Thursday, May 15, 2014

Season passes: How about an Adirondack Alliance?

Last week, in my post about season passes, I made note of the increasing prevalence of multi-mountain passes and partnerships. Not only do these pass products deliver significant value to the passholder, they help the ski resorts expand revenue and build skier loyalty. I wondered if there might be an opportunity here in the Adirondacks, but didn’t provide much in the way of specific ideas. Well, here’s what I’d do.

First, what kind of partnerships or perks are being offered now? As noted in last week’s comments, ORDA offers free skiing at Gore and WF on Wednesdays to passholders from some other Adirondack ski areas like Oak and Titus. That’s a great benefit, if you’re retired. Not so great for families, or anyone who works Monday through Friday. Is Oak or Titus selling more season passes as a result of this perk? Probably not, because it’s not even mentioned on their websites.

Instead, how about an Adirondack Alliance? Buy an unrestricted season pass to any ski area in the Alliance, and get two free days at each of the other ski areas. Create a slick logo that all Adirondack Alliance member ski areas display prominently on their websites. Have the logo link to an Adirondack Alliance web page that lists all the participating ski areas (show them graphically on a map) and gives all the fine print (but keep it simple) about how the program works.

Ideally an Adirondack Alliance would include all of the ski areas in and around the Adirondack Park. Besides Gore and Whiteface that would include Titus, West, Willard, McCauley, Oak, Royal, Snow Ridge (and maybe a few more that I missed). I’d like to see Hickory in the Alliance, but Hickory doesn't sell season passes (or sells very few). Perhaps some arrangement could be worked out. Ditto with Big Tupper.

Why would a ski area want to give away lift tickets to passholders from other mountains? Because they are enhancing their own season pass product and will sell more as a result. It’s an opportunity to up-sell midweek and nonholiday passholders to unrestricted season passes, and it’s an opportunity for exposure to new skiers. There will be some level of ancillary spending (food & beverage) from the reciprocal visits. All of which puts dollars on the bottom line since the incremental cost of the additional skier visits is essentially nil.

What would all these “free” lift tickets cost a participating ski area? The only cost to participation is an opportunity cost – some number of paying skier visits will be replaced with non-paying skier visits. How many? Only the number of skier visits by passholders from other participating mountains that would have occurred anyway, and even that’s limited to just two free days per passholder.

What are the obstacles? There’s a website and logo that would have to be created. I’m sure there’s a hundred details I haven’t even considered that would need to be fine-tuned. Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is the cooperation that would be required between a half dozen plus independent ski areas and a state agency (ORDA). But it’s already being done elsewhere - my idea is roughly based on the Powder Alliance, a partnership among 12 independent ski areas out West.

Why establish a partnership? Survival. Smaller ski areas are on the endangered list. Consider recent bankruptcies (West Mountain, Greek Peak), on again – off again closures (Hickory, Oak, Big Tupper) and the now defunct ski areas (Paleface, Harvey Mountain) that once operated in Gore’s and Whiteface’s shadow. That’s a trend that’s been happening all over North America for decades. But this isn’t just a handout from ORDA to the smaller ski areas, Gore and Whiteface will benefit from the partnership too. To me, anything that delivers more value to skiers and at the same time strengthens the business of skiing in the Adirondacks is a win.


  1. An excellent idea Jeff, but how about taking it even further and including Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Mass areas as well. To me the kicker with the new Killington pass is that includes western US ski areas is quite an incentive, as it now allows you to vacation with your local pass. I realize that crawling before walking is necessary but it's nice to think BIG :)

    1. Sure, the Powder Alliance I mentioned is 12 independent ski areas in 9 Western states. My initial idea was to use an Adirondack partnership as 1) a branding strategy and 2) a way to strengthen the smaller ski hills in the region, but I don't see any reason why areas outside the region couldn't be part of the partnership.