The hue and cry over the unwashed rabble likely to snap up cheap ski passes and invade Vail this winter, clogging its roads and jamming its ski slopes and parking garages, has morphed into the “All the Love” ad campaign as quickly as you can say “economic downturn.”
And Vail Resorts, the ski company that bore the brunt of the controversy after the announcement of its unlimited, six-mountain, $579 Epic Pass last spring, announced Tuesday that it sold nearly 60,000 of the season passes, prompting accolades from some analysts who foresee a brutal year for the ski and tourism industries.
“Front Range riff-raff” comments from a former Vail business leader and concerns about parking on the part of some town officials seem like distant echoes from a different era — even though the debate occurred just seven short months ago.
In a conference call with investment analysts Tuesday, according to reports, CEO Rob Katz said the company reaped about $32 million from the sale of just over 59,000 Epic Passes — good at the Colorado ski areas of Arapahoe Basin, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail, plus the Heavenly resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Overall, Vail Resorts took in nearly $91 million from the sale of about 204,000 of all of its season pass products, including the discounted Colorado Pass. And there has been almost no discussion of parking problems, traffic woes or Front Range customers who tend to spend less than out-of-state destination visitors.
In fact, the town of Vail and the ski company partnered with the local lodging and retail sector to launch a $550,000 supplemental marketing campaign called “Vail All the Love” to target drive-market and Front Range guests with direct-mail pieces touting deep discounts on hotel rooms, meals and shopping. Still, despite better-than-average early-season snow, advance lodging reservations are off by about 23 percent, Katz said.
One silver lining? There may be a shortage of paying customers this season, but the recession is providing a much larger domestic labor pool. Concerns over the lack of H2B (skilled worker) visas used by many resorts to bring in foreign workers have evaporated, as suddenly Chicago, Kansas City and Dallas are as fertile recruiting grounds as Sydney, Buenos Aires and Prague.