Summit County passes to deadline

'Buddy' system no friend of Steamboat's

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— Steeply discounted ski passes at Front Range destination resorts have already reshaped the Colorado ski industry, and they aren't about to go away.

Executives at the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. acknowledge the discounted passes are drawing a number of Denver skiers away from their resort.

Colorado Ski Country USA classifies "Front Range destination" resorts as those that attract visitors from out of state, but also draw heavily on day skiers driving through the Eisenhower Tunnel, or over Berthoud Pass, and returning home that evening.

Steamboat is classified as purely a "destination" resort, too far from Denver for a reasonable

day trip.

Again this year, Vail Resorts is offering 1970s prices for season passes. Winter Park and Copper Mountain, which are under different ownership, have teamed up to offer a joint pass they call the Rocky Mountain Super Pass. Winter Park and Copper Mountain are in an tricky situation. They must compete head-to-head with Vail Resorts, which operates Breckenridge and Keystone right in their back yards, in addition to Vail and Beaver Creek, to the west over Vail Pass.

Officials at the Steamboat ski area say that because Steamboat is more than 100 miles beyond the other resorts for Front Range skiers, the economics of "buddy passes," as the Vail offerings are called, don't make sense for them,and wouldn't result in any additional sales.

The deadline for Vail's program is May 4.

For ski season 2001/2002, the Colorado Pass from Vail will allow adults to purchase a pass for $249, and purchase passes for their children for $99.

The pass is good at Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. And, for a premium, skiers can pick up 10 days of skiing at either Vail or Beaver Creek. The cost of the pass that includes 10 days at Vail is $19. But it's even less for people who held the card this past ski season; they can renew their pass, including the 10 days at Vail for $299.

In addition to several Front Range ski shops, the passes can be purchased online at www.snow.com.

The joint Copper/Winter Park Super Pass allows skiers to visit both mountains for a total price of $349.

Or, skiers can invest in a pass good just at Copper for $199. The pass is also available through May 4. Skiers can get more information at www.ski-copper.com.

Vail officials have said the steeply discounted passes work for them because they can sell many thousands, and they are reaching people who might not ever buy a lift ticket otherwise. Their research shows that many people purchase the passes and use them only lightly.

Steamboat Ski Area President Chris Diamond told the Steamboat Pilot & Today that the only reason the buddy passes work for Vail Resorts is that they control so many ski areas.

Diamond says that if Steamboat discounted its season passes to that degree, it wouldn't sell a significant number of passes beyond its current base of season pass purchasers.

Front Range skiers realize they can't make the longer trip to Steamboat often enough to come out ahead on such a deal, Diamond implied.

Diamond says his company's research shows that the buddy passes have not made huge inroads into the family market, and he said he believes Steamboat can continue to draw Front Range families to the Yampa Valley for long winter weekends.

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