilities are welcome. https://fishtahoe.com/
A few fishing charters are also available on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, like Reel-Lentless Fishing Charters (https://reellentless.com/) and Hooked Up Sport Fishing (http://hookeduplaketahoe.com/). Based out of the Sierra Boat Company in Carnelian Bay, Mickey’s Big Mack Charters takes people out on a spacious 43 feet. sport fisher boat with all the equipment you need to catch the big one; in the past 40 years anglers have caught 30 pound mackinaws and 11 pound trout off the Big Mack II. http://mickeysbigmack.com/
Kayla Anderson is a contributor to Tahoe Magazine, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. Read more Tahoe-Truckee area stories at TahoeMagazine.com.
Whatever Lake Tahoe experience you plan on participating in, be sure to dress warmly and in layers, watch the weather, be flexible, and call ahead or visit the business’s website to double check that your reservation is still on. When everything aligns, you’ll have an incredible time being on the lake around snow-capped mountains in fresh air.
On alert: Search and Rescue teams prepare for a busy winter
This week is Backcountry Awareness Week and with snow on the ground, the different Search and Rescue teams around the Lake Tahoe Basin are preparing for what they expect to be a busy season.
Washoe County Search and Rescue president Brian Block said despite COVID, they’ve been able to prepare as normal with the exception of the avalanche classroom training being held online. They have about 30 volunteers with two full-timers. They are assisted by the special vehicle unit, the WOOF team and Hasty Team, which is a highly trained unit specializing in backcountry, dive, swiftwater, helicopter hoist and technical rope rescue.
They have started the field portion of the training at Galena where they’ve been following COVID guidelines.
The Wilderness Finders Search Dog Teams (WOOF) consists of highly trained professional volunteer dogs and handlers who are on call for search and rescue in the basin and surrounding areas.
The WOOF team has not yet started training this season because there isn’t enough snow quite yet.
“To train dogs to find people in the snow, you need to bury people in the snow,” said WOOF president Mary Cablk.
Cablk said they will build snow caves to put people in, along with the dog’s favorite toy. The toy is a reward for finding the person.
While some trainers will train the dogs to find pieces of clothing, Cablk said she wants the dogs to be trained to find people, not their packs or clothing items that may have separated from them during the avalanche.
“People don’t realize how difficult it is to dig in snow that has shifted and been compacted,” said Cablk. “Imagine exerting the energy to dig just to find a glove.”
Time is of the essence for the survival of the person and searching can be extremely tiring for the dogs who don’t have snowshoes to help them easily walk on snow so completely the search as quickly and efficiently as possible is imperative.
The dogs are also trained to ride on snowmobiles or in snowcats, and dogs at the resorts are trained to ride on chairlifts.
El Dorado County and Douglas County search and rescue teams have both been revving up as well.
EDCSAR has three full time staff, about 30 volunteers in the Tahoe region of the county and 10 collateral deputies who can step in to help with a search if needed.
Deputy Greg Almos heads the Office of Emergency Services which oversees SAR. He said the number of volunteers this year is comparable to previous years despite COVID.
DCSAR has about 30 volunteers to go out in the field and about 20 special support personnel such as snowcat drivers which longtime volunteer John Soderman said is a normal number.
While training looks basically the same, Soderman said some of their field work might change a little. He said the teams will be carrying gloves and masks to give to people they rescue if they are capable of wearing them.
“If someone comes out of run in a different place than they expected to, we’re less inclined to give them a ride back to their car if a friend could come help them instead,” Soderman.
However, while the teams will be taking COVID into consideration, it will never be at the expense of someone’s safety.
All of the teams said whether the year is busy or not depends on the amount of snow there is but they also all said COVID could impact the number of people in the backcountry.
“We’ll likely see a big increase in less educated, less skilled and solo rescues; the people who ‘just wanted to get away from the resorts,’” said Almos.
He believes they’ll see more local rescues from people avoiding the crowds at the resorts.
Block thinks it won’t just be an increase in backcountry skiers and snowboarders, it will likely be an increase in snowshoers, cross country skiers and snowmobilers.
All of the teams emphasize the importance of having the proper equipment and training if people plan to get in the backcountry.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of wearing an avalanche beacon, traveling with others and having a shovel and probe. A GPS is a good idea too,” said Block.
Almos fears that because of COVID and the stigma around traveling, people may be reluctant to share their travel plans with people but he emphasizes the importance of telling friends and family your plans when going out into the backcountry.
Soderman said some people are hesitant to call SAR because they believe it will cost them, however SAR is free. The only thing that would cost is the ambulance ride or a CareFlight ride.
“If you’re lost or hurt, don’t hesitate to call 911,” Soderman said.
He added that they can track people using the GPS on their phone so if they call immediately, it is easier to find them before their phone dies and it gets dark.
Another thing that holds people back is embarrassment, Soderman said.
“Some of the more experienced people get embarrassed to admit they are lost but everyone can get lost no matter what the skill level,” Soderman said.
He also adds that he has fun going out to a rescue so never feel bad about calling for help.
Cablk said the WOOF team enjoys the job too.
“Avalanche work is super fun for the dogs and it’s relatively easy for them to pick up,” Cablk said.
However, she added that it’s one of the most technically challenging jobs for handlers.
The majority of the rescues Soderman has done are in Cold Creek and the Minden Mile. He said it’s important to know your skill level and the routes you want to take before going out.
All teams stress the need to look at conditions before going out.
To find daily snow conditions, visit www.sierraavalanchecenter.org.
Bill seeks to remove bike ban in wilderness areas
Biking the entirety of the Tahoe Rim Trail’s 165 miles, which currently traverses areas where cyclists aren’t allowed, could be a possibility in the future if a bill amending the Wilderness Act makes its way through Congress.
The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), seeks to remove the blanket ban of bicycles in wilderness areas by inserting language to ensure that the rules restricting “mechanical transport” does not include forms of non-motorized, human-propelled travel.
At present, the Wilderness Act prohibits roads, permanent structures or use of any mechanized machines in its lands but allows hiking, camping and horseback riding. Rangers must monitor the land on foot or horseback and use hand saws instead of chainsaws to clear trails. There are 757 wilderness areas encompassing nearly 110 million acres of federally-owned land in 44 states and Puerto Rico — roughly 5% of the land in the United States.
In its original form, the 1964 act actually allowed bicycles, but it was revised in 1984 to exclude them. The current bill, introduced in May 2019, seeks to remove the ban and allow local land managers the opportunity to decide whether to allow or prohibit bikes.
Most recently, the bill received support from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in a Senate subcommittee hearing in November.
“The [United States Department of Agriculture] supports increased access to National Forest System lands, and thus supports the bill’s intent,” said Chris French, deputy chief of National Forest Systems at the U.S. Forest Service.
Michael Nedd, deputy director of operations for the Bureau of Land Management, echoed these comments.
French added, however, that he did have some concerns “regarding implementation of the bill,” which would require agencies to take action within two years of the bill’s passing.
In the Tahoe Basin, the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit manages (or co-manages) Desolation, Granite Chief and Mt. Rose wilderness areas. The agency is currently reviewing the proposed bill and did not offer comment on what wilderness areas might allow bikes should the bill pass.
It’s an exciting prospect for the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association, a nonprofit that builds, maintains and advocates for multi-use trails in the basin.
“If this bill did pass Congress (and that’s a big if) and the LTBMU was looking at changing non-motorized uses in wilderness areas, we would certainly look forward to contributing to that process and identifying areas where that might make sense and where it might not,” said Patrick Parsel, TAMBA trails director. “That being said, there would be no drastic changes to uses in the Tahoe Basin as these processes happen slowly and deliberately.
“Many of the proponents of this current bill are from areas that have seen this happen to their trails in recent years, and we certainly understand their frustration with access being taken away from an area where mountain biking has been a historic use,” added Parsel.
Most notably, the creation of Idaho’s Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness in 2015 resulted in the loss of a number of popular backcountry rides. Soon after, Montana lost 178 miles of singletrack in the Bitterroot Mountains, only intensifying the debate over mountain biking in wilderness areas.
For Mark Larabee, spokesman for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, a nonprofit devoted to protecting the 2,650-mile trail stretching from Southern California to Canada, allowing bikes in wilderness areas is akin to opening Pandora’s box.
Though the PCT is closed to bikes even on the portions that don’t run through wilderness areas, Larabee says there still are issues with people biking on the trail. Potentially allowing bikes in wilderness areas could intensify the problem.
“The Wilderness Act is our seminal land protection law. It’s the highest form of protection we have in this country for federal land,” noted Larabee. “Once you open it up to one form of mechanized travel and you change the very nature of the Wilderness Act, the other groups will be getting in line. What’s next?”
And while the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s official stance on the bill is neutral, deputy director Chris Binder does have concerns about the pressure it would put on land managers to decide whether or not to allow bikes in their jurisdictions.
“One of the problems with that approach is that while it gives opportunities to the land managers to make local decisions, which is great, most of our land management agencies don’t have the money, capacity or staff to undertake really thorough, detailed analyses that they would need to do to figure out, in a fair way, if bikes would be appropriate on certain trails,” explained Binder. “Any bill that passes without some sort of funding mechanism to make sure that there is a proper analysis to fairly weigh public opinion, physical impacts on the trail, environment effects and user conflict effects is not going to be very effective.”
Similar bills have been attempted in the past with short lifespans in the Senate, so it is unclear how the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act will fare.
Tahoe resorts receive over a foot of snow, more on way this week
Weekend storms dumped a foot of snow or more at most Lake Tahoe resorts and more is on the way this week.
The National Weather Service in Reno is calling for more snow on Wednesday and Thursday that could produce a similar amount of snow as the that storm moved through on Sunday.
Sugar Bowl received 17 to 21 inches of snow over the last three days leading the way for the basin with Heavenly Mountain Resort and Diamond Peak Ski Resort right behind with 18 and 17 inches, respectively. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows recorded 11-16 inches, Sierra-at-Tahoe got 10-15 inches, Kirkwood Mountain Resort reported 13 inches, Homewood Mountain Resort got 8-15 and Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe and Northstar California received a foot.
Chain controls were enacted on many local highways Monday morning.
The weather service is calling this week for several more inches of snow at lake level and up to 2 feet for the mountains.
Monday and Tuesday will be mostly sunny and clear with high temps from the mid 30s to low 40s. A calm 5 mph wind will come from the southwest.
A storm enters the basin on Wednesday afternoon with the snow level starting at about 7,000 feet. It will be mostly sunny with about a 30% chance of precipitation. The bulk of the storm hits overnight where there is a 90% chance of snow and wind gusts as high as 35 mph. A couple inches of snow are expected at lake level and a few more inches are forecast for Thursday morning, mainly before 10 a.m.
The Kirkwood forecast has the resort getting about a foot on Wednesday and several more inches on Thursday morning. Mt. Rose is forecast to receive about a foot of snow.
Travel in the mountains and over passes will be impacted. Motorists should prepare for tough commutes on Thursday morning and allow for extra time to reach their destinations.
Bill Rozak is the Editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tahoe Resort Report: About a foot of snow expected for Lake Tahoe region
A storm is brewing! Approx. one foot of snow expected for the Lake Tahoe region! Check out the details live from Diamond Peak Ski Resort.
Local skiers pedal 1,000 miles, hit three iconic lines in new film ’The Mountain Why’
Local skier Cody Townsend has been grinding away on a project to climb and ski all fifty lines from the book “The Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America.”
Townsend has chronicled the series, called “The FIFTY,” on his YouTube channel, and on Monday released “Mountain Why,” a ski mountaineering film about cycling more than 1,000 miles as part of crossing off three more of the continent’s iconic ski lines.
“I honestly don’t know why adventures like this spark inspiration,” said Townsend in a news release. “But what I do know is that desire to find out what’s at the end of the road is a magnetic source of energy and that curiosity to find out what is out there, around the next corner or even just what is deep inside myself is the fuel for my adventure engine.”
In an interview with the Sierra Sun, Townsend recalled the journey, setting off last June from Tahoe with lifelong friend and local pro skier Michelle Parker. Pedaling bicycles and pulling small trailers loaded down with ski gear, the two bounced down dirt roads, and cruised along highways, which Townsend said, “was probably the most terrifying part,” of a month-long journey that ultimately led the duo into the Newton Clark Headwall on Oregon’s 11,250-foot Mount Hood, Washington’s Fuhrer Finger on the 14,411-foot Mount Rainer, and the 8,868-foot Eldorado Peak in the North Cascades..
In total, the two biked 1033.16 miles, skied 20,000 feat of vertical terrain during a period of 35 days. They hauled roughly 100 pounds of camping and skiing gear.
“Through great challenge, you find a resilience deep inside you, the fact that change is really, really hard, and sometimes we need the hard to slap us right across the face to incite that change,” said Townsend in Monday’s news release. “It makes me think that maybe this hardship in the world is a catalyst for needed change. Or maybe, it’s just taking life one pedal stroke at a time even when there is little hope and lots of hard, because that’s the only way to manifest the reality that we all aspire to. Then again, maybe we just do it because man does a beer taste good after you’ve biked a 1000 miles.”
The three peaks skied by the two put Townsend at 30 peaks for The FIFTY project. “The Mountain Why” was created in conjunction with Red Bull TV, Salomon, and Yeti. The full 37-minute movie will be uploaded on The FIFTY projects YouTube channel on Dec. 27, and can be viewed now on RedBull TV.
“Voluntary suffering is character building and it ultimately builds up confidence, breaks down personal barriers, and helps me to realize what I am capable of,” said Parker ahead of the film’s release. “This trip stripped me of my ego in the end.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at email@example.com or 530-550-2643.
Epic vs. Ikon ski pass war reshapes U.S. ski industry: ’Mega-passes’ keep gobbling larger share of the market
The ski pass war between Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass and Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass reshaped the industry last season.
For the first time ever, skier and snowboard rider visits generated by season passes exceeded those from multi- and single-day lift tickets, according to an annual study performed for the National Ski Areas Association.
“Overall, the proportion of visits from season passes rose to 45.5 percent of visits while visits from daily/multi-day tickets were down to 43.5 percent,” said the Kottke End of Season Survey 2019-20 commissioned by NSAA. “Thus, the share of visits from season passes has overtaken daily/multi-day tickets for the first time.”
The trend has been a long-time coming. Season pass visits have increased nationally for the past five seasons.
Pass use climbed from 43 percent of total visits in 2017-18 to 43.4 percent the following season and 45.5 percent last season.
Meanwhile, daily and multi-ticket use dropped from 48.8 percent in 2017-18 to 43.5 percent the following year and the same percent last season.
Last ski season was cut short by the abrupt closure of most resorts in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s unknown how spring break skiing would have affected the pass use versus lift ticket sales.
However, it is clear that this season the pandemic will promote pass use. Many resorts under the Vail umbrella are requiring reservations to hit the slopes this season.
“If you want to ski the busiest of Vail Resorts’ Mountains during the holidays, you’d better hold an Epic Pass. Without it, you won’t be able to make a reservation,” said the website zrankings.com, which touts itself as the ski travel experts.
The Ikon Pass also requires reservations for use at some resorts, such as Aspen Snowmass. A $150 upgrade to the Ikon allowed buyers to ski or ride five days at Aspen Snowmass resorts as well as five days at Jackson Hole this winter.
Data wasn’t immediately available from Aspen Snowmass on use of ski passes versus lift tickets last season. In addition to its own passes and the Ikon, Skico also participates in the Mountain Collective ski pass.
The national trend of increased season pass use parallels the ramping up of competition between the two industry heavyweights. Alterra Mountain Co. was created in April 2017 to challenge Vail Resorts’ industry domination. Vail was adding to its lineup of resorts and heavily promoting its Epic Pass — a relatively inexpensive product good at multiple resorts.
Alterra was formed by KSL Capital Partners LLC and the Lester Crown family, owners of Aspen Skiing Co. Alterra created the Ikon Pass to counter the Epic.
In a book about ski industry changes, “Ski Inc. 2020,” Chris Diamond wrote that the “mega-passes” are good for the resorts and good for consumers. The cutthroat competition gives skiers and riders access to the slopes at a good price, Diamond said.
The resorts benefit because the passes encourage people to ski more often and spend more on ski lessons, rentals and dining. Skiers and riders also return more often to resorts that used to be once-in-a-lifetime experience, he said.
A variety of other passes are offered, though none with the same firepower as the Epic and Ikon. The Epic Pass provides unlimited access to 37 ski resorts and additional days at several other North American and international resorts. The full Ikon Pass provides unlimited access at 15 resorts and up to seven days each at another 27 destinations.
The Mountain Collective provides two days of skiing each at 23 participating resorts, including Aspen Snowmass.
Smaller resorts are trying not to get lost in the shuffle. The Indy Pass added 15 resorts to its lineup this season. It now provides access to 59 small, independent resorts in North America, though none in Colorado.
Scott Condon is a Staff Writer for the Aspen Times, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.