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​Jackson Hole Pens Open Letter On Record Skier Visits

Jackson Hole's iconic Corbet's Couloir - no pun intended. Wikipedia photo.

With the introduction of the Ikon Pass for the ’18-’19 winter season, many locals at resorts across the West have felt the impacts of more people on the mountain, parking struggles, and a general disbelief at the scene before their eyes. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s new president, Mary Kate Buckley, wrote an opinion piece for the JH News and Guide detailing the local impacts of the Ikon Pass at our home mountain.

RELATED: JHMR Backcountry Poachers May Face Charges

Key learnings:

  1. February was the second-biggest month in 53 seasons, and year to date we have received 19 percent more snow than last year.
  2. There is so much snow that there’s no place to move it; snow piles have consumed up to 180 parking spaces.
  3. JHMR is working with START to provide more public buses, more parking at Stilson, and is working to provide better housing options locally for employees.
  4. Skier days are up 11 percent season to date
  5. JHMR attributes Ikon Pass holders as adding 8 percent incremental skier visits. Local residents make up 39 percent of our total skiers versus Ikon Pass holders, representing 16 percent.
  6. Record snowfall is the dominant factor driving crowds.

Read the full letter below.

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.

Repeating the same thing several times does not constitute an article!

As a long time Jackson vacationer, a first time IKON pass holder and a former ski area employee in a not so epic town, here are my 2 cents worth:

The IKON pass is not the problem! The problems are:

1) Development is tilted towards trophy homes and such. Trophy homes contribute little to the economy once they are built, but suck up resources (land) that could be used for better purposes. Jackson, and every other ski town, NEEDS affordable housing to take care of employees and assure that they can get to work. When the resort cannot open on time because of a snow storm preventing employees from getting there, well, you cannot blame that on the numbers of skiers on the hill.

2) Lack of transportation infrastructure. Imagine what a light rail system between the town, mountain and airport could accomplish. Bye bye traffic! And what about summer traffic? Never been there in summer but hear it is even worse.

3) Related to #2, could Teton pass be upgraded with snow sheds or other measures to make it more avalanche resistant?


4) JHMR is a big funnel at the base area, which makes the crowd seem worse than it really is. We were there on delayed opening day, the morning crowd was awful. But once the lifts got going it dissipated fast. Would a second base area be possible? Of course that may take some land away from high end real estate development….

These problems are hardly unique to Jackson, the whole industry has the same issues. If you think crowds are bad here, go to Colorado!

Please consider that IKON skiers are spending money in the motels, restaurants, ski shops and such. OK so maybe we ski for a bit less, but we are limited to 5/7 days of skiing so we are here then gone.  We, like all tourists, do contribute to the local economy.

Additionally, according the JHMR letter, they estimate that the IKON pass is responsible for an 8% incremental increase. That’s 8 skiers out of 100 folks, not a big deal. That number is a hard one to figure, and I wonder how it was computed. Personally, I belong to a club and we have been to Jackson many times. Many of our members have IKON/EPIC passes and use these on club trips. Is that accounted for?

Face it, you have THE BEST mountain on the continent and a very cool town to go along with it. You are attracting vacationers with or without the pass. You just had an incredible February, your infrastructure just got tested and some shortcomings came to light. Smile, you just had a great month!

We just completed a 77 person ski trip to Jackson with the Albany Ski Club from upstate NY. In the past, this would have not been possible.Mist of the members had the IKON PASS.

We stayed at the Parkwood in town
Had private shuttles
Rode the Start
Had 77 people out to dinner
Dinner in town every night
Group Happy Hour on an off day at the mountain
Skied a bunch…had a great time..and left alot of money in Jackson

What is wrong with that!

Love the town, love the mountain, but it’s Targhee for our group next year.  Too crowded, too expensive, starting to lose that local mountain feel.

    Amen.

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On March 6, EBS received this letter from Big Sky Resort General Manager Taylor Middleton, which asks community members and resort goers to welcome Ikon Pass holders with open arms–as he says many in the community were in the past.

Dear Big Sky Community,

When I first came to Big Sky almost 40 years ago I was embraced by the community. Thanks Pirate, Betsy, Kelly, Curly, John, Tim, Sally, Mike, Dan, Jodean, Doug, Chris, Walter and countless others for making me feel so welcome back then. That same welcome has awaited most everyone coming since, whether we arrived five years ago or 50. Big Sky is a welcoming place.

Recently, local social media channels are revealing a rash of really negative postings, shunning new visitors and treating new arrivals differently than we were treated ourselves. Sadly, I just read this message from a recent guest:

“… We’re from the UK and have been skiing in North America every year for the past 15 years. We’ve had epic passes, mountain collective, and this year we bought the Ikon base pass. We usually make 2 three week ski trips each season and love the freedom to travel and explore that the multi-centre passes give us. We’ve never encountered any negative reaction to us as holders of these sort of passes- until this year!  At Big Sky they were selling bumper stickers saying ‘IKON [not] wait for you to leave’ …”

That note made me really sad because this guest did not experience the warm welcoming culture that our broad community has historically offered. A few people have been targeting these new guests with mean messages phrased around a concept that Big Sky is becoming too busy and newcomers are to blame.

Most everyone knows that Big Sky Resort recently joined two national season ski pass programs, Ikon and Mountain Collective. This move is enhancing the Big Sky brand and showcasing our community to new guests who pour spending into our community. These programs are just another piece in the long-term strategy to move Big Sky into a league of America’s best resorts, right where we belong. Our community is growing as our guests discover and fall in love with Big Sky, just like each of us have.

It’s busier now than it used to be. Is it too busy? The facts say Big Sky is one of the least crowded ski destinations offering more acres per skier than any major resort. In three years, we’ve constructed four modern lifts adding quality and increasing uphill capacity by 1,600 skiers per hour. We’ve made no secret that more on-mountain upgrades are planned.

Many of us know it can be hard to make it in a small resort town. Individuals can struggle. Small businesses can struggle. Big businesses can struggle. Not too long ago, many businesses here, small and large, were going broke and residents were moving away because we did not have enough guests to support the town. The good news is that today Big Sky is thriving. Striking the right balance between prosperity and broke can be complicated. I’ll tell you from personal experience, it’s a lot more fun to be managing success than downsizing.

My life here, our lives here, are made possible by visitors. Big Sky’s culture is friendly and welcoming. We were all new at some point; these guests are our newest visitors.

So here we are: We want a thriving economy without falling into that old ski town trap of not wanting others to come after we arrived. We want more and faster lifts but don’t like anyone else skiing our favorite line. The conundrum, of course, is that our community is stronger with many guests and the services they help us afford. I’m not just talking about ski lifts either. Banks, schools, grocery stores, a hospital and a theater make Big Sky more livable and fun.

I don’t enjoy traffic or lift lines either. I get it. Still, my personal experience is that Big Sky is a more livable place today than it was 40, or 20 or 10 years ago, and that’s because so many people have found our good town and our good people, and their visits have helped us afford these improvements.

I’m committed to working hard to help Big Sky grow better, and I know countless others that are too. I’m also committed to keeping this a fun place, with loads of fun people, who do fun stuff, and I know a boatload of you feel the same way. We’re a friendly and welcoming bunch. Please keep sharing that, continue paying it forward, just like that group of pals did with me 40 years ago.

Taylor Middleton
Big Sky Resort General Manager

Sound familiar? Growth for the sake of more growth is not always in a town and especially a ski towns best interests. Often it wrecks the reasons that place was so special in the 1st place.

    40 years ago was forty years ago, things have changed significantly Taylor.  It’s a californiacated mad house in all western ski towns.  Everyone you meet just moved there, if your from there you feel like a stranger in your own home.

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