Steamboat Springs A Steamboat Ski Area spokesman says providing value and convenience to pass holders was the driving force behind the new First Tracks season pass that will allow purchasers to board the gondola as many as 30 minutes before members of the general public.
A limited number of the First Tracks season passes will be available for $219 for the 2012-13 season. A 10-day First Tracks pass will cost $179.
People who buy a season or 15-day pass can purchase the upgrade. The cost of unrestricted adult season passes purchased with a $99 deposit before June 1 is $959, and the 15-day pass costs $719.
Ski area spokesman Mike Lane said First Tracks started in 2000 and allowed skiers to get on the slopes early with a guide. The program has evolved throughout the years, and skiers now have the option of not using a guide. Three years ago, lifts running for First Tracks expanded beyond Sundown Express to include Sunshine Express and and the South Peak lift. The program allows skiers to start boarding the gondola at 8 a.m., 30 minutes before it opens to the general public.
“I think, overall, the program has been really popular over the decade,” Lane said.
A First Tracks ticket this season costs $29 and comes with a $5 breakfast voucher.
Lane said an average of about 20 people participate in First Tracks each day.
“I think it’s been about the same as we’ve seen in previous years,” Lane said.
This year, though, some anomalies created what was sort of a perfect storm for First Tracks popularity. Lane said season pass holders in January became eligible to receive a free First Tracks ticket that was good any day in February, when the ski area would end up experiencing its deepest powder days of the season.
On Feb. 20, when the ski area was reporting a record 27 inches of snowfall in 24 hours, First Tracks was especially popular, and Lane said 650 people boarded the gondola between 8 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. The First Tracks line stretched through Gondola Square and toward the Gondola Transit Center, and Lane said about 60 percent of the people were skiing First Tracks for free with their season pass vouchers.
Lane said the ticket office eventually stopped selling First Tracks tickets that Presidents Day morning to ensure that everyone who bought tickets could get up early.
“I think we reached capacity,” Lane said.
He said the number of tickets is limited by the capacity of the gondola. If every cabin is filled, Lane said the gondola can handle about 700 people during a 20-minute period.
Long lines to purchase First Tracks tickets and board the gondola also were present Feb. 22 and 29.
“Some of the largest days we’ve ever seen,” Lane said.
The popularity of First Tracks created some feelings of disparity among some who chose to press glass the old-fashioned way in the gondola line for its 8:30 a.m. opening with hopes of getting the first turns on fresh powder. Ski area officials say the opportunity still exists to get the first turns even on busy First Tracks days.
“Steamboat is a huge mountain,” Lane said. “First Tracks is limited to a small portion of it.”
Access to runs like Closet and Shadows and the Storm Peak area are not included in the First Tracks program and open with the rest of the mountain.
Programs similar to First Tracks exist at other ski areas in Colorado.
The $20 Secret Pass upgrade at Copper Mountain allows skiers a 15-minute head start on the American Eagle lift and dedicated lines at six other lifts.
Crested Butte, Aspen/Snowmass and Telluride also offer early-bird options.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com