Era of the Super Pass: Can ski areas succeed with symbiotic relationships? | SteamboatToday.com

Era of the Super Pass: Can ski areas succeed with symbiotic relationships?

— Will sophisticated travelers from eastern Canada board airplanes to ski at Intrawest's resorts at Winter Park and Steamboat?

Resort managers could begin to formulate an answer to that question this winter thanks to Intrawest's new Passport program. The Passport is designed to encourage destination skiers to form groups of family and friends to take advantage of discounted skiing with very flexible terms at its six resorts. In addition to Steamboat and Winter Park, they include Tremblant in Quebec, Blue Mountain in Ontario, Stratton in Vermont and Snowshoe in West Virginia.

West Virginia? Don't underestimate Snowshoe. It's not unlikely that a desire to tap into suburban Washington, D.C., skiers who ski at Snowshoe played a part in Steamboat's addition of a once-per-week direct flight to the Yampa Valley from Dulles International Airport this winter. Snowshoe, in the Allegheny Mountains about four hours from Fairfax County, is the go-to weekend destination for skiers and snowboarders in the D.C. metro area.

Similarly, Blue Mountain serves Toronto and Tremblant serves Quebec City.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Rob Perlman said his ski area has modest expectations regarding Steamboat's ability to attract skiers from Toronto and Quebec via the Intrawest Passport, but it's definitely a goal.

"Part of the idea behind this pass is to drive some additional travel amongst Intrawest resorts," Perlman said. "We'd like to get those people to take a vacation out west at Winter Park or Steamboat. There are quite a few flights from Toronto into Denver, and it's a market that's on our radar screen. It's a cosmopolitan area. They are travelers and, obviously, skiers and riders."

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Tim Cohee, director of the Ski Business and Resort Management program at Sierra Nevada College said that historically, efforts to boost traffic to destination resorts through smaller regional feeder resorts has not always been successful. However, he said Vail's acquisition in 2012 of Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mount Brighton in Michigan for a combined $20 million was thoroughly researched.

"Vail's Midwest acquisitions were very, very strategic," Cohee said. They bought those two ski areas after undertaking very high-quality research that showed they are really bona fide feeder resorts. A high number of the customers that ski those two resorts are destination customers to Vail Resorts.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1