Not everybody has to be Epic or Ikon.
As the season pass wars heated up even further during the offseason with Vail Resort’s acquisition of former Peak Resorts properties Attitash, Wildcat and Mount Snow — adding them to the company’s ever-growing family of mountains in New England — a new addition also emerged in August. And while the Indy Pass certainly had less fanfare than Epic’s latest plunge in the Northeast, that’s typically the reasoning behind it in the first place.
The Indy Pass, which was created by a coalition of independent resorts, offers buyers two days at each of 44 participating resorts. That includes seven in New England, with the likes of Pats Peak, Bolton Valley, Magic Mountain, Suicide Six, Berkshire East, Catamount and Mohawk Mountain among the participating resorts. There are 15 more resorts up for grabs in the Western Region, giving pass holders a great variety of skiing for only $199.
“In this era of corporate consolidation, having 44 resorts sign on proves there’s demand for a new pass that represents these authentic, family-owned ski areas.” Doug Fish, president of the Indy Pass, said. “Not only is the industry embracing the concept but consumers are as well. We’re seeing strong demand from a wide range of demographics like young families and occasional skiers to hardcore riders and retirees who want to explore some new mountains.”
In all, that’s 88 days of skiing for just $2.26 per day, which might sound impossible to pull off. But consider, if used only in New England, that’s still 14 days of skiing for only $14.21 a day.
The Indy Pass is a cool alternative, and it’s certainly nice to see a bunch of independent resorts banding together. It’s also one of the many new wrinkles that skiers and riders can expect as the 2019-20 winter seasons kicks off this month. Here’s a trip around New England with a look at what’s new.
In addition to its inclusion on the new Indy Pass, Magic Mountain is making $2 million in improvements, highlighted by the replacement of the Black Double summit lift. A new fixed-grip quad from base to summit is expected to be completed by Christmas, aiming to keep lift-line waits to under 10 minutes. The new lift also will bring skiers to a new double-diamond summit trail named Pitch Black. There’s also a new East Side glade.
There are huge improvements in the works at Killington Resort, highlighted by the replacement of the K-1 base lodge. The result will be a state-of-the-art facility, to be finished sometime next year. It will be 50 percent bigger than the former lodge, and create a welcoming flow for both skiers and lodge-dwellers alike. Additional improvements include a new quad chairlift to replace the North Ridge Triple and snowmaking enhancements.
Sister ski area Pico Mountain saw a $2.1 million investment in its snowmaking system, allowing guests a more reliable snow surface. It is the largest investment made at Pico since Killington took ownership more than two decades ago.
In addition to joining the Epic Pass, Mount Snow will see major improvements in snowmaking on the Sunbrook Face and Carinthia Parks. The resort will go from 80 percent of its trails being under snowmaking coverage to 83 percent this winter.
Fellow Vail family members Stowe and Okemo also saw improvements during the offseason. Stowe added some new flavors with the Maple Waffle Cafe atop the Mansfield Gondola, as well as the Whistle Pig Pavilion adjacent to the outdoor ice skating rink at Spruce Peak, which will include a farm-to-table small bites menu, as well as plenty of whiskey toasts.
Both Okemo’s Summit Lodge and mid-mountain Sugar House Lodge received interior makeovers over the summer, while on the slopes, there was the installation of 5,000 feet of pipe. That completed a five-year project to replace main feeds to Okemo’s snowmaking system across the entire mountain.
Sugarbush, admittedly, placed its offseason focus on some smaller projects around the mountain, including completely rebuilding the Lincoln Peak courtyard with new firepits, gardens and bar tops. Mount Ellen will see two new charging stations for anyone with an electric car.
Suicide Six Ski Area is adding more terrain features and an entirely new park concept, and is investing $250,000 into its snowmaking pump station this winter.
Bolton Valley has completely transformed its night skiing with the replacement of all the existing lights — 150 high-efficiency LED lights will replace the halogen lights that have lit Bolton’s slopes — quite well — for several years. The lights also will be repositioned and added at certain spots, including the slalom race course.
Stratton Mountain Resort is focusing on newcomers to the sports of skiing and riding with 12,500 feet of new snowmaking pipe for its learning zone. The resort also has installed a one-acre parallel teaching area, crafted to build a foundation with basic skills, including stance and balance, before heading up the 550-foot covered carpet.
Smugglers’ Notch focused on improving its Snow Sport University to instill the knowledge necessary to truly maximize the on-snow experience.
Bromley Mountain is partnering with Arena Snowparks to build a variety of family-friendly progression parks.
Middlebury Snow Bowl will offer a new Shared Parent Pass for families with kids that aren’t skiing yet (both parents ski on the same pass).
Mad River Glen replaced nearly 100 percent of its snowmaking pipe and electrical systems. The co-op also is offering a new pass plan for skiers ages 19-29 with the Twixter Pass, a $299 unrestricted deal ($245 for shareholders).
And while Vail took a pass at buying Jay Peak, the northern Vermont resort remains up for sale with Alterra Mountain Company (owners of Tremblant and Stratton) being reportedly among the final potential bidders.
Bretton Woods finally will see the debut of its long-awaited gondola this winter. The new addition will be the first eight-passenger gondola in New Hampshire and will travel at 1,200 feet-per minute. Next summer, Bretton Woods anticipates the gondola will bring guests to a 16,000-square-foot, on-mountain dining-and-event venue perfect for weddings and other events.
Gunstock Mountain Resort dedicated more than $1 million toward improvements this offseason. The resort invested in additional high-efficiency snowmaking equipment, including 47 new HKD Impulse snow guns. Other improvements include an enhanced freestyle park as well as new grooming equipment, trail signage and base lodge furnishings.
Going Epic is only one of the improvements at Attitash this winter, as the Bartlett resort again will have summit access with a revamped Summit Triple lift. The lift’s breakdown last season was a point of contention for many Attitash regulars. Snowmaking pipe also has been upgraded and replaced on Cathedral, Upper Spillway and parts of Lower Saco.
In North Conway, Phase 2 of the Kearsarge Brook Condominiums broke ground at Cranmore Mountain Resort in August, the second phase of the $50 million development at the base of the mountain.
Nearby, Madison’s King Pine Ski Area invested some $60,000 during the offseason, maintaining its lift infrastructure, making base lodge improvements and investing in technology upgrades. Improvements to the ski school inventory management will make scheduling easier, and the ski school is exploring additional online sales options for various products and activities.
Loon Mountain Resort has installed 50 more semi-automated snowmaking hydrants on major trails and has expanded and remodeled its lodge facilities. Loon is introducing RFID ticketing to its resort this winter, to be scanned at electronic gates.
Base lodge improvements at Waterville Valley include a new private event space and a family area. The ski resort’s new “Freestyle Lounge” is close to completion and is anticipated to open for the upcoming season.
Ragged Mountain Resort has upgraded its snowmaking system and added graded trails. The resort also remodeled the interior and exterior of the Elmwood and Meetinghouse lodges, added a live-streaming camera to its website, and purchased a new Rossignol rental fleet.
Pats Peak, in addition to its presence on the Indy Pass, will debut a new post-and-beam lodge featuring enlarged bathrooms and elevator for the ultimate ease of getting around with ski boots.
Mount Sunapee made improvements in its snowmaking capabilities (as part of Vail Resorts’ two-year, $35 million commitment to investments across the four resorts acquired in 2018), and has acquired new racks for skis and boots that will accommodate the addition of new rental equipment for the ski school.
Early birds are the focus this year at Sunday River Resort, where First Tracks Breakfast ($99) will offer a 7 a.m. first chair with a guide before getting a gourmet breakfast at The Mountain Room. Reservations will be required (Saturdays and Sundays, Jan. 4-March 19). Four new surface lifts await those looking to learn at Sunday River this winter, including three covered conveyor lifts to access the learning terrain on South Ridge, as well as a T-bar on Locke Mountain for alpine race and boardercross training and competitions. Also, in its aim to double its already impressive snowmaking capacity, the resort will install four new 500-horsepower pumps at the resort’s water source, which will add 10 percent of water capacity with an extra 1,000 gallons per minute for snowmaking.
Snowmaking improvements also were made at Shawnee Peak, where the resort made a few tweaks to its fully automated pump house project.
Mount Abram will enter 2019-20 as its first full year under new ownership and its menu of family-friendly lift ticket prices. The changes were made last January in an effort to attract more people to the sport in the face of statistics that show ski industry participation is in decline partly due to what some consider exorbitant costs.
The centerpiece of Sugarloaf’s upgrades this winter is the Widowmaker. The transformation — which includes relocation of the bar and stage and a renovation of the loft and addition of new outdoor loft deck — will breathe new life into the iconic watering hole, and allow for year-round use of the space for weddings and conferences.The resort also is in the process of building a new dam at Caribou Pond that will allow it to control water levels and increase the firepower of its snowmaking system.
Sugarloaf, along with sister resorts Sunday River and Loon, also will offer a new pass option this winter for ages 6 to 29. The Nitro New England Pass offers a full season with 12 blackout dates and four discounted friend tickets at 25 percent ($499 through Nov. 30). The pass also offers 10 percent off resort lodging and 20 percent off resort dining cards.
Wachusett Mountain’s grooming, already lauded as some of the best in the region, will get even better this winter with the addition of two state-of-the-art Prinoth grooming vehicles. That brings the total growing fleet to seven snowcats. Both of the new ones will be equipped with SnowRight GPS snow measuring devices showing operators the exact snow depths to provide more uniform trail coverage. For a mountain that already does twice-a-day grooming, that’s an addition that will help assure skiers and riders of a consistent snow surface. Other additions include a new outdoor base lodge patio with radiant heat, “Whittier’s Teaching Meadow” — a fourth teaching area at the top of the Sundowner trail — and a remodeling of the customer service desk to improve efficiency.
Nashoba Valley has overhauled its rental fleet for young skiers and will spend this season as the first full with its new South Lodge, home to RJ Bradley’s retail store.