Season pass aren’t necessarily a new phenomenon.
In this case, at least the players are.
Last year it was the Epic Pass that infiltrated New England with Vail’s purchase of Stowe Mountain Resort. This season, the Ikon Pass enters into the competition aiming to give skiers and riders the largest portfolio of resorts under one blanket.
The question of the 2018-19 season may indeed become, are you Epic or Ikonic?
Both Colorado-based entities have expanded their reaches in the Northeast this season. Vail added Vermont’s Okemo Mountain Resort and New Hampshire’s Mount Sunapee to its stable of properties during the offseason, giving Epic Pass holders a trio of local mountain ties. But the Ikon Pass has made steady leeway, grouping Stratton, Killington, Sunday River, Loon, Sugarloaf and Sugarbush into its East offerings.
Go Epic, and you’ll be privy to skiing at the local holdings, not to mention places out west like Vail, Heavenly and Park City. Go Ikon, and you’ll have unlimited access at bigmountain locales such as Squaw Valley, Steamboat and Copper Mountain.
There’s a lot of variety to enjoy no matter which way you go, and the same can be said about the improvements to our favorite skiing and riding landscapes this season. Here’s a look at what’s new to look forward to at mountains and resorts across New England.
While the Epic Pass has made impressive headway in bringing Stowe and Okemo under its mighty wing, Vail’s acquisition of Mount Sunapee’s operating lease from Tim and Diane Mueller might prove added significance noting Sunapee’s distance from the Boston area (about a 90-minute drive). Upon closing late in September, Vail announced that it planned to invest $35 million in the new properties it has acquired (also including another former Mueller property, Crested Butte in Colorado, and Stevens Pass in Washington), so more improvements are on the way, though Sunapee’s 56-acre West Bowl expansion may or may not be part of the plans.
For now, it’s the Epic Pass ($949 adults, $499 children ages 5-12) that’s all the rage, giving holders unlimited skiing at Sunapee, Stowe and Okemo, along with a host of other premier resorts. Meanwhile, the Epic Local Pass ($709, $379 ages 5-12, and $569 teens ages 13-18) provides unlimited access to Okemo and Sunapee, with select restricted dates at Stowe. Epic 7-day ($709, $379) and 4-day passes ($489, $269) also are available.
Ninety minutes up the road, Loon Mountain Resort, now officially owned by Boyne Resorts, will offer its normal Boyne passes, with access to sister resorts Sunday River and Sugarloaf. But the Ikon Pass (similarly priced to the Epic at $999) will offer unlimited access to only Vermont’s Stratton Mountain Resort and Canada’s Mount Tremblant. At Loon, Ikon pass holders will get seven days of access, the same amount they’ll receive at Sugarloaf, Killington, Sunday River and Sugarloaf. The Ikon Base pass ($699) is good at 36 destinations with some blackouts, and is valid only for five days at each of the New England properties, including Stratton (Tremblant is the only Eastern resort where the Base pass is unlimited with select blackout dates).
Bretton Woods will debut the Granite State’s first eightperson gondola this season. The 6,000-foot line will hail 36 cabins, on a trip that will take about five minutes with an uphill speed of more than 13 miles per hour.
Five times the size of the old lodge, Mount Snow’s new $22 million Carinthia Base Lodge will open at the start of this season, featuring a coffee bar, restaurant, retail, rentals and more.
The World Cup at Killington won’t be the only professional tournament to hit the East Coast this season as Waterville Valley Resort will pay homage to its tradition of bringing world-class events to the slopes with the addition of the U.S. Alpine National Championships in March, an event that promises to bring some of the world’s top competitive skiers to New Hampshire. Waterville also will unveil more of its Green Peak expansion with the final three trails to make their debuts including “Wayne Wong Way,” which will be the steepest pitch at the resort.
Summer projects at Attitash Mountain Resort included the cleaning and rebuilding of each of the pumps in the pump houses, bringing them back to 100 percent efficiency. Two new and larger pumps were installed on the Lower Attitash system. As for the lifts, both the Flying Bear Lift and the summit triple saw significant mechanical improvements.
Pats Peak continued to increase its snowmaking capabilities with four new fans and 20 new towers. The ski area’s lodge also will be expanded and will feature an all-new post and beam entrance, brand new bathrooms, an elevator and additional seating.
Smugglers’ Notch, one of Vermont’s grade-A family destinations, launches its free Kids’ Club this season, offering all kids 12 and under a free treasure chest of goodies.
King Pine Ski Area has upgraded its lift infrastructure, continued to improve its tree skiing within the existing boundary, and invested more than $40,000 to update its rental fleet.
Cannon Mountain spent $180,000 to make aerial tramway upgrades, plus an additional $180,000 for upgrades on other chairlifts. The ski area also invested $90,000 in snowmaking upgrades.
The pedestrian bridge that provides access to the base area from the lodge at Wildcat Mountain is getting a needed refurbishment. The Pinkham Notch ski area also will have a new Pisten Bully 400 snow cat to play around with this winter.
It’s going to be a season-long birthday celebration for Sugarbush Mountain Resort, marking 60 years since Damon and Sara Gadd opened the resort on Christmas Day in 1958. Events surrounding the legacy of “Mascara Mountain” up into its present-day annals will take place throughout the year. Sugarbush also is part of the Ikon Pass this season, as well as the Mountain Collective, an alliance of 17 ski resorts across the country. The Mountain Collective pass includes two days at each participating resort, and 50 percent lift tickets following. Another new Sugarbush pass this year is the 4Pass, for $239, good for up to four visits anytime during the season.
Smugglers’ Notch looks to get even more familyfriendly this season by officially launching its free Kids’ Club, which will offer all kids 12 and under a free treasure chest of goodies. During select weeks, the resort will offer all guests staying on any Club Smugglers’ package free lessons and rentals for anyone under the age of 12. On the hill, the resort’s banked slalom course on Madonna Mountain will open new doors for both intermediate and experts in and out of lessons, and fat bikes will be available to explore Smuggs’ expansive cross-country terrain.
Kids were an offseason focus at Stowe Mountain Resort as well, with the creation of new on-mountain “Kids Adventure Zones” that will give families ease of mind when seeking out gentle side-county areas and suitable freestyle terrain. Epic Mix also will make its debut at Stowe this winter, giving skiers and riders the ability to track their days and vertical feet as well as check real-time lift line waiting times using their RFID chip-embedded pass or lift ticket.
Stratton Mountain Resort will unveil its new Snow Bowl lift this season, the highlight of its $10 million capital plan. The high-speed quad will be situated to minimize the impact of wind and inclement weather while providing easier access to beginner terrain from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak. With a 1,000-foot-per-minute speed, ride time is reduced from 14 to five minutes. Other improvements at the new Ikon partner will include a new grooming machine, a remodel of the Green Mountain Room for weddings and events, plus the first phase of a mountain bike center.
Bolton Valley Resort is looking to resurrect the ski team heritage that dates back to the ski area’s beginnings. New programs will help athletes ages 3-18 develop skills over a season of skiing or riding with dedicated coaches. There will be programs for all ability levels. Also, in September, the mountain purchased a pair of new high-efficiency compressors, which will reduce the amount of diesel fuel the resort uses by an average of 25,000 gallons per year and extend the snowmaking season. The project was funded in March, when a limited number of “Five-Year Green Passes” went on sale. The passes locked in five seasons of skiing and riding at Bolton Valley for $2,000 each, or an average of $400 a season.
Things keep getting better at Magic Mountain, which found itself a nice feature spread in a recent issue of Ski Magazine. Offseason projects included a new mid-mountain double chair on the Green Lift, which aims to broaden the accessibility of Magic’s renowned terrain for families and novices alike. The new lift, along with some new snowmaking (there’s a new pump house for withdrawal from the nearby Thompsonburg Brook), should allow the ski area to open earlier than normal. If weather cooperates, operators are thinking about Thanksgiving as the target open date.
Expect new infrastructure and upgrades in snowmaking, amenities and other services at New England resorts big and small this season. Clockwise from top: King Pine gets lift and tree skiing enhancements
Some $25 million worth of improvements await Killington Mountain Resort guests this winter, including a new six-person high-speed bubble chairlift ride to the Snowdon Mountain peak, which features intermediate cruising terrain, moguls, trees and a terrain park. There also will be a new South Ridge quad and significant upgrades to the K-1 Express Gondola with new eight-person cabins that will be stored in a new cabin storage facility to improve reliability and de-icing time. Improvements to Killington’s terrain include trail widening, re-routing Great Northern in the Snowdon area, and adding tunnels at select intersections to improve the experience by limiting trail intersections in high-traffic locations.
Mount Snow’s new $22 million Carinthia Base Lodge will open at the start of the season. The 42,000-square foot lodge is five times the size of the old lodge at the base of the terrain park and will feature a coffee bar, restaurant, retail, rentals and more. The resort is entering the season as Ski Magazine’s Editor’s Choice for best snow in the East, but that doesn’t mean the snowmaking will sit still. Over the past year, Mount Snow made $30 million in snowmaking upgrades, doubling its ability to make snow.
Elsewhere, Bromley Mountain has announced a new partnership with Arena Snowparks to create a family-friendly progression park for all skill levels.
Burke Mountain upgraded its snowmaking system and the result will double the mountain’s summit capacity, while sister property, Jay Peak Resort unveiled a pair of FIFA-sized pitched soccer fields that will be used to host soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and ultimate Frisbee tournaments.
Okemo welcomes a new director of food and beverage — Colchester, Vt., native Jason Palmer, a University of Vermont grad who has his sights set on rebranding some of the resort’s restaurants and offering diverse and innovative culinary options for guests. Okemo lift access is now a perk of the Epic Pass as the resort transitions into the Vail Resorts family. Okemo also has increased efficiency in the resort’s snowmaking system that covers 98 percent of trails across the mountain.
Sunday River Resort already might hold a reputation for one of the most powerful snowmaking systems in the Northeast, but the resort is still kicking things up a notch with $4 million in capital improvements this season, highlighted by doubling the resort’s water capacity for snowmaking. Capacity this season will be increased by 15 percent. The resort also improved the experience outside the SnowSports School in the South Ridge area by filling in a ravine to offer better flow of traffic through the area.
In addition to its Ikon offering, this will be the first year Sunday River offers the Threedom Pass, a $279 purchase ($215 teens, $185 ages 6-12) that includes three days to use at any time during the season. Plus the pass will allow holders to save 40 percent on additional lift tickets Sunday through Friday and 20 percent Saturdays and holidays. New events on Sunday River’s always-busy calendar include the Holly Jolly Fun Run (Dec. 2) and a telemark festival on Feb. 9.
Fellow Boyne property Sugarloaf Mountain Resort also saw improvements to its snowmaking system, which should dramatically improve coverage on eastern and lower-mountain terrain. Sugarloaf is relocating its jump park from its current home on Haywire to the space just above the Skidway Lift (east of Lower Winter’s Way). This will allow mountain personnel to build freestyle terrain features far earlier in the season.
On other notes, the glade-cutting crew spent the summer thinning and clearing the under-brush on Burnt Mountain, and there are details still to come on the resort hosting the speed events for the 2019 U.S. Alpine Championships in March.
Beginners at Wachusett Mountain will find a new learning area located at the top of the Monadnock Quad. The 500-foot carpet will be a teaching area at the top of the Sundowner trail, so skiers and riders can take the lift up and practice.
Wachusett is adding a new outdoor food and beer location on the deck outside the base lodge that will feature a variety of draft beers and menu of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. There also are some new passes to look out for, including the junior season pass ($279-$339 ages 6-12). And the early bird gets the worm this winter, as the ski area will now open at 7:30 a.m. on weekends and holidays, one halfhour earlier than in the past.