When A-basin split from the Epic pass at the end of the 2018/19 ski season, lots of people lauded them for sticking it to Vail Resorts. Many skiers and boarders were happy for the little mountain and excited to see how it would fare independently, on its own, without suckling from the teat of a megalomaniacal ski corporation.
Then, not long after that, A-Basin announced their commitment to join the Ikon Pass, owned by Alterra Mountain Company — Vail’s direct (and only real) business competitor. It was a treacherous, though not exactly shocking, maneuver.
Like a fickle lover, A-Basin had jumped out of bed with one sugar daddy corporation and into bed with another — and now, they’re locked in an escalating rivalry with their next-door neighbor and ex-ally, Keystone Mountain Resort, the nearest Vail-owned mountain.
The race is on: to be the first to open and the last to close; to rob one another of as many pass holders as possible. Which just might play out in favor of Colorado’s skiers and snowboarders…
Case and point: just this week, Keystone replaced 50 of their old snow guns with new higher-tech versions, on all of their opening runs. The new snow guns, Techno Alpin TF10’s, are the top of the line and each cost as much as a “middle-of-the-range station wagon.” These things can convert water into snow at the drop of a hat, they disperse snow evenly on a sweet mechanized swinging arm, and they even turn-on automatically when they sense that the conditions are right for blowing snow. These are the Mercedes Benz’ of snow guns.
According to Lauren Roberson, the Senior Communications Manager for Keystone, last year, Vail Resorts made a similar investment at Breckenridge. They replaced 50 of their old snow guns, with these sweet new TF10’s in an effort to extend the end Breck’s season by a full month. Now, Keystone is getting the same kind of upgrade, only theirs is focused on the beginning of ski season.
“What's happening at Keystone is that we're upgrading the snow making on all of our opening terrain,” says Roberson. “That’s going to allow us to open as early as possible.”
Between Breck and Keystone, Roberson says Epic Pass holders will have access to one of the longest ski seasons in the country (tentatively: October – May).
When asked if that strategy had anything to do with the loss of A-Basin last year (which normally operates from October to June, sometimes even July), Roberson chuckled.
“We're opening as early as possible,” she repeats. “To provide the most value for our Epic Pass holders … read into that as you will.”
Typically, Keystone opens around November 7th, but this year they are shooting for a late October opening.
“As soon as temperatures drop to the appropriate conditions, then we'll fire up this November and start making snow.” Roberson says.
Still, that might not be enough to beat A-Basin to the punch. Currently, A-Basin hopes to open in mid-October. Their snow guns (while not as fancy as Keystone’s new ones) are already locked and loaded, in position and ready to start blowing. And their snowmaking team is already on the hill, training and working with equipment, according to reports.
“Skiers and riders have a choice in Colorado right now,” Roberson says. “We're going to do everything we can to continue to reinvest in order to provide them with the best experience possible.”
In other words, Vail Resorts is prepared to drop some serious cash to keep their edge and to keep their customer base. And Alterra Mountain Company is no doubt ready to match them, investment for investment.
It’s a Mexican standoff in the high Rockies. A mountain heat that’s putting pressure on the two biggest businesses in Snow Sports.
Which, is good news for anyone buying a pass this year. Better snow makers and earlier opening dates? Sounds like a good deal for ski bums, knuckle-draggers, snow junkies and powder hounds across the state. When the big corporations start vying to outdo one another, it’s usually the customer who comes out on top.
So, to that end, let’s hope this situation continues to heat up. While Epic and Ikon pass holders have their differences, one thing we can all agree on is that these big ski corporations deserve to feel the squeeze of competition.