Every ski season, the Front Range flocks to Winter Park Resort, thanks to its vast array of terrain, authentic atmosphere and the chance to avoid the dreaded Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate 70.
With the Aug. 2 announcement that Arapahoe Basin Ski Area is joining the Ikon Pass, Winter Park Resort is looking forward to drawing even more skiers and riders from the Front Range this season with the help of a more attractive pass.
“I think it’s a good thing for all the resorts that are in Colorado, especially those of us along the I-70 corridor,” said Steve Hurlbert, Winter Park’s director of public relations and communications. “I think it’s going to entice more people to come skiing and … more skiers is a good thing.”
After a record year for skier visits across the state, Winter Park’s parent company Alterra aims to capitalize on the spike in enthusiasm for Colorado resorts by adding Arapahoe Basin to the Ikon Pass’s fleet of resorts within two hours of Denver.
Arapahoe Basin, known as “The Legend,” is popular along the Front Range for many of the same reasons that Winter Park is, including its unique terrain and close proximity to Denver. Arapahoe Basin also boasts one of the longest ski seasons in the state.
Other Colorado resorts on the Ikon Pass are Copper Mountain, Eldora Mountain Resort, Aspen Snowmass and Steamboat Resort. Meanwhile, the Epic Pass lineup includes resorts in Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Telluride, Crested Butte and Beaver Creek.
The addition of Arapahoe Basin can only help the Ikon Pass compete with the Epic Pass, especially among season passholders living on the Front Range. In fact, resorts on the Ikon Pass are counting on it.
“It makes more sense for a Denver or Front Range skier to get an Ikon Pass than almost any other pass because you’ve got so many options that are right there on your doorstep,” he said. “I think we’re going to see Ikon be a major player and do really well in Front Range sales because of A-Basin.”
Previously, Arapahoe Basin was on the Epic Pass, but it severed ties with Vail Resorts in February, citing crowding and parking concerns as the primary reasons. With less than 2,000 parking spaces available at the resort, visitors began parking on the highway last year causing Colorado State Patrol to tow cars blocking traffic.
“They were overwhelmed with skiers — and really it’s a good problem for a ski resort to have — but when you’re dealing with a small area like A-Basin is, it really ends up damaging the guest experience,” Hurlbert said.
With the switch to the Ikon Pass, those concerns might be more manageable because of the pass restrictions. Whereas the Epic Pass gave unlimited access to Arapahoe Basin, the Ikon Pass will offer up to seven days with no blackout dates at Arapahoe Basin, while the Ikon Base Pass offers holders up to five days at the resort with some blackout dates.
Some might believe that, as the Ikon Pass becomes more attractive along the Front Range, Winter Park could suffer under heightened skier visits, but Hulrbert said the resort is well equipped to handle an influx of skiers and riders because of its size.
“We feel like we’re better suited to have more skiers come visit Winter Park because there’s so much more terrain that we’re able to distribute skiers around the mountain terrain pretty efficiently,” he said.
The resort is still expanding, too. It had a 10-person gondola installed last year in its Winter Park territory, and the resort is upgrading the Sunnyside Lift in its Mary Janeterritory this year, taking the four-person lift up to a six-seater.
The resort also added to the schedule of the Winter Park Express, the Amtrak train that runs between Denver and Winter Park Resort on weekends during the ski season, and started offering new amenities on board.
All of the improvements resulted in a record year in train ticket sales and an overall increase in skier visits to Winter Park for the season. Between the resort’s investments, its new partner and, hopefully, another snowy season, Winter Park feels confident that this year could be a big one.
“They’re always looking to improve the pass and bring in more destinations and really appealing destinations that fit in with the rest of the Ikon resort family, so this really demonstrates that,” Hurlbert said. “It’s just really exciting.”