Reservations will be back at, at least, one Utah resort for the 2022-23 ski season

Influx of season pass holders leaves resorts with fewer options for managing overcrowding

(Julie Jag | The Salt Lake Tribune) Snowboarders and skiers line up to ride the Majestic lift at Brighton Resort on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Brighton will be one of at least seven ski and snowboard areas on the Ikon Pass that will require reservations for the 2022-23 season.

Skiers and snowboarders on the Ikon Pass won’t be able to waltz up to Brighton Resort whenever they want next season. The Big Cottonwood Canyon resort will be one of at least seven ski areas — and currently the only one in Utah — that will require reservations from pass holders.

Alterra Mountain Company recently posted in the FAQ section of its Ikon Pass website that “lift reservations will be required at Aspen Snowmass, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Big Sky Resort, The Summit at Snoqualmie, Loon Mountain, Taos Ski Valley, and Brighton Resort” for the 2022-23 winter season. Lift Blog first reported the change.

It is unclear whether Brighton will require only Ikon Pass holders to make reservations or if all skiers and riders will need them to get on the mountain. Brighton spokesperson Jared Winkler said the resort was still weighing its options and wasn’t ready to make any announcements. He added that it is possible the resort will deploy the reservation system sparingly, saving it only for the days it expects unmanageable crowds.

“To protect us, I guess they could be like, ‘OK, let’s maybe at least have it on the table so that we can do reservations,” he said. “And if it’s something that they want to do, they can do it easier, when people might be expecting it.”

Winkler said Brighton, its owner, Boyne Resorts, and Alterra would all weigh in on that decision. It will be an important one in the coming months as skiers and snowboarders consider their season pass options.

Boyne owns four of the reservation-requiring resorts, including Loon in New Hampshire, Big Sky in Montana and the Summit at Snoqualamie in Washington. All four are Alterra partners, however, and offer limited access to Ikon Pass holders. Next season, that means those carrying the full pass will get seven days in a season at each of those resorts and Base Pass and Base Pass Plus holders will get five days with blackout restrictions.

Brighton has been an Ikon Pass partner since 2018, the same year Alterra bought its Big Cottonwood neighbor, Solitude Mountain Resort.

Brighton, which was developed in 1936 as Utah’s first ski resort, has long been a favorite of locals because of its learn-to-ski program, night skiing and laid-back vibes. But few longtime customers would be surprised by Winkler’s assessment of the resort’s current status.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Snow flurries at the top of a lift at Brighton during night skiing hours on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.

“This year,” he said, “we’ve definitely seen more Ikon visitors than in the past couple of years.”

The Ikon Pass and other popular multi-resort passes have been blamed for long lift lines and crowded slopes at ski areas across the country. In the past, resorts could manage surges by controlling the price of single-day lift tickets. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the majority of skiers and riders, according to the National Ski Areas Association, have been purchasing season passes, which takes away that tool.

As a result, more resorts could turn to reservations. Both the NSAA and Ski Utah said it’s too early to tell if reservations will be a trend for the 2022-23 season, though the number of Ikon Pass partners requiring them has already more than doubled over last year’s three.

“With the majority share of skier visits being taken over by season passes for the two seasons prior to 2021-22 … it makes sense that some ski areas would adopt a reservation strategy for passes,” NSAA spokesperson Adrienne Saia Isaac wrote in an email to The Tribune. “And if you’ve already tackled the obstacle of integrating the technology required to manage reservations and the system is relatively easy for your guests to navigate, then it makes sense to implement it once again if capacity is a challenge for your ski area.”

That’s the situation Brighton finds itself in. It required reservations from Ikon Pass holders during the 2020-21 season to allow for more spacing during the pandemic. Its method was to allot a certain percentage of its capacity for those customers and the rest for day-ticket purchasers and Brighton pass holders, based on expected turnout and past trends. Both didn’t always fill up as anticipated.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People take to the slopes at Brighton Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2020. Skiers were down during the holidays overall due to the low snow levels and the pandemic. Most out of staters kept their reservations, but some locals stayed away, waiting for better conditions.

“Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t,” Winkler said.

It dropped the reservation requirement this season.

The only other Utah resort to require reservations recently was Park City Mountain Resort, which is owned by Vail Resorts and is on Vail’s Epic Pass. Vail required reservations for all skiers and riders at all of its domestic resorts during the 2020-21 season but also stopped that program for the 2021-22 season.

One resort that continued the reservation system it started during the pandemic is Jackson Hole in Wyoming. The response from customers and workers, resort president Mary Kate Buckley said in a recent article from Freeskier, has been “overwhelmingly positive.

“Our employees have asked us to do this again next year. It’s under control and they get more skiing in when they’re on a break,” she said. Teton Gravity Research co-founder “Todd Jones has said it’s as good as it was in the ‘90s and the Ikon Pass holders who I’ve talked to think it’s great — but those have been people who planned ahead and made their reservations.”

Winkler, however, has a realistic take on the situation. He said he’s not expecting everyone to be happy about it if Brighton does turn to reservations.

“Probably if you ask a Brighton season pass holder, like, ‘Yeah, they’re going to make people have reservations,’ they’re going to be stoked. Like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll buy my pass at Brighton,’” he said “But then you ask an Ikon person and they’ll be like ‘Ugh, that’s lame.’

“Yeah, we’re not going to win.”

Correction: April 6, 12:33 p.m. >> An earlier version of this story stated Brighton is Boyne’s largest resort in terms of lifts. It is one of the smallest.

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