The Poconos may be the biggest news in Northeast skiing and riding this year as Alterra Mountain Company's Ikon Pass just announced the inclusion of both Camelback Resort and Blue Mountain as limited pass partners for this coming season offering either 5 or 7 days of access.
KSL Resorts is the majority owner of both ski areas and is an affiliate of KSL Capital Partners who is one of the two owners of Alterra Mountain Company along with Henry Crown and Company. In 2019 KSL purchased Camelback for $70 million, and then in 2021 they purchased Blue Mountain's assets for $32 million. Some had seen this pairing as being an obvious outcome given the ownership of both being shared, but the business needs of these two resorts and the strategic direction of Ikon Pass to date has suggested otherwise.
About Camelback Resort and Blue Mountain
These two resorts are the most visited in Pennsylvania with the exception of Seven Springs. Their location in Northeast Pennsylvania puts them at less than 2 hours away by car from downtown Manhattan or Philadelphia. Both resorts have very robust snowmaking systems allowing for rapid expansion of terrain and long seasons generally lasting from Thanksgiving through the end of March.
By the numbers, Camelback offers 800' of vertical with 166 acres and 16 lifts including a high speed 6-pack installed before the previous season. They have 100% snowmaking and night skiing coverage. The property also features a hotel with over 450 rooms, both indoor and outdoor water parks, and a host of activities including laser tag, escape rooms, rock climbing, an arcade and other amenities. There is also a mountain coaster, zip lines, and warm weather tubing. Camelback Resort is perceived as being more of a family mountain with the indoor waterpark and hotel making it into a regional destination of its own.
Blue Mountain claims more vertical at 1,082' with 171 acres of terrain and 15 lifts including their own new high speed 6-pack installed last summer. They also have 100% snowmaking and night skiing coverage. Blue mountain offers many of the same types of activities as Camelback but swaps out the water park for mountain biking operations. Blue Mountain, sans the waterpark and massive hotel of Camelback, is more of a day trip mountain offering more challenging skiing and longer runs.
An Obvious Match, But Not Really
Given KSL's ownership in Alterra one might think that putting these two ski areas on the Ikon Pass would make sense as a way to leverage their investments in both. The reality is that both Camelback and Blue Mountain have successful 4-season operations with access to large population centers including Philadelphia and the NY Metro markets. The Ikon Pass provides discounted access to both skiers and the resorts, but taking already busy resorts who were not on any multi-passes would seem to bring them business and discounting that aren't needed. From that perspective this doesn't make sense unless the plan is to increase prices and restrict access due to increased demand. We assume that the plan isn't to just pack 'em in and increase the size of the lift lines, but that's a possibility too.
Ikon Pass has traditionally shied away from including non-destination resorts on their pass. Even Boyne's own Mt. Bachelor wasn't added to the Ikon Pass initially because it didn't offer lodging and didn't fit in as a true destination, but for the 2020/2021 season both Windham and Mt. Bachelor were added to the pass as the first sign of an attempt to change their strategy and broaden their appeal by integrating two ski areas that were not traditional ski destinations. Last winter Alterra purchased Snow Valley, a smaller ski area which it plans to link together with Bear Mountain and Snow Summit serving more of an urban market in Southern California. Now with the addition of KSL's Camelback and Blue Mountain it seems that Alterra is confirming a shift of their strategy to utilize regional destinations as a way to help sell more passes and drive traffic.
Ikon Pass sales should benefit a great deal from this arrangement in this region. The New York and Pennsylvania markets were underserved on Ikon Pass with just one resort, Windham Mountain, out of about 70 downhill ski areas between the two states, where as Epic Pass has 9 including 8 in Pennsylvania where they have a near monopoly on the larger hills outside of the Poconos. Adding in these two ski areas will give Pennsylvania residents a second option for a multi-pass within the state, though not one with unlimited skiing and riding as the Ikon Pass will only offer 5 or 7 days of access with or without blackouts. This will pair well however with Alterra-owned Snowshoe in West Virginia, and Windham in the Catskills of New York, as well as their other regional destinations in Vermont which includes full pass access to Stratton and Sugarbush, and 5 or 7 days between Killington and Pico. That now makes the Ikon Pass competitive in Eastern Pennsylvania and the NY Metro area.
Questions Regarding Paid Parking and Pass Reservations
Camelback offers free parking to passholders, but otherwise charges generally $12 for all others to park. It's not clear whether or not Ikon Pass holders will be considered passholders for the purpose of paid parking or not and it would be great to get clarification on that. In most cases ski areas treat the Ikon Pass the same as their own pass for access and we're hopeful that this will include free parking for Ikon Pass holders but this is unknown at this time.
Given that both ski areas tend to be busy on peak season weekends we are also wondering if either ski area will require reservations for the Ikon Pass. Windham, and Loon are the only other Ikon Pass partners in the Northeast that require reservations, but reservations and restrictions are becoming more common amongst Ikon Pass destinations in the last 3 seasons. Presently the Ikon Pass site does not list reservation requirements for either though we don't want to assume that this answers the question.
We do know that Ikon Pass will be direct to the lift at Camelback while at Blue Mountain you will have to go to a ticket window in order to redeem your day where they will issue you their own RFID card.
Keep in mind that Alterra already owns a "Blue Mountain" located in Ontario which is actually the third most visited ski area in all of Canada. So make sure that you are looking at the right Blue Mountain in the context of the Ikon Pass.