Alterra Doubles Ikon Pass Renewal Discount, Extends Deadline, Adds Nurse Discount

Buyer beware: all sales are final, and insurance won’t help you

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Faced with a devastated economy and a scorched nationwide employment landscape, Alterra has doubled the renewal discount for 2020-21 Ikon full and Base Passes and extended the deadline for its best prices from April 22 to May 27. They also extended the college and military discount to nurses, who are among the heroes of our moment.

Importantly, the cancellation policy remains unchanged: all sales are final. Even, ostensibly, if there is no 2020-21 ski season. The optional add-on insurance policy will not help here – its coverage is limited to sickness or injury, natural disaster, employment transfer, military reassignments, and pregnancy. There is one loophole that I expand upon below.

[Update: Alterra amended their cancellation policy on April 17 to allow deferrals to the 2021-22 season.]

Here are the highlights from Alterra’s flex to the reality of a suddenly upended America:

Doubling of renewal discounts gives repeat passholders $200 off a full pass and $100 off a Base Pass

Alterra set itself apart from Vail in its second season by offering a renewal discount of $30 off 2019-20 season passes, something the Epic Pass does not offer. Those renewal discounts increased this year, to $50 off a Base Pass and $100 off the full pass, even as the retail pass price jumped to $699 (from $649) for the base and $999 (from $949) for the full pass. This was already a pretty nice incentive – particularly for the full pass – and by doubling both, Alterra makes its Base Pass available for $599 and the full pass for a ridiculously tempting $799.

This takes the Base Pass back to its 2018-19 debut price (though Jackson Hole and Aspen are no longer included on that pass and require a $150 add-on), and puts the full pass $100 below where it was for that first season ($899).

This is an incredibly smart move by Alterra and should go a long way toward appeasing many passholders who were cut off from planned March vacations by a foreshortened season (Angry Ski Bro is another story). Pass refunds were not really practical – Alterra’s financial hit was likely substantial (they have not disclosed expected losses, but Vail expects to lose up to $200 million, and Boyne puts its expected loss at $22 million). Offering a concession on next season’s pass – they characterize this amped-up discount as, “a gesture of community gratitude” – was the best Alterra could be expected to do, and frankly this is more generous than what I was imagining.

This also makes the full Ikon Pass incredibly tempting. Even with the renewal discount, an Ikon Base Pass for a returning passholder would be $749 with the Jackson Hole/Aspen add-on, and you’re still dealing with 12 blackout days. For only $50 more, you not only get two additional days each at JHMR and Aspen, but you avoid blackouts at all mountains, get seven days at all five-day Base Pass mountains, and upgrade to a season pass at Steamboat. This is the best deal you are ever going to get on the full Ikon Pass, so if you have the funds and were even considering it, this is the year to do it. But do it soon – the renewal discount will evaporate after May 27.

Also – if you already purchased your pass, you will still get the enhanced discount, or you can apply that overpay to an upgrade.

The May 27 deadline gives us a better chance to see exactly how far the sky is going to fall

If you’ve been checked out of the world and enmeshed in some kind of Halo binge, here’s a headline to cover the past five or so weeks in America: Everything Sucks and Nothing Cool Is Happening Ever Again.

With nearly 17 million people suddenly out of work and pay cuts hitting much of the still-employed workforce, avoiding eviction is suddenly an existential issue for a historically enormous number of Americans. These people are not buying ski passes. Yes, the $1,200 to most adults and enhanced employment benefits in the CARES Act will help. But in most cases, this money is going to cover basic expenses, not locking down pow shots at Squaw next February.

But maybe in four or six weeks, when the unemployment benefits begin flowing and local governments begin unlocking pieces of the economy, the general situation will improve. What seems inconceivable in the frantic first weeks of job losses and cities locked down and ubiquitous face masks on the American streets may seem appealing as a form of aspirational daydream escapism by Memorial Day. An extension to May 27 helps a lot.

Then again, it may not. While the nation may be reaching its COVID-19 peak, it is going to be a long trip back down that curve, with the very real chance of flare-ups, reversals, and returns to shelter-in-place orders. May 27 seems like a long ways away in our hours-feel-like-days times, but don’t be surprised to see that deadline extended again if the economic fallout continues to compound.

Welcome, nurses, to the discount club

Nurses now have access to the $529 Base Pass and $709 full pass price that was formerly reserved for military personnel and college students. This is a nice gesture that acknowledges the heroic work nurses are conducting in the living hell of COVID-bombed hospitals while the rest of us hide behind our kitchen tables and binge-watch Hulu. There is no question that they deserve this, and thank you nurses for continuing to go to work in impossible circumstances.

I’m assuming doctors weren’t offered the same discount because this is generally a fairly high-earning group, but I do wonder why this same offer hasn’t been extended to, say, EMTs, which are among the lowest-paid medical workers, despite being on the front of the front-lines – these are the soldiers charging off the Higgins boats into German machine gun fire in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. When this is all over, they could use a pow day.

You are still buying at your own risk

There is no mention of what happens in the unthinkable-but-becoming-more-thinkable event that Ski Season 2020-21 goes down in a flaming COVID-bomb. It could happen. The Ikon Pass FAQ simply states that “At this time, all Ikon Pass destinations plan to be open for the 20/21 winter season. All Ikon Pass, Ikon Base Pass, and Ikon Base Plus Pass purchases paid-in-full are non-refundable.” So, yeah. There is one small loophole – if you opt for the payment plan, you can get a refund for all payments other than the $199 down payment up to the fourth and final payment date, which is as late as Dec. 1, depending upon when you make your first payment. There is also a $99 “cancellation administration fee,” meaning you are committing $298 no matter what.

As noted above, the insurance add-on is of no help here. None of this means necessarily that Alterra will just tell you to drop dead if the 2020-21 season doesn’t happen. While refunds would probably be unlikely, I could envision some kind of credit for the following season. I could also envision Alterra collapsing, along with the rest of the economy, if the situation gets that dire. I’m not ready to go there yet, but it’s helpful to think through all potential scenarios before you break off this particular chunk of cash.

All the other good stuff is still there

Alterra is still offering everything that makes the Ikon Pass a standout product, including a four-part no-interests payment plan and, vital to families, a $100 discount on passes for children 6 to 12 (which also expires May 27). That puts a full Ikon Pass at $209 and the Base Pass at $169. That means an adult-with-renewal-discount ($799) plus a child full ($209) Ikon Pass would run $1,008 total. The Epic suite, by contrast, would run $979 for the full adult pass and $499 for the child’s pass, for a total of $1,478. That’s an astonishing $470 difference. The Base Pass total is $768 ($599 for the adult pass and $169 for the child’s), $340 less than the $1,108 total for the Epic Local Pass ($729 adult, $379 child). For someone like me, who does not live in a ski town and is more or less equidistant to either Vail or Alterra mountains of comparable scope and atmosphere, the choice here is not difficult.

Mind you, Vail has not yet adjusted their offerings, and they have promised, in a March 15 email to passholders signed by CMO Kirsten Lynch, to “identify an approach that acknowledges this past season and retains your loyalty for the future” by “the end of April.” This is a company that has already turned the season pass market upside down in the past decade through aggressive pricing that has forced the entire industry to respond. They will come up with something enticing, and they will do it soon.


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