Is It the End of Local Ski Areas?

Recently, Steven's Pass Ski Area was purchased by Vail Resorts, an international ski and summer resort company. How will the new ownership affect the local ski spot?
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Some long overdue improvements may soon be coming to Steven’s Pass Ski Area, thanks to a new ownership. In June, the ski area was sold to Vail Resorts as part of a $64 million deal. Vail already gobbled up the Whistler Blackcomb resort in 2016. So what does this mean for Steven’s??

Long time local skiers are concerned about how this resort juggernaut will run a ski area that mostly attracts nearby residents.

“Seattle’s different than Vail or Whistler,” says Seattle resident Noah Edelstein, who has skied Steven's for more than 20 years. “We are day riders, not resort riders. We wear garbage bags under Seattle jerseys when the temperature approaches 32 degrees - and still shred without the scorn of lifties. But the facilities aren’t keeping up. I live in fear of a weekend parking lot at Stevens,” he says, referencing the frequently overcrowded parking lot--one of the signs of the increasing crowds that have impacted the ski area over the last few years.

Katey Murphy, a college student at Seattle University, agrees. She’s been skiing Steven's since she was 4 years old and has watched the changes happen. She enjoyed the small community feel of the place--where regulars knew all the lift operators and developed meaningful relationships with fellow skiers. That’s still the situation during the week, but big weekend crowds have changed that. “This last season just seemed out of control. I’d have to leave Seattle at 5 a.m. to get a parking spot at the top lot on a weekend.” She said that while she worries the corporation will bring in more rules and regulations (such as a stricter definition to what “reckless” skiing means, which could result in a penalty for a skier), and higher prices, she hopes they might have resources to open up new terrain, install more high speed quads, and manage the parking situation better.

Marc Riddell, director of communications for Vail Resorts and Pacific Northwest wants to reassure local skiers.

“We’re not interested in a homogenizing experience,” he say. “The locals are critical to Steven's Pass. We want to maintain and celebrate the unique experience they’ve had while improving the mountain experience for them. And by adding them to the Epic Pass, we hope to welcome some of them up at Whistler or one of our other resorts.”

Being part of Vail’s Epic Pass is one benefit for skiers and boarders. It lets holders of this pass ski at any one of Vail’s many resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Whistler Blackcomb and more. Stevens is the only Washington ski area on the Epic Pass.

But the Epic Pass isn’t the only game in town. In September, the sale of Crystal Mountain to Denver-based Alterra Mountain Company was announced. This means Crystal will be part of the competing Ikon Pass, which allows skiers access to Alterra’s many resorts.

So now it’s the Epic vs. the Ikon. Regulars at Stevens are hoping their kids will still learn to ski the Squirrel Trail, and the Iron Goat will still be there for après ski with pizza and drinks for all ages.

One thing is for sure: Snow is in the forecast, and skiers will be up at the Steven’s Pass as soon as lifts open. Regardless of ownership, locals will always have Cascade Concrete - they just don’t get that kind of snow in Vail.

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