Raise your hand if you’d rather be outside enjoying the day than cooped up working from your office or home? [big exhale] Yes me too, but unfortunately most of us must work for a living! That doesn’t mean you can’t balance some outdoor enjoyment and be successful in the workplace. The transition to remote work for many of us opened opportunities to spend more time at home, or the mountain, and provided added flexibility to our working hours. You may be surprised to learn that digital transformation has come to not just the workplace, but also the ski industry.
Industry Consolidation Comes to Skiing
Over the past decade there has been a major consolidation in the ski industry, driven by the introduction of the multi-resort or “mega” season pass. For those of you non-skiers (seriously you should try it), traditionally ski resorts sold access to the mountain in two main categories: a single-day lift ticket or a season pass. As skiers looked for variety in terrain a major appetite developed to visit multiple resorts. The challenge was that buying single day passes at different resorts is very costly, so some co-located resorts identified a partnership opportunity to offer multi-resort season passes for a single price.
In recent years various multi-resort passes have emerged, but the industry is dominated by the Epic Pass and the Ikon Pass, owned by Vail Resorts ($MTN) and the Alterra Mountain Company (Privately Owned). Vail Resorts went public in 1997 has experience explosive growth expanding from just 4 wholly-owned resorts in 2012, to 37 and growing! Not to be outdone, the owners of Aspen/Snowmass founded Alterra in 2018 and have quickly expanded to 16 resorts in that short span. Both passes also offer access to a host of resorts across the globe through various partnerships. The clear driver for this growth is the feverish appetite for the multi-resort pass, which quietly turned into one of the most disruptive innovations of the 2010s.
The United States has two major areas of skier populations centered around the Application Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. The size and scale of the western range makes for a palpable difference in skiing quality vs. the east coast (#SkiTheEast). The multi-resort pass has driven winter tourism, providing east coast travelers with a more affordable access route to ski trips out west. Almost every major newspaper and every ski town has reported on the impact of this trend on the tourism and hospitality industries (Example: New York Times). Many locals do complain of longer lines or additional traffic in town, but overall this winter tourism creates jobs and opportunities.
How has the multi-resort pass driven Digital Transformation?
The rise of these major corporations from the success of the multi-resort pass has jumpstarted technology in the ski industry in a multitude of ways. Sure, every year there are improvements to skis, googles, boots, etc. , but the sheer amount of money generated from the industry consolidation has created larger investment opportunities. A simple example is the transition from single use tickets to RFIDs and smart-phone apps.
If you’ve skied in the past couple of years you may have noticed the lift attendants no longer check everyone’s ticket with a scanner, but instead you ski/walk through a gate as show above. The gate has an RFID scanner which is links to your pass, and take a photo each time you pass through a gate. This helps to increase safety and reduce fraud by ensuring multiple people aren’t using the same pass (ex. the same pass isn’t used Vermont & Colorado in the same day). There are also benefits for the consumer because the pass lines are more efficient without having to scan each individual person. Stats are also captured and delivered directly to your smartphone app enabling skiers/boards to compete against themselves or their friends for the most number of days skied, total vertical, or number of runs.
Digital transformation in the ski industry has made the sport more accessible and affordable to all, without spoiling the traditional experience of getting out on the mountain to enjoy a nice day. Work flexibility and the advent of the multi-resort pass enable increased winter travel and tourism. Just remember, there’s no friends on a powder day.