My hunch is that few season pass holders at Great Divide will make it out to Mount Bohemia in Mohawk, Michigan, despite the pass including three free days of skiing there. I’d also wager that no more than a handful will trek down to Lee Canyon in Vegas for a day on the slopes. However, I’d have no problem betting a burger and beer at Old Salt that if a Montana-wide ski pass existed, there’d be no shortage of skiers taking trips to Lookout to Bear Paw, Red Lodge to Turner and every hill in between.
A pass connecting all ski resorts, let’s call it the Last Best Pass, would be a marked improvement on the status quo. Great Divide is not the only Montana hill that’s opted into reciprocal pass agreements with far-flung resorts. Red Lodge is a part of the Indy Pass, along with Blacktail Mountain, Lost Trail Powder Mountain, and 118 other resorts. And, Big Sky is a part of an international cadre of resorts within the Ikon Pass. While these arrangements presumably and hopefully are moneymakers for their respective resorts, there’s some strong evidence that a Montana-wide pass would do more than just increase revenues.
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Let’s sketch out what the Last Best Pass could entail: 15 days at a “home hill” of your choice; two days at every other hill; a 50% off pass for every additional day; and, an epic “Last Best Pass” branded ski suit if you manage to ski at every hill during the season. Revenue could be divided based on “home hill” designations per hill, while also guaranteeing that each hill receives a minimum percentage of total sales. This sort of pass would be a win-win-win: ski areas would have some guaranteed income every year; skiers would have the freedom to explore new hills; and, communities across Montana would receive an uptick in visitors due to everyone chasing that “Last Best Pass” ski suit.
The probability of this working out financially seems high. A 2019 report completed by Jeremy L. Sage of the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research demonstrated that even before the pandemic, skiing was booming across Montana. Sage documented that ski areas in Montana had seen a “generally positive trajectory” in skier visits for three decades — a trend that has surely continued after COVID, when younger and more diverse folks started taking up skiing as an excuse to get outside. Moreover, beyond laying fresh tracks on the slopes, skiers leave big financial marks wherever they go: a few Montanans headed up to the slopes usually spend around $300 as a group; a bunch of nonresidents spend north of $1,600 per trip.
Given that 43% of ski trips are made by nonresidents and their particularly high rate of spending, ski areas have a big interest in luring them to their hill. And, based on the fact that a majority of nonresidents learn about ski destinations through word of mouth, something like the Last Best Pass has a good chance of creating the sort of buzz that inspires people to spend a few days at Discovery or Showdown, in addition to the well-known spots like Big Sky.
On a personal note, I’m admittedly frustrated that my Great Divide pass makes it cheaper to ski in Wyoming than Philipsburg. My fiancé and I planned a trip to Snow King in Jackson, Wyoming, to mix up our terrain. I’d much rather spend that money in Montana, the last best place, and I know others would prefer to do so as well.
So here’s to the Last Best Pass. Consider signing the petition at this link (https://bit.ly/3uro2sp) to show your support for our ski areas working together to make this pass a reality.