The Season Pass Dilemma 6
Author thumbnail By John Sherwood, DCSki Columnist

About this time of year, many of us start thinking about season passes. Should I buy one and if so, for which resort? Or, should I pay as I play?

Two resorts close to DC are Whitetail and Massanutten. Both are under three hours drive from DC with the Nut being closer to the Virginia suburbs and the Tail, closer to Marylanders. Both offer roughly the same vertical and challenge. The Tail has better lift capacity (almost twice that of the Nut) with a high speed, detachable quad serving the main mountain, but the Nut has more reasonable condos for rent or purchase near the mountain.

A standard season pass at the Nut costs $425 dollars for unlimited skiing for an adult, and at the Tail, $499 if purchased prior to 31 October 2001 (the price goes up $100 thereafter). Season passes from Whitetail, Liberty, or Roundtop can be used at all three of the resorts.

If you primarily intend to ski during weekends, you will have to use your Nut pass 9 times to break even, or your Tail pass, 11 times. The weekend lift ticket rate for Massanutten and Whitetail will be $45 for the 2001-2002 season. The only difference (and it is a big one) between the two resorts’ weekend tickets is that Whitetail’s is an 8 hour flex ticket which can be used for any 8 hour window during its hours of operation (usually 8:30 am to 10 pm) while Massanutten’s ticket can only be used during one of two sessions: day (9 am to 4 pm) or twilight (12:30-10 pm). Weekday tickets at both mountains go for $38 at the Tail for an 8 hour flex and $30 at Nut for either a day or twilight session.

Complicating matters further for those interested in Whitetail are several additional discount programs: the Advantage Card and Frequent Five Card. The Advantage Card saves you 40% every time you ski or ride at Whitetail, Liberty, and Roundtop. Plus, every 6th visit is free, all season long. The Frequent Five Card offers you the opportunity to choose the five best midweek/non-peak days of the season and save up to $34.00 per visit! Your card is valid for any five midweek day visits beginning January 2, 2002 through the end of the 2001-2002 ski season, excluding January 21, 28 and February 18, 2002. Your tickets are valid for any 8 hour period. If purchased before 31 October, the Advantage Card costs $79, and the Frequent Five, $110.

Whitetail also offers a potpourri of season pass options ranging from a night only pass for $219 if purchased before October 31, to a pass good any time at Whitetail, Liberty, and Roundtop for $499, again if purchased before 31 October. This pass can also be used at New York’s Ski Windham 4 times per season.

An $1,100 “Transferable” pass, offered to businesses or other organizations, can be transferred between users, for example to reward an employee with a day off at the slopes. This T-Pass can only be used by one person per day.

The Nut offers a non-peak pass good Monday-Friday (non-holiday), and any night for a very reasonable $149. Full-time student passes at the Nut also are only $350 whereas at the Tail, they go for $429 if purchased before 31 October and $529 if purchased thereafter.

I suspect by now that my readers have launched Excel and are furiously cutting and pasting numbers into their worksheets trying desperately to figure out which deal is best for them. Well, do yourself a favor and just ask yourself one simple question: could I really ski 9-11 times at a single resort and not get bored out of my skull?

The Mid-Atlantic does not have Whistler-Blackcomb size mountains where one can ski weeks on end without ever riding the same trail twice, nor does it boast verticals of much more than 1,000 feet at best. What it does offer is an opportunity for those with snow fever to get a quick fix, practice their style, and enjoy beautiful natural surroundings only hours from the metro DC/Baltimore area. The Mid-Atlantic also has an incredible variety of ski terrain given it geographical challenges. Rather than limit yourself to one resort, why not spend a few extra dollars sampling this delightful medley? Along with convenient commuter trips to Nut or Tail, try the big bowls on the North Face of Seven Springs, the awesome descent of Challenge at Blue Mountain, the 1,500 vertical of the Western Territory of Snowshoe, the craggy steeps of Blue Knob, or the beauty of the two and half mile Salamander trail at Timberline.

For resorts too far to round-trip in a single day, use the Internet to find a cheap hotel room and split it with friends. After skiing all day, who cares about rooms anyway? As long as it has a hot shower and a bed, that’s all most skiers ask for and what’s more, you get to spend an additional day skiing! For apres ski, lift a cold one by the fire at the lodge with your fellow Mid Atlantic faithful or on a weekend, check out a local band at Snowshoe, Seven Springs, or a host of other local mountains which offer musical entertainment on weekends.

So, does that mean that no one should buy a season pass? Definitely not! In general, season passes at local resorts are ideal for two types of people: families with lots of kids, and condo owners. Large families benefit from economies of scale. Most resorts offer deep discounts for people who buy multiple passes for everyone in their family. Before 31 October, Whitetail, charges $499 for the first person, $359 for the second person regardless of age, $254 for dependent children, and free passes for kiddies under 5. Families also enjoy the logistical benefits of always going to the same place time and again. They quickly learn the layout of the resort, and can generally find each other quickly when its time to call it quits.

Plus, a season pass purchased at Whitetail, Liberty, or Roundtop can offer a lot of variety, since each pass is valid at all three resorts and includes several trips to Ski Windham, too.

Familiarity with the local environs also helps large families find less expensive and often better eating options beyond the confines of the resort: I hate to admit it, but the Golden Arches often surpasses the cuisine found in some ski resort cafeterias. Finally, kids and others learning to ski will benefit from establishing a long-term relationship with an instructor and testing their newfound skills on slopes they are accustomed to cruising.

For condo owners, the cost savings of a season pass are obvious, but there are a few other “bennies” that they may not be aware of. Telecommuters with second residences can enjoy skiing during the lunch hour and not feel guilty about having had to purchase a ticket for the entire day. Similarly, owners will enjoy the benefit of being able to take a few runs anytime they wish -; especially before that long drive home from the condo.

That leaves just one question outstanding: what about Advantage Cards and other discount deals short of a full-blown pass? These goodies may be the trend of the future. With competition for ski dollars fierce, smart resorts are offering all sorts of discounts and rebates to get people to visit for more than a day or come up during the midweek lull. Some of these deals involve lodging, lessons, and rentals as well.

Blue Mountain offers a great ski and stay package with the Days Inn in Allentown, Pennsylvania (a pit near a truck depot but at least it is clean and seemingly safe). For just $59.95 per person single or double occupancy, you get a room for night and a free lift ticket. Yes folks, that’s just $14 more than a single weekend ticket at Nut or Tail! West Virginia’s Tucker County offers a two day “Ski the Valley” pass good at both the Timberline and Canaan Valley resorts (69 trails in all and over 1000 foot of vertical) during the midweek for a mere $57. Very nice and relatively reasonable accommodations can be found at The Village Inn on Route 32 for a mere $45 a night midweek.

A final word of advice: the early bird gets the worm! The cheapest season passes and discounts are offered early on in the season. Some resorts offer deeper discounts for those who can fork out the bucks before the season even begins. Seven Springs sells its passes for only $299 if you purchase it prior to 1 September. The pass goes up to $399 for those who buy between 1 and 15 September, and then spikes to $499 after the 16th of September. Other resorts offer similar discounts for those who shop early.

About John Sherwood

John Sherwood is a columnist for DCSki. When he's not hiking, biking, or skiing, he works as an author of books on military history.

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Reader Comments

M. Scott Smith
September 9, 2001
I've found that the student or midweek passes have been the best deal for me. In college, I frequently bought the student midweek pass at Whitetail. It was very inexpensive, but was good any midweek day of the season - and any evening, including weekends. Given that Whitetail was often a zoo during the day of weekends and holidays, that wasn't the time I wanted to be there! So the pass made a lot of sense.

There is also a convenience factor involved in getting a season pass - to some, avoiding that long lift line (and trying to get the backing off the lift tickets with your numb fingers in sub-freezing temperatures) is worth something. And some resorts offer additional discounts to season passholders - on apparel or food, for example.

Finally, when you have a season pass, you feel better "dropping by" the resort for only a couple hours of skiing. When I had a pass, I would sometimes go skiing for a couple hours and decide that was enough. (Maybe conditions weren't great, or it was late in the evening and I had gone on a spur-of-the-moment impulse.) If you buy a ticket, you feel like you really need to stay for the full 4 or 8 hours.

But it is good to do the math. When I had the season pass, I found that it was difficult to "break even" with enough trips. And John does have a sobering point: resorts around here might not offer the season-long variety of resorts out west.

- Scott
John Mdskier
September 10, 2001
$1100 for a 4 area Snowtime pass. RU kidding! Time to move to Denver.
$249 pass to 4 summit areas & other great deals.

Prepaid day tickets at local ski shops
(eg Ski Chalet) at varying discounts
midweek and WEEKENDS. Massanut, Wintergr,
Blue Kn and others. BK ($14) at about 1/2 price Midweek only.

$4 days and discounted (even free!) thurs
or fridays by Ski Chalet, Princeton, and
radio stations (WBIG etc)

Womens day
Mens Day
Students Day
Basketweavers Day

Other deals anyone?
September 12, 2001
2 years ago our family of 4, 2 adults and a then 5 & 7 yr. old, bought the advantage pass for liberty. As it turned out by seasons end we were dissapointed. As you may recall we had a very short ski season and felt we had barely brohen even. So last year we passed and as it turned it would have been a great deal with all the hours of available skiing last year.
We may or may not do it this year. With the kids 9 and 7 now they all pay so our return on investment comes pretty quickly. $119 for 40% off for a family is a pretty good deal.
However if you by discount tickets at the ski shops and do the demo days $2 each for blue knob and wisp and $7 for the shoe you can end up pretty close to the same savings and get a lot more variety.
Last year we hit all the WV slopes and Bryce. None of which we would have probably done had we gotten a season pass.
One exception that I would like to point out is the special Hidden valley ran last year. For Washington area residents the first week of December they offered season passes for $100.
That is worth jumping on even if you only can make it twice!

However the best thing is to keep all of our DCSKI community aware of any specials. Last year we saved a lot from postings like the one for 2 for one lift tickets at Cannan with a safeway club card. So everyone pull together and lets find and post those deals.

Wisp is offering a $49 lodging special the nite before their demo day. That makes lift and lodging foe a family of 4 only $57. Gotta love it!
September 19, 2001
I have had a season pass to Massanutten to past two years. For the most part I have been satisfied with it, and have made sure I got more than my moneys worth. which is a lot harder to do than one would think. I get a student one which allows me to go whenever I want to including weekends, it cost about $315. Which not a bad deal considering if you go 8 times on the weekends you've paid for it. But Massanutten lift lines are horrible on the weekends so i only go on the weekends when im real bored or i have friends from out of town with me. Which means i have to go all the time during the week to pay for it.
anyways i just remembered i had a point to make and hear it is (drum roll)

Only get a season pass if you live really close to the mountain. I live 20 min away and I sometimes still have a hard time getting myself to go. Also unless your a spoiled college student like myself and get a full season pass for christmas every year, just get a weekday pass. They are much cheaper and after you've got used to a mountain being uncrowded during the week you will not want to go on the weekends. You can use the money you saved to go somewhere else. If you live close it is definitely worth it, the convinence of being able to go for an hour or ten is by far the greatest part about. Also your friends will be happy to because they can always use it when you don't go(but yall didnt hear that from me!)
September 20, 2001
Of course, you can also decide to join the staff of a local area and get REALLY discounted (or even free) skiing! For example, Liberty, Whitetail and Roundtop give free seasons passes to almost all employees. Trail patrol at Liberty earn one free 8 hr lift ticket per shift patrolled. Ski instructors (part timers too) get seasons passes (depending on seniority) and have a combination of discount and free ski passes for family members (again, depending on seniority). Ski Patrollers and every member of their immediate family (i.e., mom, dad, kids living under one roof) gets a free seasons pass (after a year of training - a VERY time intense endeavor). So think about joining the staff of a local area, even part time - some benefits even translate outside those areas. PSIA instructors and NSP patrollers can often get complimentary tickets or discounts for themselves at other ski areas.
ED Birdman Fowler
September 21, 2001
The night club card is a great deal. At only a base price of $130.00 not bad. Last year I used the card 30 days. I picked up the advantage card for 15$ bucks which you make back one just going one weekend day. I would by a season pass but I race at GS/SL at other mountains also. I just don't have the time to take off during the weekday to ski. That was the reason we started the virtual ski club. no dues, email & web access, TEAM ZARDOZ race team, exclusive long range weather. Looks like a better winter than last!!!! I just scanned the forms so if you want any information see the link to the ski club or 410-356-5548. All we do is ski, just local.

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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