Friday, July 3, 2009

Sun Valley drops ski pass prices

Resort moves to reel in skiers hungry for bargains


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

In an unprecedented move, Sun Valley Resort has lowered the price of its season pass for the 2009-2010 winter, with significant savings going to skiers and snowboarders who purchase passes during July.

The resort this week unveiled the new Sun Plus Pass, an unrestricted season pass with numerous other benefits, which, if purchased before July 31, will cost $1,499.

The "Buy in July" special begins today. Discounted passes are available at the River Run ticket office or online at skipass.sunvalley.com.

The Sun Plus Pass also includes six days of skiing at Snowbasin, a ski area near Salt Lake City that bills itself as a "Sun Valley Resort" and is also owned by Utah billionaire Earl Holding. The pass also entitles holders to a 10 percent discount on demos and tuning at Pete Lane's sports store, Sun Valley Village restaurants, Sun Valley retail shops and Sun Valley Heli Ski trips.

A season pass for Nordic skiing on Sun Valley trails can be added to the Sun Plus Pass for $100.

The July special will save skiers and snowboarders $500 off the full price of $1,999, which will be the cost beginning Nov. 1. From Aug. 1 through Oct. 31, the full-season pass will be sold at a discount for $1,699.

Last season, a season pass at full price cost $2,050.

"This is the first time the price of a season pass has come down in the 30-or-so years I've worked here," Sun Valley spokesman Jack Sibbach said.

Sibbach said the last time the resort's season pass fell under $1,500 was for the 1997-1998 season.

The resort's 20-Day Pass will also be discounted in July, to a price of $750, compared to $800 last year, but will jump to $1,000 starting in November.

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Other passes discounted in July include the Season Discount Card, $60, the Weekend Discount Card, $40, and the Early/Late Pass, $199.

The resort also added a new pass aimed at attracting college students, the College Six-Pack, which is valid for any six days during the season and can be purchased with a valid college ID for $249.

Gone for the upcoming ski season is the 30-Day Pass, which Sibbach said was eliminated because it proved not to be very popular last season, the first year it was available.

"We think people will spend a little more and upgrade to the full season pass," Sibbach said of people who purchased the 20- and 30-day passes for this past winter. "By dropping the price, we're going to need to sell more season passes to match our revenue. But in this economy, this is a risk worth taking."

Sibbach said the decision to lower the prices was made by a committee of the resort's managers, including Tim Silva, who took over as general manager of Sun Valley Co. in May.

"This resort has always provided great value," Silva said. "This pass is just an extension of that, especially with the benefits that have been added."

Silva emphasized that the new pass prices are the result of a team effort, rather than a predetermined policy brought from his former job as the general manager of the Northstar ski resort at Lake Tahoe. Silva said the definition of good value is a successful business strategy.

Sibbach said the new pass price was not a response to the slew of discounted season passes that have become available for Western ski resorts in the past year.

The Epic Pass, created for the 2008-2009 season, gives holders unrestricted access to the Colorado resorts of Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin, as well as Heavenly in California, all for $599. The $399 Rocky Mountain Super Pass provides season-long skiing at Copper Mountain and Winter Park, both in Colorado.

"If we were located next to Vail, we might have to take a different strategy," Sibbach said. "But we're not in that market, competing with the Front Range resorts."

Season pass prices for a number of other resorts have yet to be announced, but based on last year's figures, Sun Valley's new prices are very comparable.

For the 2008-2009 season, a season pass for Jackson Hole ski resort could be purchased early for $1,625 or $1,970 at the start of the season, and Utah's Park City offered its season pass for $1,450.

In Aspen, Colo., employees of businesses belonging to the Aspen Chamber of Commerce paid $1,299 for a season pass, while non-members paid $1,769. According to a report in The Aspen Times, Aspen Skiing Co. has said that it will not be entering the "ski pass price war" and change its pricing strategy because of what its fellow Colorado ski areas are doing.

Jon Duval: jduval@mtexpress.com




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