Reality Check: Season Pass Rates Not Bad in Australia

Reality check time for those complaining, season pass rates are not bad at all in Australia.

Despite the furore over Thredbo’s 2021 Season Pass hikes, a look at 21-22 North American premium season pass rates shows things are actually relatively better here.

Thredbo has opted for a price premium this year © Thredbo Resort

In fact, as we pointed out last year, the Epic Australia Pass remains arguably the World’s best value season pass – when the Aussie dollar dipped below USD $0.60 it certainly was. Now the Aussies is back up at $0.76 (as of 03/04/21), with the Epic Oz Pass at $AUD 959 that’s still only $USD 729. If you got in early at the lowest $AUD 899 rate it was $USD 680.

For all season, no-blackout access at 3 or Australia’s main 5 resorts, plus all season no-blackout access at some excellent areas in America (Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte for example), minor holiday date blackouts at several more (Park City, Heavenly, Kirkwood etc), a total of 10 days to split as you choose between Whistler, Vail and Beaver Creek (key holiday date blackouts apply), and 5 days consecutive at both Hakuba Valley (11 areas there) and Rusutsu.

So you can ski all season at home, all season in North America, and do 10 days in Japan for $USD 729 ! Not too shabby.

At the moment Vail Resorts have a 20% off special deal on all Epic Pass rates, down from $USD 979 to $783 for the lead Epic Pass itself, which is great value. At normal rates it’s around $AUD $1286, or $1026 at the deal rate.

This includes unlimited access at their big guns, Whistler, Vail and Beaver Creek, plus 7 days total at Telluride, Sun Valley and RCR (Lake Louise, Fernie, Kimberley, Kicking Horse etc). It also includes 2022 access at Perisher, Hotham and Falls.

So for Aussies not likely to ski at home this winter and keen for a lot of Whistler, Vail etc in 21-22 season there, it is currently exceptional value. Check it and the conditions on the link.

Blue Sky Basin pow, 3 days after a fall – get unlimited access to it for 20% off © Owain Price / snowaction

The Epic Local Pass is cheaper still, with very similar access as the Epic Australia Pass for North American areas and Japan, but no Downunder inclusions. If you are not skiing in OZand don’t plan on more than 10 days total at Whistler and/or Vail, it’s great value at $USD 583, down from $729.

These rates are hard for independent resorts to compete with on price. So American resorts that have an attractive enough product can charge more and leave it to their market to decide whether they are worth the differential.

There is plenty of choice.

At Jackson Hole the cheapest all season access Grand Pass costs $USD 1529, or the The Grand ByPass with some blackout dates $USD 1229. Top of them all is the $1929 the Rendezvous Peak Pass, which adds an Ikon Base Pass to the Grand Pass inclusions for plenty of variety to ski a couple of days each at the many classic Ikon resorts.

Only Snowmass matches Jackson Hole for vertical drop, and nowhere matches it for terrain. So JH can charge their premium and no surprise there’s no shortage of people happy to pay it.

But on the other, even snowier, side of the Tetons at Grand Targhee – which gets an average of over 500 inches of snow a season – an early bird season pass purchased in April will set you back a very reasonable $USD 759. That goes up to $859 through October, then $1299 thereafter. Targhee offers 2,270′ vertical vs Jackson Hole’s 4,139′ and just 5 lifts, 1 express quad among them, compared to JH’s extensive network.

Who wouldn’t pay a premium for this? © Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Deer Valley has since inception marketed itself unashamedly as America’s most exclusive resort, which earned it the nickname ‘Deer Valet’, and still does. They still maintain the no snowboarders edict too. Their full season pass is $USD 2,550 if you buy before October, $2,965. There’s not much reduction for Seniors either – over 65s pay $1,910.

Deer Valley shares a boundary with Park City, with similar snow conditions, but they happily charge 4 times more than an Epic Local Pass.

But Deer Valley smash that price for their Midweek Pass – just $USD 1,310 – with weekends and Xmas week blacked out. That’s a much more attractive offering to Salt Lake City locals who can ski midweek.

It’s a mixed approach that maintains their exclusivity and their bottom line. If you’re after the Deer Valley cachet, or just don’t like mixing with boarders, check their passes out.

Copper Mountain by contrast are competing directly on price with their Vail Resort’s neighbours Breckenridge and Keystone. They have a special ‘Loyalty’ season pass rate for return clients of just $USD 599, or $649 otherwise. That now includes Kid’s Ski Free for kids under 15 – one free pass for each adult pass.

That’s cheaper than the Local Epic Pass at normal rates and takes the fight right back to VR. Denver is the biggest beneficiary of the price war, so no wonder I-70 turns into a parking lot on weekends and powder days.

Copper has used the aggressive lift pricing in conjunction with cheap lodging deals at their resort owned accommodation to offer a very competitive product for anyone, but especially families, looking for affordable ski vacations.

With lots of major ski resorts, mostly in close proximity to each other in the main destination markets, there is obviously going to be more competition in America than Australia’s 5 main ski resort market.

For years, pricing has been close between them, especially for lead season pass rates. In 2019 you could have picked up a Thredbo season pass for $999 at their early bird rates for example, vs $889 for the Epic Australia Pass at its cheapest.

The 2020 COVID season has changed that. Thredbo ditched season passes altogether last year and still sold out their limited available days.

As we predicted months ago, it was pretty obvious they had taken the decision to “do a Deer Valley” and premium price their product, especially the season pass. They figure their loyal clients will still come anyway. Lodge members and property owners don’t have much choice, unless they want to scoot down to Skitube and up to Perisher daily. Feasible, but somewhat defeats the purpose of staying at the base of the mountain. So for 2021 Thredbo upped the ante to $1,649 for a full season pass.

Relatively speaking it’s more of a Jackson Hole differential than a Deer Valley one.

Buller rates are out Wednesday 7 April © Mt Buller

Buller release their 2021 pricing on April 7, after suspending Season Membership sales, but a resort spokesperson assures us they won’t be making any major increases. Their COVID season response was all about looking after their loyal clients, culminating with their quite exceptional “choose your own refund” option for 2020 Season Members after lockdowns limited the season to 44 skiable day. You could have claimed a 100% discount having skied all 44 days – it was up to you!

The biggest driver for keeping skiing competitive in Australia has been competition from New Zealand, especially the Queenstown areas. Competitive direct flights and very competitively priced packages, plus all the attractions of Queenstown as a destination – restaurants, Aprés, activities, shopping etc – meant Aussie resorts were getting hammered.

It was that competition that led Perisher to introduce their Freedom Pass to incentivise skiers to stay home and ski more often. It worked, and the whole deal just got better when Vail Resorts took Perisher over. Adding Hotham and Falls is icing on the cake. Let’s hope 2021 stays COVID free enough to hit the road and enjoy them all.

In fact considering our limited options, Aussie skiing for season pass holder enthusiasts is very competitive.

We find out Tuesday what the Travel Bubble date for New Zealand will be. Stay tuned.. NZ Season Passes are even better value, from just $NZD 160 at Temple Basin, more on that shortly.

Queenstown competition keeps the pressure on Aussie resorts © Coronet Peak / nzski.com