Al­terra Moun­tain Co.’s Ikon Pass de­buts this sea­son as an al­ter­na­tive to Vail Re­sorts’ Epic Pass. What does this mean for skiers, re­sorts— and the en­vi­ron­ment?


SKI - - CONTENTS - By Paul Tolmé

In early April of 2017, Aspen Ski­ing Com­pany CEO Mike Ka­plan told hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees gath­ered at an end-of-sea­son party that big news was about to break that would be­gin an ex­cit­ing new era for Aspen and the en­tire ski in­dus­try. Ka­plan was sworn to se­crecy and could say no more, but be­hind the scenes he and some of the ski in­dus­try’s most pow­er­ful ex­ec­u­tives and wealth­i­est fi­nanciers were in­volved in a flurry of deal mak­ing that, within days of Ka­plan’s speech, would kick off a ski re­sort buy­ing spree and re­sult in a pow­er­house new brand: Al­terra Moun­tain Com­pany.

Cre­ated to com­pete with Vail Re­sorts and its Epic Pass, Al­terra and its Ikon Pass rep­re­sents the big­gest ski in­dus­try shakeup in a decade, a colos­sus brand with more than 64,000 ski­able acres, 24,000 em­ploy­ees, and 7.5 mil­lion skier vis­its across 29 moun­tain des­ti­na­tions. “It’s a par­a­digm shifter,” says in­dus­try an­a­lyst Dave Belin of snows­ports mar­ket re­search con­sul­tant RRC As­so­ciates.

Within 14 months, Al­terra grew from a fan­ci­ful idea into a 13-re­sort con­glom­er­ate that owns some of Amer­ica’s best-known moun­tains and of­fers pass priv­i­leges at 15 more iconic des­ti­na­tions. Rapidly ex­e­cuted, the idea to cre­ate a multi-re­sort com­pany to chal­lenge Vail Re­sorts and its dom­i­nance stretches back more than a decade. “It was a con­ver­sa­tion that took place over many beers over many years,” says Al­terra CEO Rusty Gregory.

For skiers, Al­terra’s cre­ation means in­creased in­vest­ment in re­sort in­fra- struc­ture—the com­pany has promised to spend $555 mil­lion over five years on im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing $130 mil­lion this year—as well as new travel op­tions en­abled by the Ikon Pass. “This win­ter is go­ing to be fun,” says Kelly Lan­ders of Steam­boat, who along with her hus­band bought Ikon Passes for them­selves and their two kids. “We’re ex­cited to check out Big Sky and Alta, and our daugh­ter wants to ski the groomers at Deer Val­ley.”

For skiers con­cerned about cli­mate change, Al­terra plans to be an in­dus­try leader. The com­pany has part­nered with Pro­tect Our Win­ters (POW), the in­dus­try’s lead­ing voice for cli­mate ac­tion, and will im­ple­ment many en­vi­ron­men­tal best-prac­tices pi­o­neered by eco-con­scious Aspen Ski­ing Co. “Due to its size, Al­terra can re­ally bring the cli­mate move­ment in the ski in­dus­try to scale,” says Au­den Schendler, VP of Sus­tain­abil­ity for Aspen.

Ikon Pass buy­ers get a one-year mem­ber­ship in POW, which will share in­for­ma­tion and ac­tion alerts on cli­mate sci­ence, pol­icy, voter ini­tia­tives, and more dur­ing après-ski cli­mate gath­er­ings at Al­terra re­sorts. “The Al­terra part­ner­ship pro­vides us with a huge new au­di­ence that can help unify the in­dus­try around the need for ac­tion and also ed­u­cate and em­power skiers and rid­ers,” says Mario Molina, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of POW.

Al­terra’s for­mal ge­n­e­sis be­gan in the months and weeks be­fore Ka­plan’s speech in early 2017, when KSL Cap­i­tal Part­ners and the own­ers of Aspen Ski­ing Com­pany, Henry Crown and Com­pany, joined forces to buy In­trawest and its mul­ti­ple re­sorts. Next, they bought Mam­moth, fol­lowed by Deer Val­ley. By Jan­uary 2018, when Al­terra Moun­tain Com­pany an­nounced its name, it had amassed a port­fo­lio of des­ti­na­tions from Bri­tish Columbia to Maine, with re­sorts in five states and three Cana­dian prov­inces: Steam­boat and Win­ter Park in Colorado; Squaw Val­ley-Alpine Mead­ows, Mam­moth, June and Big Bear in Cal­i­for­nia; Deer Val­ley in Utah; Strat­ton in Ver­mont and Snow­shoe in West Virginia; Trem­blant in Que­bec and Blue Moun­tain in On­tario, plus B.C.’s CMH Heli-Ski­ing.

The Ikon Pass added 14 more des­ti­na­tions: Aspen, Cop­per, and El­dora in Colorado; Jack­son Hole in Wy­oming; Big Sky in Montana; Killing­ton and Su­gar­bush in Ver­mont; Sun­day River and Su­gar­loaf in Maine; Loon Moun­tain in New Hamp­shire; Alta, Snow­bird, and Soli­tude in Utah; plus, Lake Louise, Sun­shine Vil­lage, and Mt. Norquay in Al­berta and Revel­stoke in B.C.; and Thredbo in Aus­tralia.

After all the hype, this sea­son will be a test run. “We are build­ing the air­plane as we’re fly­ing it,” says Gregory.

That’s just fine with Jeremiah Greco and his girl­friend, Ikon Pass buy­ers who’ve been busy schem­ing bucket list trips. “The dream for this sea­son would be Salt Lake City to Boze­man to hit Snow­bird, Jack­son Hole, and Big Sky,” says Greco, 36, of Wil­liamstown, Mass., who also plans to ski closer to home at Ikon re­sorts Strat­ton, Killing­ton, and Su­gar­bush. “With all th­ese op­tions, we won’t get bored.”

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