Doug Fish and Nate Parr have spent most of their lives skiing and working in the ski business. Their latest venture — The Indy Pass — is designed to expose smaller independent mountains to a wider audience and help them compete in the current era of mega pass consolidation. Our interview with Doug follows.
NYSkiBlog: Doug, where are you from originally? When did you start skiing?
Doug Fish: I’m a native Oregonian and live in the shadow of Mount Hood in Portland.
I got hooked on skiing in 1963 and have been skiing Hood and all over the West for 55 seasons. I make at least one trip to Central Oregon’s Mt Bachelor each year and last season I logged 28 days.
Do you ski the east?
I’m looking forward to my first tour of the Northeast ski areas this February when I’ll visit as many of our Indy Pass resorts as possible.
Beyond the Indy Pass, are there are any other activities you’re involved with in snow sports?
We consult with a couple of resorts and also produce a “get-stoked festival” called Snowvana. It features a film festival, live music, lots of interactive features and displays plus resort reps, gear specials and lots of 10 Barrel beer. It’s a new spin on the traditional ski expo model. We also work with Subaru to help them align with regional season pass programs in Colorado, California and Oregon.
Tell us about the genesis of the idea of the Indy Pass?
My partner Nate Parr and I have been consulting with ski resorts on their marketing for many years and in 2016-17 as we watched the rapid consolidation occurring and pass products changing, we felt there was a gap in the market for casual or occasional skiers and small-to-mid-sized independent resorts. We really started formulating the idea in the fall of 2017 and with the help of many resort executives who weighed in over the next year, developed the program. One GM in particular was instrumental in helping us fine tune the plan. Ken Rider at Brundage Mountain Idaho was also our first commitment, which gave other owners and GMs some confidence to sign on. In February 2019, I hit the road and visited 20 resorts in 27 days and at the end the trip had 10 total commitments in West.
How did you connect with the mountains that are included in The Pass? Some in our community have asked about the inclusion of other regions. Do you plan to branch out into other parts of the country? Do you have specific gaps you’d like to fill?
This February I look forward to meeting with a few potential Northeastern partners for 20-2021. I believe we can add another 20-30 resorts across all regions of the US and Canada before we’re too saturated. We will base our expansion strategy on supply and demand and from what our pass holders tell us through their consumption patterns.
Whom do you envision as the customer? Do you imagine that skiers will add an Indy Pass to Ikon/EPIC or have it as their primary pass? Do you see Eastern skiers using the pass for destination trips?
We’re seeing purchases from two segments: experienced skiers who have another pass and wish to do some travel to our resorts, and casual skiers and families who are attracted by the smaller resorts and our overall value proposition. We anticipate many people from the East and Midwest will travel west. We also expect our US pass holders will take advantage of currency exchange rates and great skiing in Western Canada.
How does revenue sharing work?
Unlike affiliate pass programs, the Indy Pass is a revenue generator for our resorts. 85% of all revenue is paid back to them based on redemptions and another 9% is set aside for marketing. Our goal is to create a national brand for the Indy Pass and our partner resorts. We want to create awareness about the benefits and joys of skiing at these hidden gems. Many casual skiers are only aware of the big resorts.
Our pass holders generally don’t want day spas, night clubs and sushi bars with their alpine experience. They’re looking for a more authentic mountain experience and the opportunity to save money. And they won’t miss the lift lines one bit.
What is the most surprising feature of this collection?
We have a lot of diversity with our resorts this season. Our largest areas attract over 200,000 skier visits and some are less than 25,000. We have every kind of terrain from the Canadian Rockies to the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. Most are family owned/run operations and there are a few non-profits and even a couple of state-run properties. The common thread is uncrowded slopes and affordability.
Skier visits are relatively flat over the last several years. Do you think the mega passes are a threat to the long viability of skiing? How does Indy fit into this discussion?
I think the mega passes are the greatest thing to happen for people who are 10-20x per year skiers and live within a day drive of an Ikon or Epic resort. They now have multiple options at a lower cost. However, very few people learn to ski on a $700 season pass or a $120 lift ticket. Many young families are priced out of that market and frankly, many middle class individuals have a hard time justifying the cost as well. According to NSAA, the number one reason people leave the sport is cost and the mega resorts really don’t have the structure to address that problem. Their market is really confined to the top 10% of wage earners in the US.
This is the gap that the Indy Pass is attempting to fill.
How will you measure success at the end of this season? How do you think the pass will change for 20/21?
We’ll measure success based on the response we get from our partners and pass holders. The Indy Pass is a marketing cooperative made up of like-minded ski areas striving to provide a great guest experience while remaining financially strong. The Indy Pass will surely evolve to address the needs of its partners and pass holders.
We believe the ski industry is changing for the better. Collaboration among resorts will lead to adoption of best practices, economies of scale and lower prices that will bring more people into the sport. Small to mid-sized independents are the backbone of the industry and are poised to have a renaissance in this new age of consolidation.
Thanks for your time Doug!
To learn more about the Indy Pass visit IndySkiPass.com.