Ski pass sales start early

Price increases range from 2.9 percent to 4.7 percent

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Skiers and riders planning to purchase season passes or value passes for the upcoming ski season will pay as much as 4.7 percent more than last year.

The price of an adult season pass for the winter of 2005-06 will be $925 (through Aug. 15). That's up 2.9 percent from last year's preseason price of $899. The cost of an adult pass will jump to $1,250 on Aug. 16 and increase again to $1,450 beginning Nov. 19.

Steamboat Vice President of Sales and Marketing Andy Wirth said he knows that ski areas along the Interstate 70 corridor were selling season passes for far less in May. Vail Resorts was selling five-mountain adult season passes for $349 and three-mountain passes for $309 with a $29 down payment through May 15 (the "buddy passes" are restricted at Vail and Beaver Creek during key holiday weekends).

"There's no question, buddy passes are out there," Wirth said. "But we're not within an hour to an hour-and-a-half of a metro area. We think we're very competitive with other (purely) destination resorts, like Telluride and Jackson Hole. And having said that, we think we offer tremendous value with Kids Ski Free, which is unique to Steamboat."

A 20-day pass at Jackson Hole last winter was $785 in August, compared with $639 at Steamboat, according to the Wyoming ski area's Web page. The August price of a 2004-05 adult season pass was $1,595 at Jackson Hole.

Steamboat is marking the 20th year of offering its "family pass" program, which offers a free season pass to children 12 and younger whose parent or legal guardian purchases an adult season pass.

Typically, more than 1,000 youngsters obtain passes that way each winter, ski area spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said.

"The program furthers our position as a family resort by letting families ski together," Thomsen said.

Thomsen said that when both parents in a family of four with two young children purchase season passes, the average price per person is $463 at early-season rates.

Last summer's pricing announcement marked a change in the way the ski area sells its 10- 15- and 20-day "value passes." Those changes remain in place for the 2005-06 season.

Wirth said that the 2005-06 season pass prices were announced almost a month earlier than last summer in part because the changes were well-received.

Before the winter of 2004-05, Steamboat sold a 20-10 pass good for 20 days of skiing in the regular season, plus 10 days in the early- and late-value seasons. Now, the ski area sells a 20-day pass that includes eligibility for five Friday afternoon tickets at no additional charge in early- and late-value seasons (Nov. 24 to Dec. 14 and March 27 to April 9). Holders of 15- and 20-day passes also have the option of purchasing one-day tickets for $19 in value seasons, instead of using one of their 15 or 20 days. Holders of 10-day passes may purchase as many as five $19 tickets.

Thomsen said the $19 option generated 1,100 skier visits last ski season.

When Steamboat announced the change last summer, it reduced the cost of a 20-day pass by $80 from the old 20-10 passes. This year, the cost of the 20-day pass has been increased by $30 (4.7 percent) to $639. That equates to a cost of $33.45 a day for the primary 20 days of skiing.

Resort employees arriving for the season in autumn will be able again to take advantage of early-season pricing if their employees lock in pass prices through the Merchant Pass program. The Merchant Pass program allows employers who contribute to the Fly Steamboat airline guarantee program to lock in the $925 season pass rate for future employees with a $100 deposit. The program also permits purchase of the 20-day value pass. Lodging properties within the boundaries of Steamboat's new local marketing district (which generates tax dollars for the airline program) are extended Fly Steamboat status, Wirth said. Businesses that do not participate in Fly Steamboat can lock in $1,250 passes with a $450 deposit.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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