Two Far-Fetched Ideas for Ikon & Epic to Consider

Would these make the Ikon Pass “ikonic” & the Epic Pass epic?

This is a story about sustainability. It’s not about “sustainability” the way we usually talk about it. This isn’t about climate science, climate change or global warming. Auden Schendler, Protect Our Winters (POW), Winter Wildlands Alliance and Outdoor Alliance are the experts and change agents in that space.

This is about two buzz-building ideas that I think could help nurture the next generation of skiers and snowboarders. If snow sticks around we need devout skiers and riders to slide on it. Right? These are about sustainable growth for skiing.

The following two ideas are aimed at building groundswell, bringing new people to ski resorts, telling stories, earning the attention of mainstream media and feeding the sales engine with unorthodox marketing ideas. Think about the stories, “content” and earned media that ski resorts would gobble up because of initiatives like these. It would be truly “epic” and “ikonic.

The “16 Under 16 Pass”

The impetus behind this idea is to nurture skiing’s next gen. If done right, this will beckon families to the mountains, plant roots for lifelong passions with children, pay out exponentially over decades and welcome new potential skiers to ski resorts.

What is the “16 Under 16 Pass?” Give 16 FREE ski days to 1,600 people under 16 years old.

Create a user-generated contest in which the sub-16-year-olds tell you why they should be a “16 Under 16 Pass” recipient. That has the makings of a story. That has a “why.”

You leave a bit of lift ticket revenue on the table in the fast lane, but you are grooming your future customers who will be “monetized” for decades (if your product is good). And, you still get to make margin on:

Skiing is only really fun if you’re privileged to get reps. Look at the magic carpet or bunny hill at your resort. Those people—young and old—on short skis with instructors coaching them off the chairlift want to try skiing. They’re hopefully having fun, but they aren’t hooked (yet). It’s cold, their boots are uncomfortable, falling sucks and unwinding your legs and skis after a pretzeled wipeout is awkward.

But, what happens if skiing resonates with them? What if we encourage them to try again and again and again without breaking the bank?

Those return visitors are the foundation we build upon. That repetition is what earns us—lifelong skiers, ski pros and ski-industry folk—the right to ask them to spend on spendy lift tickets. The reps beget passion, the passion begets prioritization.

What did Howard Schultz say at Starbucks? Something like: “Lead with the heart and the wallet will follow.”

The “16 Under 16” idea came from Austria, like all good things in skiing!

I was riding a train from Salzburg up to Zell am See to ski at Kitzsteinhorn. It was early November 2014. Colorado’s mountains had only seen a dusting, but ski season was ramping in the Austrian Alps. Kitzsteinhorn is a glacier.

On the train was a teenage bro from the city of Salzburg. He wore a baggy sweatshirt, like you’d see in a Level 1 film, his ski poles were cut obscenely short and his park skis flopped in the tip and tail as the train lurched down the tracks. We started talking. He said he wanted to practice his English. Apparently, it was clear that I wasn’t Austrian…

He asked me if everyone in Colorado skis on Icelantic Skis. I said, “No!”

He asked what X Games were like. I said, “Alright.”

He asked me where the best place to ski was. I said, “Austria.”

He was pissed.

But my salty answers didn’t derail our conversation. He loved to ski. We talked in the train about ski design, ski racing, park skiing, segments from ski films and more.

While the train climbed through the High Tauern range of the Central Eastern Alps in Austria, this kid told me about an idea he had for a ski pass program. Like all good ideas, it was born out of necessity and aimed at solving a pain point. His parents weren’t interested in footing the bill for his ski habit much longer, and he was thinking creatively about a way to spin laps without having to get a job (something all of us can remember contemplating). I think he called it “18 Under 18.” But, after seven years of patina, his idea might have morphed into a different color in my mind.

While the idea was initially introduced to me in 2014 in Austria, I still think it has legs.

What if the Ikon Pass and/or Epic Pass offered 16 FREE days to children under 16? Would this pave the way for future generations in skiing? Would this welcome new people to skiing and riding? Would this lead to incremental revenue for perpetuity? Would this play a role in addressing skiing’s diversity problem that needs fixing?

I don’t know. But, I think it’s worth a shot.

The “Prove It Pass”

Do you ski a lot? Prove it. Ski every day this season and it’s free.

Miss a day? Pay full pop. 

I stopped counting ski days more than 10 years ago, and my life is better for it. I don’t have a running tally on my iPhone or check my pass days like a precocious high school student needing to know their test scores.

The 100-day pin is a thing in Aspen. I get it, but counting ski days is weird. And, I think it’s quintessentially tied to skiing. I’ve never met a surfer who says, “I’ve surfed 113 days this El Nino.” How bizarre would it be to talk about how many slow-pitch softball games you’ve played in over last three years? Golfers might talk about how many rounds they’ve played, but I wouldn’t know. I don’t golf.

Rather than counting days you do ski, the “Prove it Pass” will count how many days you don’t ski.

Here’s the gist:

For example, Aspen Snowmass or Ikon Pass gives away 20 “Prove It Passes” in November 2022 to a culled down list of skiers and riders who applied for the pass. It’s 100% free!

Actually, it’s free until you miss three days. Then, you owe Aspen Snowmass $2,849 for a full-pop Premier Pass, because you didn’t prove it.

A few logistical details:

  • Mulligans
    You get three mulligans at the beginning of the season attached to the “Prove It Pass.” Everyone has to go to DMV, get a mole checked or binge watch Schitt’s Creek for a whole day once per season.

  • Insurance
    Select “Prove It Pass” holders can/should buy injury insurance for $200 before their first ski day because shit does happen.

  • One Run = One Day
    The minimum amount of effort required every day to prove it boils down to stepping into Gore-Tex, snapping your boots’ buckles, scanning your pass, riding a chair, clicking into binders and sliding downhill. You do not have to spin hot laps or bag a ton of vert. You do have to ski.

The execs at Aspen, Jackson Hole, Vail, Squaw Valley and Whistler are good at their jobs. I’m not trying to step on toes. But, I am worried about skiing’s future. Climate science and global warming present an existential threat to skiing. Economical and societal roadblocks pose a threat to skiing’s vitality, too.

I think disruptive ideas rooted in swaying purchase intent and consumer behavior with tourists are worth considering. Snow melts a lot faster today than it did 30 years ago, and, unfortunately, changing my lightbulbs doesn’t help. However, welcoming new people to our mountains does. Then, the army of passionate skiers and riders who care about protecting the places we play grows. And, we need our army to grow. I’m all for new people falling in love with skiing.