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Assessing the Value of the Peak Pass
By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor
March 13, 2019

Recently, DCSki covered the outrage many Mid-Atlantic skiers are having over the elimination of popular season pass products at Liberty Mountain, Roundtop Mountain, and Whitetail Resorts, following the acquisition of these resorts last year by Peak Resorts. Skiers will no longer be able to purchase season passes that are valid at just the southern Pennsylvania resorts. Instead, if they wish to purchase a season pass, their only option is to buy the new Peak Pass, which carries a significantly steeper price tag.

In exchange for that increased price, the Peak Pass is valid at 9 additional Peak Resorts properties throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. The company believes this expanded portfolio of resorts is well worth the increased pricing model for the pass, and for some skiers who have the flexibility and budget to make distant road trips during the season, the new passes do provide additional value.

A large number of Mid-Atlantic skiers are making it clear that they see no extra value, as they have no interest in visiting Peak Resorts properties outside of the Washington, D.C. region. In this article, we take a look at the properties that are part of the Peak Resorts portfolio to assist skiers in determining whether the substantially higher pricing of these passes is worth it.

The following table shows the ski areas that are accessible via the new Peak Pass, sorted by their “road trip distance” from the heart of Washington, D.C. The distances assume good traffic (and in many cases, the use of toll roads), which is a big assumption. The table omits Liberty, Roundtop, and Whitetail, which are all located within 90 minutes of D.C.

Name State Trail Count Vertical Drop Lifts Distance from D.C.
Jack Frost Big Boulder Pennsylvania 36 600 feet 17 3.75 hours
Boston Mills Brandywine Ohio 18 300 feet 7 5.75 hours
Hunter Mountain New York 67 1,600 feet 13 5.75 hours
Alpine Valley Ohio 7 230 feet 4 6.0 hours
Mad River Mountain Ohio 20 300 feet 10 7.5 hours
Mount Snow Vermont 86 1,700 feet 20 7.5 hours
Crotched Mountain New Hampshire 25 1,000 feet 5 8.0 hours
Attitash New Hampshire 68 1,750 feet 9 9.5 hours
Wildcat Mountain New Hampshire 48 2,112 feet 5 9.75 hours

Which of these ski areas would be worth a road trip to a typical Mid-Atlantic skier?

Jack Frost Big Boulder consists of two separate nearby areas in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. Their vertical is less than 2/3 the vertical of Whitetail Resort, so it doesn’t seem that many D.C. area skiers would see a reason to triple their driving time to experience a smaller mountain. The experience isn’t much different than Liberty, Roundtop, and Whitetail.

The three Ohio-based ski areas are impressive for one thing: they are ski areas in the flat state of Ohio. There is absolutely no reason why a D.C. area skier would drive 6 hours or more to ski these hills, which offer a vertical drop of 300 feet or less.

The first ski area that begins to offer statistics above and beyond Liberty, Roundtop, and Whitetail is Hunter Mountain, which is just under 6 hours away (with good traffic). However, not many Mid-Atlantic skiers set Hunter Mountain as their destination for New England trips. Hunter Mountain offers decent skiing but is known for excessive crowds, as it draws many day skiers from the New York City region.

At 7.5 hours away, Mount Snow provides some classic Vermont skiing with excellent snowmaking, but reviews on sites such as OnTheSnow and Yelp report frequent long lift lines and overcrowding, likely due to its location in southern Vermont close to the Boston metropolitan region.

At 8 hours away, Crotched Mountain offers just a bit more vertical than Whitetail. It would be an unlikely choice as a destination trip for Mid-Atlantic skiers.

At 9.5 hours away, Attitash Mountain offers two peaks and a vertical of 1,750 feet, but has been plagued with a chairlift issue this past winter that has made much of the terrain inaccessible at times. The ski area has been working diligently to keep an old triple up and running, but will need to overhaul or replace the lift to increase its reliability.

That leaves Wildcat Mountain, a 9.75-hour road trip away. Wildcat offers more than double the vertical of Whitetail and has some beautiful scenery. When conditions are good, it can be a treat.

Our assessment? Only a couple of the Peak Resorts properties would be worthy of consideration for a road trip; the majority of properties have little appeal to a typical Mid-Atlantic skier as destination resorts, particularly when gas, lodging, tolls, and travel time are factored into the equation.

There are also many exceptional ski areas in New England that are not available via the Peak Pass: Stowe, Bretton Woods, Mt. Sunapee, Killington, Stratton, Sugarloaf, Mad River Glen, Smugglers’ Notch, and Sunday River, to name a few. Killington, for example, offers a 3,050-foot vertical drop and 212 trails across 7 distinct mountain areas — offering an experience unlike anything the Mid-Atlantic can provide.

Skiers must also assess whether they wish to be locked into a long road trip to a small selection of New England Peak Resorts properties, or whether they’d rather apply the money they’d save towards a trip out west, where airfare can be quite competitive. It takes less time to fly to Utah and be on the slopes of Park City than to drive to New Hampshire, and flights to Denver are only 4 hours. An airplane ride opens up a world of ski resorts that offer substantially more terrain, vertical, nightlife, and high-quality snow. And by not having locked in their skiing budget to properties that are perhaps less than compelling, families have the opportunity to price shop across many diverse resorts.

Early pricing for the Peak Pass (between now and April 30) is already significantly higher than equivalent Liberty, Roundtop, and Whitetail season passes last year. And those prices will shoot way higher in the coming months. An unlimited Explorer Adult Peak Pass, for example, will rise in price to $849 on May 1 and $1,049 by November 1. Skiers will need to compare the value of these passes at those prices to competing passes — such as the Ikon Pass, the Epic Pass, and the Mountain Collective Pass. Those passes are less expensive and open the doors to a much greater variety of top-notch ski areas across the United States.

Mid-Atlantic skiers report that the new Peak Passes are being aggressively pushed by employees at Liberty, Roundtop, and Whitetail, in an attempt to get people to make a $99 down payment on the spot. It would be wise for skiers to take a moment to fully understand the increased cost structure and value proposition of these new passes.

4 months ago

Good analysis.  I thnk it’d be hilarious if someone did a low vert road trip to try the Ohio resorts though. :D

On a more serious note, seeing the distances on a table like that helps put things into perspective easily.  The two closest resorts that are worth anything - Hunter and Mt Snow - are overcrowded due to their proximity to major metro areas. I can’t think of anyone who would want to take a weekend road trip just to stand in line.  We can easily do that at Whitetail now if we wanted to.

Attitash skiers have been quite angry about the summit lift, as you’ve mentioned.  And Wildcat is very remote.  Even getting to those places by air can be a challenge. In most cases there’s going to be a connection somewhere - likely either Philly or New York so there’s time wasted on a layover. Then you may have to drive 2-3 hours on top of that to get to the resort.

You’re right - that makes going out west much more compelling. Even the more remote western resorts are more accessible by air, with many airlines offering seasonal service directly to them from their major western hubs. And when compared to the other multi-area pass options, it really points out how weak Peak’s offerings are.

Peak seems focused on two resorts - Hunter and Mt Snow, and it seems like the others are being neglected.  Roundtop was supposed to cut a couple new green trails on the western side.  They had gotten the government approvals to do it.  I wonder if they’re still going to go thru with it now that Peak is in charge.

I think Peak bought ST because they were profitable and are going to be used to prop up the other resorts.  May be good for them, but bodes ill for our beloved hills.

Peak is Weak!®

4 months ago

This article is too negative.  I skied at Hunter six times using the Peak Pass this year, and I thought it was well worth the trip especially for those seeking a variety of black and long runs.  I thought the crowds were managable, the lifts were fast and the lift lines were well organized by the staff, and they have a new area, Hunter North, with a new high speed quad where you can get alot of laps without long lift lines.  Much superior to anything the snowtime resorts have to offer except for the long drive requiring at least a two day trip.  Also the colder weather and more natural snow means generally better snow conditions than around here, and or course a much longer season (I had a great time skiing at Hunter on a variety of trails over Thanksgiving weekend, long before any of the snowtime resorts opened.  Also had a great lesson from an expert instructor).  Inexpensive lodging options in surrounding communities of Kingston and Saugerties.  

Also managed to ski Attitash during a snow storm on a busy weekend and had a fantastic time, again that place is much superior to any of the snowtime resorts.  I hear Wildcat, which is close to Attitash, is an even better mountain in a beautiful location.  The White Mountains are a great place to visit, and are easy to get to on low cost flights on Southwest from BWI to Manchester, followed by a 2 to 3 hour drive.   Also accessable from Portland, Maine.  Lots of cheap lodging options in the North Conway area as well.  

So I think the Peak pass does provide value for those who want to ski at the colder, bigger resorts up in New York and New England, for those times that a trip out west is not practical or when you don’t want to plan far in advance, and I plan to make more trips next season to the northern Peak resorts to make good use of my pass. The snowtime resorts are ok for easy intermediate terrain but are inadequate for green and black terrain, and that is where the larger northern resorts shine.  Of couse I do understand that for many who don’t have the free time or money for the extra travel, the access to the northern resorts is of no use, and Peak should offer a lower cost local pass for the Southern Pa region (and for gods sake, sell discounted passes at least until the early fall).  But for some it provides a great option to expand our skiing options for relatively little additional cost.  Haven’t had a chance to sample Mount Snow this year but hope to do that next year.  

It would, however, be ideal if Peak also had a resort or a partner in the snowier and colder Allegheny mountains to our west.  Just adding a Wisp as a partner would greatly increase the value of the Peak Pass.  My dream is that Peak would purchase Timberline, a gem of an area that seems to have no future due to mismanagement.  

 

 

 

 

JimK - DCSki Columnist
4 months ago

Good analysis Scott.  I have driven from DC area and skied at the four most significant mtns mentioned on multiple separate trips:  Hunter, Mt. Snow, Attitash and Wildcat.  I can see Hunter as a useful destination for a spring long-weekend trip possibly including a side trip to some non-Peak mtns nearby.  Same for Mt. Snow.  My feelings on Attitash are - meh, bigger than Hunter, not as big as Mt. Snow.  It would be very nice to have Attitash nearby in the mid-Atlantic, but it’s inferior to many other New England choices if going that far north.   Wildcat, however, is SPECIAL and I have driven from DC area to specifically ski there.  It’s one of my favorites in all of the Northeast.  Great terrain and super scenic with interesting town of North Conway nearby for lodging, shopping, and dining options.  Although Wildcat is not huge by measure of skiable acreage compared to, for example, Killington, Stowe, Sugarbush or Sugarloaf.  IMHO it would be a nice trip for a Peak passholder to go to Mt. Washington Valley for three days at Wildcat and a day or two at Attitash.  I hear Crotched is not bad, but I’d just do another day at Wildcat if in the vicinity.  Nearby in Mt. Wash Valley is non-Peak Black Mtn of NH and it could be thrown-in for very inexpensive day-tickets and has a lot of old school character.  Conclusion:  if a week-long trip to NH and a separate long weekend to Hunter or Mt. Snow have appeal, then the Peak deal could work for some folks.  Otherwise, I agree, the extra mtns on the pass are not too inspiring.

Old report that includes discussion of Attitash and Wildcat:
http://www.dcski.com/articles/1267

Here’s one on springtime at Hunter:

http://www.dcski.com/articles/1445

Mt. Snow:

http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=932

4 months ago

Hmmm, lets see now

Epic Local Pass for  $699 good thru at least September at that price

Unlimited days with no restrictions at Okemo and M Sunapee

Unlimited days with date restrctions at Stowe

 

Keystone and Breck season from November to April (Keystone likely October to May for 19/20 -snow permitting)

10 days date restricted at Vail and Beaver Creek

Lots of other options at lots of other places

 

Versus

 

a Peak Pass for $699, $849 on 5/1, and $1049 on 11/1

 

decisions, decisions, decisions

 

If Vail would buy that 4 season resort in WV it would really be a no brainer wouldn’t it?

FWIW, I just made that suggestion to the company.

4 months ago

I also think your assessment is a little on the negative side. Let’s not forget some of these passes like Vails requires us to fly somewhere to ski. There are no local options on these passes. A 7S Highlans Pass is $620 ($719 after May 15) which allows you to ski at 3 ski areas. However, you can still buy an individual pass to either 7S, HV or LM for about $160 less. I agree that Peak should offer a local pass to the Snowtime Resorts. And I sure ain’t driving to Ohio to ski. I also agree that the pass cost is a bit high.

Hunter and Mt. Snow are best skied weekdays. You can fly to Manchester, NH on Southwest for $99 then drive up north in 2.5 hours to ski Attitash and Wildcat. I once stayed at the Mount Washington Hotel and skied Breton Woods. Attitash and Wildcat were close by. 

We can complain but at this point it is what it is.

4 months ago

7S has always been on the expensive side and that’s never been a surprise.  The big difference beteween them and the ST resorts is that they had full-fledged resorts to go with it.  7S more than HV, but they were more than just having golf (Lib and WT) or being a day destination (RT).  You also have more lifts, more terrain parks, and more snowmaking than anything Peak offers in the region.

7S by itself was nearly as big as all 3 ST resorts combined, then adds in 2 more resorts on top of that. They also provided year round perks with discounts on activities and even to Pirates games.  Add to that it’s at least a quasi-destination resort (moreso than anything else in the region besides Nemacolin), and there’s at least some justification to the price of the Highlands pass.

Compare that to Blue Knob who’s regular season pass price is $620.  BK is a fair price at $299 for where they’re at in the rebuilding/upgrade process, but not at $629.  Come full price, anyone would be foolish not to buy a Highlands pass over that.

SnowTime’s pass price was fair for what it offered.  For most, I don’t think Peak offers extra value around here without taking a long drive or a plane trip.  Many are not willing to make that trip.  Those that are willing may find better value or bang for the buck out west, especially when there are fare sales. Most detination resorts are best skied on weekdays - that’s no surprise nor unique to Hunter/Mt Snow. Come the weekend, you end up with the weekend warriors plus the locals to crowd the hills.

MHT is often victim to weather delays, at least IME.  I have barely made it in there a few times, and have had my outbound flights canceled every time for weather.  That was just traveling for work.  I’d be hesitant to risk flying up there for a weekend or a vacation only to either ruin the weekend or get stuck coming back.

For those that are willing to head up north, there are plenty of other resorts that are better than what Peak offers.  Why go mess with Mount Snow and Hunter when you have Killington, Stratton, Sugarbush, Sunday River and others (many already covered under a multiresort pass?

I think Peak is overpriced for a lot of “me too” resorts that didn’t make the cut for the other passes. You need more than 2 2nd tier resorts to justify the cost, especially given the the late season cost of Peak’s passes.

3 months ago

 http://skidome.org/skidome2/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Night-Tracker-For-Distribution.pdf

NIGHT TRACKER PROGRAM just announced and no ADULTS -   190 lift only.   NO PRICE INCREASE.

the discount ages are 8-18   We have 10 in our club of 33 

then 18-29      over 30 you pay more.

Sharpen your edges. And pencils.
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