Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a history of charging extra for access to its Aerial Tram, but whether it will follow Big Sky Resort’s lead and require most skiers and riders to pay extra for a tram ride is unclear.
The Montana resort Big Sky announced April 6 that it would change how skiers and riders who purchase day tickets, Ikon and Mountain Collective passes and some season passes can access the hill’s Lone Peak Tram. Able to carry 15 passengers (compared to the Jackson Hole system’s 100-person capacity), Big Sky’s tram is smaller but still crests Lone Peak at over 11,000 feet, offering access to steep lines like the aptly named Big Couloir.
New next season, people who purchase Big Sky’s Gold Pass ($1,899 for adults) will be the only guests with unlimited access to the Lone Peak Tram.
Those who purchase the resort’s Double Black Pass ($1,499 for adults) will be able to access the steep lift for 10 days. All other guests will be required to purchase access to the Lone Peak Tram day-of.
The reason for the change was to mitigate crowding issues in the line for the tram, Big Sky General Manager Troy Nedved said in an end-of-season announcement.
“Ultimately, this quality versus quantity approach is a major shift in how we sell and manage access to our tram,” Nedved said. “Our goal is to improve the guest experience and get the tram line back to 30 minutes on average consistently. This requires strategic changes to make this a reality. The Lone Peak experience is like no other in North America, and we want to ensure a quality experience for all guests.”
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort spokeswoman Anna Cole declined to comment Tuesday on Big Sky’s decision to curtail unlimited tram access for most season pass holders.
But she and the Teton area resort’s president Mary Kate Buckley did speak with the Jackson Hole Daily’s sister publication, the Jackson Hole News&Guide, last week, answering an hour of questions about a successful season, crowding, Ikon passes and what the resort’s future may hold. Among other things, she said that without the COVID-19 pandemic, the resort would have rolled out a few new ways to manage crowds.
While Buckley didn’t specify what, exactly, those steps would be, it was clear that the resort she steers has been experiencing crowding as well.
And there would be precedent if the Wyoming resort decides to follow Big Sky’s lead in part or in whole.
Back in the 20th century, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort charged people who didn’t purchase a more expensive “Gold Pass” $2 to access the Aerial Tram, requiring people to pay for “tram tickets” to ride the old 62-person tram (replaced with a new 100-person tram between 2006 and 2008).
Jim Stanford, a former town councilor who then worked as a reporter and columnist for the Jackson Hole News, said in a text those tickets have become collector’s items.
“In fact,” he said, “for the last tram in 2006 or first of new tram in 2008 I was one of a few nerds who wore a tram ticket under my goggle headband, like we used to have to do.”
But those tickets’ novelty doesn’t mean they were always popular.
When the resort discontinued “tram tickets” in 1997, Stanford wrote an exuberant column titled “Adios to the lost art of tram ticket dodging.”
“Ski bums who forked out more than $1,000 in August for a season pass and then stuck out the off-season with little or no savings rarely cut into apres-ski funds to purchase the annoying little vouchers,” he wrote. “Some received tickets as tips, while others were lucky recipients of 10-punch tram cards from their employers during the holidays. The challenge was to make these precious passes last.”
Stanford went on to extoll all the ways skiers and riders got around the system: Sneaking on standby trams, pasting punched holes back into ten-punch cards and asking lifties distracting questions the minute they asked about a ticket, among others.
So while it’s unclear if the resort will bring the “tram ticket” system back for the 21st century, it’s likely that, if it does, resourceful ski bums will try to find a way around it.