In an era of the corporate takeover of ski areas and multi-mountain season passes, southern Colorado powder mecca Wolf Creek is taking a vastly different approach for this coming winter. Looking towards a season limited by social distancing and other COVID-19 preventative measures, the small ski area is addressing how to remain profitable while not attracting overwhelming crowds.
Over 4,000 Wolf Creek skiers and riders responded to a questionnaire sent out by ski area owner Davey Pitcher this spring. The majority announced their desire to ski in the 2020-2021 season regardless of changes in available food service or other amenities. For the ski area that is tremendously exciting news, following an abrupt end to the last season during one of the traditionally busiest times of the year.
The response to that survey by Wolf Creek is a new COVID-19 adjusted operating plan submitted to the county health department and other potential major changes to ticket sales. The new plan would limit day skiers to just 5,000 (a number far below the 6,800 person capacity of the ski area). Mandatory masks, no indoor dining, and lower capacity on chairlifts are among other items listed in the plan.
To incentivize skiers to visit during off-peak periods, season passes have been reimagined with new pricing and date limitations. Avid skiers and riders can opt for a ‘Premium Pass’ with zero blackout days, then to ski on a particular day they will reserve their spot roughly 12 hours ahead of time online. Pitcher estimates that the ‘Premium Pass’ will cost roughly $1500, a significant rise from last season’s price of $780. However, skiers and riders will also have options for a ‘Midtier Pass’ with some Spring Break blackout days and another ‘Discount Pass’ with primarily weekday access.
Competing against the controversial and hugely popular Ikon/Epic pass products, Wolf Creek is one of the few ski areas left that don’t participate in large multi-mountain season passes. With a strong focus on limiting crowds, the ski area is hoping their new strategies pay off. Another bold move taken by Wolf Creek in the past few months is exiting the Colorado Ski Country trade group. The trade group which represents over 20 Colorado ski areas had purportedly been in communication with Governor Polis about shutting all ski areas back in Mid-March but never warned its member ski areas that an imminent closure was on the table.
Now for the first time in its 80 year history, Wolf Creek is aiming to not sell more lift tickets, but to sell just enough to make it all work financially.