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Les ski passes, the resorts' strategy against the lack of snow

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Despite the lack of snow in Whistler, the Vail Group, which owns the resort, has managed to increase its revenues.


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The absence of snow is no longer as much of a threat to the survival of ski resorts. For several years, they have been encouraging their customers to buy their tickets in advance, well before knowing if the season will be good.

The American group Vail Resorts, owner of the Whistler Blackcomb resort in British Columbia, started the trend in the late 2000s.

In 2008 , subscriptions earned it US$78 million across all its stations. In 2023, this amount increased to US$853 million, an annual growth rate of 17%.

The other stations were quick to follow. At Sunshine Village in Banff National Park, tickets purchased at the base of the slopes now account for only 15% of all lifts.

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All of our other products that require an upfront commitment are growing, says Kendra Scurfield, vice president of marketing.

The benefits of selling tickets in advance are astronomical […] because it is an expensive industry. Lifts are very expensive to maintain and develop. We have 800 employees at the peak of the season.

A quote from Kendra Scurfield, Vice President of Marketing, Sunshine Village

Even before the slopes open, the winter sports resort can ensure that it is not in a budget deficit, as Kendra Scurfield explains.

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Sales before the start of the season provide financial stability for Sunshine Village ski resort.

Data from Vail Group, which is a publicly traded company, shows the strategy is paying off for resorts. As of mid-January, visitor numbers for all of the group's stations were down 16.2%, but ticket revenue was up 2.6%.

Even if no snow fell on all of its mountains, [the Vail Group] would still have the revenue from pre-sales. This allows it to avoid larger drops [in revenue], says Chris Woronka, a leisure market analyst at Deutsche Bank in New York.

Strategy becomes increasingly crucial as the seasons change, as Daniel Scott, professor of geography at the University of Waterloo, explains. Snow becomes increasingly unpredictable at the start of the season and around the holiday season.

Some stations have included [this variability] in their ticket sales strategy. A bad year in Whistler can be offset by a good year in Colorado or Quebec.

A quote from Daniel Scott, professor of geography, University of Waterloo

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Tickets purchased the same day at the foot of the slopes are more expensive, which can be a barrier for very occasional skiers.

Vail thus launched the trend of multi-resort packages, a purchase that gives access to several ski areas.

Once again, the competitors quickly fell into line. The Mountain Collective, a collection of independent resorts, launched its own multi-resort membership in 2012. With just one card, customers have access to 24 resorts around the world.

[Vail] has created a market for skiers and riders who don't necessarily live near a resort, but who still purchased a season pass, says Todd Burnette, CEO of Mountain Collective. Customers committed to going to a Vail Group resort before the season even started.

To increase sales in advance, the stations also played on the price. A ticket purchased at the foot of the slopes at Vail Group resorts costs on average three times more than one purchased in advance through a season pass or other package, as Chris Woronka points out.

He adds, however, that the marketing strategy doesn't mean visitors aren't welcome: Companies want you to use your subscriptions because they'll get extra revenue. You'll buy dinner or a drink, and that's extra profit.

At Sunshine Ski Resort, on a weekday, people visitors, however, discover both sides of the coin of this strategy.

If you live near here, it's a good thing because you can come for half a day without it costing too much, […] but you never know the conditions. It can be a terrible winter or a really good one, says skier Rachel Hebert. been thinking she was going to ski a lot. However, she was injured in the meantime, and her schedule changed, which limited her ski days: I have friends who had to have surgery and couldn't ski. They never managed to get their subscription card refunded.

Despite the disadvantages for customers, analyst Chris Woronka believes that the strategy will continue to grow. The Vail Group, for example, launched a pilot project of sports equipment subscriptions for its visitors.

D&#x27 ;after information from Paula Duhatschek

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