Fri, Aug 16, 2013 10:39 AM
New programs, partnerships bolster region
The Rutland Region received good news at the 32nd annual Winter in
August held in Rutland on Tuesday, Aug. 13, when ski resort
officials announced a new partnership and joint initiatives to
bolster the winter market for snow sports.
Killington and Okemo unveiled a new value-laden pass, called '4.0
The College Pass.' This pass will enable college students of any
age, including graduate school, to ski or ride any day at
Killington, Okemo, Pico, or Mount Sunapee. There are no blackout
days to access the most terrain and lifts available on one ticket
in the East!
The 59 lifts, including 13 express quads and two gondolas, give
access to 378 trails, 150 miles of skiable terrain, a total of
8,727 vertical feet, and 19 terrain parks. The pass, which costs
$369 plus tax, can be purchased at any one of the four areas
through Dec. 15, 2013.
In addition, these areas boast the most advanced grooming and
snowmaking technology in the country. Killington and Pico are
sister areas under Powdr Corp, and Okemo and Mount Sunapee are
sister areas under Triple Peaks. While Killington pioneered
snowmaking and was a test site for grooming machines, particularly
the winch cat, and grew to number one in skier visits as a result,
Okemo grew to the number two Eastern area after adopting a similar
dedication to snowmaking and grooming when the Muellers (owners of
Triple Peaks, LLC) took over in
Discounts and other benefits
The new 4.0 pass also includes five 50-percent-off, college-buddy
tickets and will be sold through each resort's website and at their
respective season pass offices. Additional benefits vary from
resort to resort.
The Killington Resort and Pico Mountain 4.0 The College Pass
holders will receive 20% off select lodging, 15% off snow sports
lessons, 10% off food and beverage purchases at all base lodges,
and 10% off retail at all Killington Sports locations in addition
to the five buddy pre-loaded 50% off lift tickets (valid with
college ID) any day of the 2013-14 season. Additionally, they
receive varying discounts at Killington Access Road's restaurants,
nightclubs and ski shops during Killington College Weeks, January
5-10 and 12-17, 2013. (Some restrictions may apply.)
Skiers and riders who purchase their 4.0 Season Pass at Okemo
receive 25% off multi-day lift tickets at Crested Butte, its
Colorado sister resort, in addition to the five 'buddy' tickets
benefit. Okemo will also extend the 4.0 pass offer to students who
have recently completed their scholastic career and graduated in
The 4.0 pass is great news for early-snow aficionados as
Killington Resort plans to open in early November so 4.0
passholders can enjoy a head start even if Okemo - which plans a
mid-November opening - is their "regular" area. This also works at
the end of the season as Killington strives to maintain its beastly
longest season in the East. Since Mount Sunapee opens late-November
and Pico Mountain will open mid-December, there are similar
benefits to their 4.0 holders, too.
Other benefits include the obvious access to varying the snow
experience with such a diversity of trails and parks, but catching
fresh untracked powder more often. A Tuesday or Wednesday snowstorm
will enable 4.0 passholders who missed those days to enjoy new
un-skied powder at Pico on Thursdays (due to Pico being closed
earlier in the week). Conversely, Pico 4.0 passholders will be able
to enjoy the other three areas on days Pico is closed.
And for time-short students, the closer proximity of Mount Sunapee
to greater Boston area colleges could make a half-day trip doable.
This could work for upstate New York college students taking
Vermont ski trips as well.
$369+tax gives students access to 59 lifts, 13 express
quads, 2 gondolas, 378 trails, 150 miles of terrain, 8,727 vertical
feet, and 19 terrain parks.
"We are thrilled to partner with Okemo and Sunapee to offer the
best value in a New England college season pass. We are looking
forward to strengthening our relationship with our new resort
partnership," stated Mike Solimano, president and general manager
for Killington Resort and Pico Mountain.
"This is an unprecedented partnership between four of New
England's top resorts that will offer more for college pass
holders, while at the same time allowing us to explore other
partnership opportunities with Killington and Pico for the future,"
said Okemo Mountain Resort Vice President and General Manager Bruce
Already that exploration is bearing fruit, as the concept of
offering more diversity and value is being extended to others this
winter via multi-day packages of three or more days. Now, one day
of a multi-day ticket may be used at a partner resort regardless of
where purchased. So when an Okemo skier/rider purchases a
three-or-more-days ticket, he/she can use one of those days at
Killington, Pico or Sunapee. This applies for multi-day ticket
purchases at each of the other three resorts as well.
This one-day benefit could mean perks similar to those of the 4.0
pass. In addition to sampling more fresh powder, the time-crunched
multi-day-ticket holder might choose to ski their last day at
Sunapee if heading home in that direction, or conversely at one of
the Vermont areas if heading west.
Why it is good news for all
This foray into a joint effort to increase interest in snow sports
is not just good for business, it is essential to the region's
Rob Megnin, marketing director for Killington Resort and Pico
Mountain, notes, "Our new programs are absolutely necessary because
if we don't bring new skiers and snowboarders into the sport, we'll
see fewer and fewer participants in coming years. Our livelihood,
our community's livelihood, and the state's depend on the economic
impact the sports generate for Vermont…The greatest challenge is
how to make snow sports grow."
Chief among the challenges the ski industry faces are two market
segments - the aging baby-boomer population and the younger
generations, Megnin noted. It was the burgeoning baby-boomer
generation that drove the the sport, causing the "ski boom" in the
1950s and 1960s, when a proliferation of new ski areas made it easy
for people to find a nearby hill to learn the sport. But now one
baby boomer turns age 63 every seven seconds, according to Dr.
Joseph F. Coughlin, director of MIT's AgeLab. This has
repercussions as committed skiers and riders begin to "age out" of
Ironically, this is occurring just as innovative developments in
technology have made skiing more fun, through better terrain and
ski/snowboard equipment. But for aging snow aficionados, there are
a host of factors that are, or will, inevitably cause them to drop
out -costs (especially with the past economic downturn),
retirements to sunny climates, the fear of getting hurt, physical
ailments, knee and hip replacements among others. That the
attrition rate of this demographic will accelerate in the future is
a national concern for the snow sports industry as well as all
those in the region that depend on it.
But Megnin is not giving up on seniors and notes that Killington
has already added more options for adults like the 4241 program
inaugurated last year. The 55+ market segment has actually been
growing faster than others due to "greater actual participation,"
he said, attributing it, in part, to more free time and better
equipment. However, he noted a need to "do more to ensure that this
group stays with the sport."
He also said that growing winter sports participation is not just
as simple as letting younger generations know snow sports exist.
The diversity of the younger populations is a challenge in itself,
one that encompasses the need to address potential language
barriers as population shifts occur (more Spanish speaking and
foreign visitors), the competition for their time and more
sedentary lifestyles, etcetera.
It is the coupling of these two demographic trends that most
threatens to derail the great strides made in growing skier visits
both locally and nationally. Climate change is another challenge,
but for resorts like Killington and Okemo, which have a reputation
for world-class snowmaking, it is a lesser challenge.
Additionally, Killington has been focusing on growing the market
via learn-to-ski programs and has achieved an above average 35
percent conversion rate (one of the highest in the industry),
according to Megnin, who attributes that accomplishment to
Killington's historic focus on teaching methods.
This year's new initiatives continue those efforts, Megnin said,
citing "the tremendous value that the college and multi-day tickets
put into the product this year." Just as he projects "a 25-to-40
percent growth in college passes," Megnin sees the multi-day ticket
as helping to keep people engaged and also appealing to foreign
independent travelers who will benefit from the great diversity and
be drawn back to the region as a ski destination.
Challenges of time, climate
David Kulis, new marketing director at Okemo, further explained
the need for such new partnerships and initiatives, noting: "As an
industry, we've tended to focus too much on attention on the
details that excite only true skiing enthusiasts or insiders - the
latest innovations in gear, skiable acreage, how many lifts we
have, and so on. In reality, we have to entice an audience
beyond our core demographic that very much needs healthy escape
from the rigors of everyday life. The real question for our
industry is how we maintain relevancy in a world that offers so
much competition for one's time."
Noting Okemo Resort's efforts to widen its winter appeal through
more activities (sports center, mountain coaster, tubing, etc.) and
programs, Kulis added, "We've been able to stretch participation by
the baby-boom generation through a combination of innovations in
equipment, grooming and programming. We want to continue to
focus on multi-generational efforts that allow these enthusiasts an
opportunity to share their love of snowsports with younger family
members. The opportunity to do so won't last forever, and it's
not a complete fix for longer-term demographic challenges, but it's
a good start."
Kulis also noted that addressing other challenges like climate
change has been a priority as well. "Okemo is a leader in
snowmaking technology, and this year's investment [almost $1
million on snowmaking improvements, including 225 HKD high tech
snow guns] is geared to do two things. First, it allows us to
get a faster start at a time of year with limited snowmaking
windows. Second, it affords us an opportunity to do this in a
way that is sensitive to energy use and overall
efficiency. The new snow guns allow us to make much more snow
for the energy that we put into production," he noted.
Partnership benefits region
With the resorts expecting to see significant growth in college
passes, they hope to create a passion for snow sports that
ultimately leads these students to become "lifelong skiers." While
they also hope to build "brand loyalty," they recognize that
students may end up at other ski areas or parts of the
The hope is that these 'test' or pilot program partnerships might
lead to other co-operative passes in the future. Since Killington
and Okemo are the number one and two ski areas in the East (in
skier visits), the perk of the extra areas one could ski on a
"regular" season pass could entice even more people to commit to
the region, thus enhancing the future market not only for the
partner areas but also for area businesses.
Megnin and Kulis, Killington and Okemo are focused on the need to
do more to ensure a successful future for their areas as well as
the entire region so that visitors know Central Vermont as a
premier travel destination.
The first step in that direction was making the announcement to
locals at Winter in August, an event that seeks to honor the
economic impact of the skis areas, two days before they released
this news to the general media.