Epic and Ikon: Ski Resort Crowds and Remedies

ikon crowds draw complaints
Stop Ikonisizing Aspen sticker in Aspen, Colorado. Photo: Colorado Sun

“Stop Ikonisizing Aspen”. A popular sticker in the ski town of Aspen, Colorado. Like many other of the 60+ destinations of the Ikon and Epic passes, Aspen locals were displeased with the increase in visitors. Despite a definite increase in guests from the new passes, a large source of the crowds also came from local use, given the stellar winter the western US expereinced. Aspen Skiing Co. reported that, as of early March, only 9% of visitors were Ikon Pass users. The more important issue at hand is how resorts plan on dealing with increased crowds in years to come.

Bill Jensen, CEO of Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado gave his comments on joining the Epic Pass: 

“So (Epic Pass users) are coming midweek and staying in the community for four, five nights and our community lodging and restaurants are feeling that … It’s not our core goal to drive that weekender, drive-up traffic. We are focused on the destination play. The way the Epic is set up at this point seems to bring that type of targeted skier to Telluride.” Jensen, Telluride CEO.

Jensen adds that the increase in guests will go hand in hand with improvements to accommodate the crowds. 

Big Sky, Montana recently joined the Ikon pass too, and plenty of backlash followed. The general manager of the ski area, Taylor Middleton, issued a letter in March of 2019 explaining the decision, and the catch 22 of joining a collective pass:

“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.” Middleton, Big Sky GM.

Middleton points to the 2016 plan to invest $150 million dollars into the resort as a measure to alleviate congestion. 11 new/upgraded lifts, 1 new gondola, 10 new restaurants, and major improvements to the Mountain Village are part of the Big Sky 2025 improvement plan.

ikon crowds lead to lift improvemtns
Part of the Big Sky 2025 plan to upgrade the resort. Photo: Explore Bigsky

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Mary Kate Buckley had a tough year in her first season in charge. She faced mountains of complaints about increased crowds solely attributing it to the Ikon Pass. Her op-ed can best be summarized below.

“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.” Buckley, Jackson Hole President. 

She exclaimed that Jackson Hole would not be able to survive financially without being a part of the Ikon Pass. So the solution is to work on policies and procedures to remedy increased crowds to Teton Village:

“We’ve added four-morning shuttles, 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.” Buckley, Jackson Hole President. 

Updates from some of the Ikon/Epic resorts show that progress is coming. The new passes are helping the strained resorts and giving them the financial means to upgrade their infrastructure.