When asked how my first winter season as president of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is going, I respond, “We’ve had some highs and lows.”
The highs start with snowfall: February was the second-biggest month in 53 seasons, and year to date we have received 19 percent more snow than last year.
With record snow comes record skier visits and herculean efforts from our employees to operate the resort safely and efficiently. Our guest ratings for guest service and employee engagement are overwhelmingly positive.
The lows? Record snow has attracted crowds that are straining our infrastructure, employees and locals.
The relentless flow of guests creates long lines, traffic issues, insufficient parking and packed restaurants. The Teton Village Association is plowing more than ever, but there is so much snow that there’s no place to move it; snow piles have consumed up to 180 parking spaces. We’ve encouraged START bus ridership to alleviate parking demand, but buses are overflowing. On multiple days the Wyoming Department of Transportation has closed Teton Pass. Many of our employees must drive hours to get to work, contributing to delayed openings and, in turn, base area crowds. The stress can be overwhelming, and the rumor mill perpetuating misinformation adds unnecessary complications.
I’m writing to address rumors attributing the increased crowds solely to the Ikon Pass and to share some actions that we’re taking to address crowding and to support our community of skiers and riders.
Virtually every major resort in North America is participating in either the Ikon or Epic pass. The majority of Americans who are taking a destination ski trip this year purchased one or both passes.
While our owners, the Kemmerer family, are committed to retaining independent ownership, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort recognized that we might not be able to survive as a stand-alone destination resort. In October 2017 the resort signed an agreement committing Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to multiyear participation in the Ikon Pass that commenced this 2018-19 season.
Several reasons the resort selected Ikon over Epic include (1) Ikon’s projection that it would sell a limited number of passes (versus Epic’s 1 million passes) and (2) Ikon’s recognition that all resorts are unique, allowing member resorts to maintain their independence. If Jackson Hole had chosen not to participate in one of those passes we risked not being considered, and skier visits might have dropped to levels at which we could not sustain our operations.
Skier days are up 11 percent season to date. That increase includes season pass usage, (up 7 percent) and “comp” tickets (up 4 percent). Season to date, local residents make up 39 percent of our total skiers versus Ikon Pass holders, representing 16 percent. Roughly 50 percent of Ikon Pass holders migrated from a different lift ticket product they purchased in previous years, i.e., window tickets, Mountain Collective passes or a package deal. Each of those products has decreased significantly. Net-net we attribute Ikon Pass holders as adding 8 percent incremental skier visits.
Though the introduction of the Ikon Pass contributes our crowding problems, it is not the only factor, because locals and employees are skiing more. Record snowfall is the dominant factor driving crowds.
Solutions? Working with the Teton Village Association we’ve added four morning shuttles between Stilson and the Village, plus a Teton Village employee morning shuttle from the Hampton Inn direct to the Village. We are working with hotels so that our employees who live over the pass can stay in the Village when necessary, ensuring that they can get to work and open the mountain on time. We are encouraging all visitors to use bus transportation between town and the Village. We have also eliminated late-season marketing promotions in an effort to reduce crowds.
We are developing actions to mitigate the crowding and stress points for the long term. Potential measures include eliminating some promotions, raising pricing of Mountain Collective and Ikon and limiting complimentary and discounted tickets. We will also be working with the Teton Village Association, hotels, community partners and START to expand transit. We plan to add parking spaces at Stilson and will invest to house more of our workforce in Jackson. We are exploring additional options that we believe will reduce traffic and will share those initiatives when confirmed. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort will continue to closely monitor volumes and industry trends with the objective of improving the experience we offer to our loyal guests.
We appreciate your feedback and ask our community as our loyal local guests to bear with us through these highs and lows. All of our guests are seeking an authentic and challenging mountain experience here in Jackson Hole. We ask for your patience and support as we finish out this extraordinary winter demonstrating our best as a hospitable and extraordinary community.
This version of the opinion piece has been changed to add the final two sentences, which were cut for space reasons during the editing process. — Ed.