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Four thoughts on Vail’s 20% price cut of the Epic Pass.

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I’ve never been one to have a brilliant response to big news the moment it happens, but there are a few thoughts that keep coming to mind as I think about Vail’s decision to cut the price of the Epic Pass by 20%.

So, I’ll give this a go and we’ll see how right I am once the dust settles.

#1) Selling Resorts
I’ve had the feeling for a while now that Vail might be getting ready to sell off a few resorts. This comes from nothing more than a guess that when Vail purchased Peak Resorts they got a lot of resorts they wanted…and a few resorts they didn’t.

This isn’t the reason they dropped prices, but I’d imagine the price creep (upward) will begin again next year and if there’s ever a time to drop a few mountains it’d probably be right after you lowered prices rather than raised them.

#2) Trying to squeeze the Ikon Pass?
We know they’ve crunched their numbers, but I have to imagine Vail has crunched Alterra’s numbers and may have seen something. I guess I’d describe it as an opportunity to put even more pressure on their competitor by trying to force them into a price range that Alterra can’t sustain but Vail can (at least longer than Alterra) given the current size of the pie.

I’ve seen this move a few times outside of ski/resorts. A company with cash on hand or a fresh round of funding lowers prices to an unsustainable level right when their competitor is in a financial situation that prevents them from following suit.

#3) Vail’s view on this in 3 Years? A mistake.
Like I said, I know Vail is great at crunching the numbers and I’m sure they’ve been crunching like crazy. And I know they believe this is the best move financially for them. But I sincerely think that even their leadership team will look back on this in 2-3 years and view it as a mistake.

Maybe they have some secret NPS data that proves otherwise, but I feel like if there’s ever been a year to not creep closer to the “how many skiers can we handle” ledge, it’s one coming off a disaster of a year for the skiing experience. Maybe skiers don’t care. Maybe they relish all the likes and coverage they get from those lift line photos. Maybe there really is no limit.

But, maybe there is.

#4) Perception of Price
You’ve probably heard me say that the cost of skiing isn’t a problem, but the perception of the cost of skiing is. And that’s because of two players controlling the vast majority of what casual and non-skiers see. This has the potential to exacerbate things. Because even a $259 window rate, while high, is still 1/3 of the price of these discounted passes.

In other words, there was always a less expensive alternative to season passes. So even if the season passes are cheaper, if skiers think that’s the only option because our marketing, increasingly, suggests it is? That perception could go from skiing being a $259 thing to a $789 thing. To point #2 above, if this makes it even harder to grow the pie? Then this zero sum game becomes even more so.

The Risk
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: two companies control the majority of the skier visits and the majority of the marketing voice around our sport is a really precarious situation.

A move like this only heightens that risk.

Am I wrong on all of these? There’s a good chance. I really do hope this all works out. I hope that the decrease in skiing experience doesn’t come back to collectively bite us. But man, I can’t shake the feeling that this could end really poorly for skiers and resort employees alike in the long term.

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