The price of powder
Early-bird pass season hits full stride

SideStory: The new shape of Silverton Mountain

The ticket booth at Durango Mountian Resort’s Columbine Area awaits the first snow adn skiers of teh season ealrier this week. Local ski areas are gearing up for the 2006-07 seaosn by offfering a variety of season-pass options. DMR is offering a discounted season pass of $599 for the next three weeks, and Wolf Creek also is offering an early bird special pass rate of $560. For the first time, Silverton Mountain also will be offering a season pass./Photo by Jared Boyd

by Will Sands

irst snow is still weeks away, but ski season is already in the air around Durango. Early bird pass sales are off and running, and regional ski areas are targeting local skiers and snowboarders with the lure of affordable skiing. And with few exceptions, local ski areas are doing their best to take it easy on the pocketbooks of Four Corners residents.

Durango Mountain Resort’s early bird pass is on sale for the next three weeks, and it’s business-as-usual at the local ski area. “Most of our prices have hovered around the same place they were last year,” said Loryn Kasten, director of marketing and communications at the resort. “In fact, our regular season price for an adult season pass even went down by $100 this year.”

Adult early birds are able to buy an unrestricted season pass for $599, a $200 savings on the regular-season

price. Full season pass holders also score two free days of unguided skiing at Silverton Mountain, three free days at Taos and 10 days at Kirkwood Mountain Resort in Taos. Purgatory’s weekday pass, another popular option for locals, did see a $50 bump this year to $299 at the early season rate. Still, DMR is doing its best to get Durangoans on the mountain, according to Kasten.

“We know our locals make up a huge part of the

mountain each winter,” she said. “We’re always doing our best to give them the best access we can at the best price.”

Pass holders and day trippers will enjoy improved beginner terrain at DMR, as the resort is moving the rope tow for the Alpine Snocoaster to free up more space for first-timers. Most of the resort’s manpower is focusing on renovation of the base area.

“We will be expanding beginner terrain this season,” Kasten said. “Other than that, most of our efforts are going into the new Lodge at Purgatory, improving the base area and a lot of things that are happening behind the scenes.”

Locals are also the backbone at Wolf Creek Ski Area, according to Roseanne Pitcher, that ski area’s marketing and sales director. And in exchange for local support, the ski area has kept its early bird ski pass at the same price since 1999. Between Sept. 30 and Oct. 8, passes will be 4

for sale at the ski area ticket office for $560. A weekday pass also is available for $393.

“Our prices haven’t gone up in seven years,” Pitcher said. “But I think it’s working. Last year, we sold 1,200 passes, and that’s more than we ever have.”

The price of day tickets at Wolf Creek will see a slight budge this year. The mom-and-pop ski area raised them $1 from $45 to $46.

“We have a strong local clientele, and we’re doing our best to make it affordable for them,” Pitcher said. “That’s why we try to keep the prices low.”

Wolf Creek will be unveiling a relatively big capital improvement this year and is currently replacing the Dickey Chair, which accesses mostly beginner terrain. The new lift will be called the Raven Chair, and like the Alberta Quad, it will be a standard-speed, detachable quad. The ski area will also be reconstructing its ski patrol headquarters at the top of the Treasure Chair.

A season ski pass is actually one of the big changes at Silverton Mountain Ski Area this year. Fresh on last year’s approval for unguided skiing at the steep, all-expert mountain, owners Aaron and Jen Brill are offering their first-ever season pass this season.

Silverton Mountain was founded in 2000 when the Brills installed a double chairlift on their property, an old mining claim on Storm Mountain northwest of Silverton. The original vision was to create an affordable powder skier’s paradise with $25 lift tickets and a 475-skier cap. Nearly six years of review by the Bureau of Land Management have altered the original vision, and $49 became the price for unguided skiing. Through Sept. 15, a season pass is also available at an early season rate of $999.

“Season passes have always been an important part of our plan,” Aaron Brill said. “When we first started unguided skiing last April, we saw the same 50 people every day. Now, we definitely want to make it more accessible to locals.”

The pass is blacked out between Jan. 18 and April 1, when the mountain will be open to only 80 guided skiers per day. Brill acknowledges that the price is higher than DMR and Wolf Creek and that the black-out period is long. However, the pass is also packaged with a series of perks including two free Silverton Mountain guided ski days for use during the blackout period; six free days at DMR; four free days at A-Basin; five free days at Monarch Resort; discount walk-ons for guided skiing; discounted beer; and a free Red Bull each day the passholder skis.

“We tried to come up with as much value as we could,” Brill said. “We’ve effectively got $1,000 of perks with the pass including 15 days at other mountains and two guided days. Based on those perks, any day of skiing you have at Silverton Mountain will effectively be free.”

By the same token, Silverton Mountain’s $999 early bird ski pass is by no means the region’s most expensive. Telluride Ski Resort is charging a handsome $1,375 for a full-season of skiing privileges. It also appears that a season pass at Telluride carries no additional perks. Telluride’s director of communications opted out of returning the Durango Telegraph’s calls. •



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