The same trendsetting season pass deal that re-energized Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area in the late 1990s has placed it in a financial bind.
As a result, the nonprofit operation less than an hour from Downtown Boise implemented its first major price hike of this century on Thursday.
Bogus, which is $7 million in debt, will sell adult season passes for $299 during its annual February sale — a $70 increase.
For most of the past 18 years, the price was $199.
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“It was a necessity. It really wasn’t a choice if we wanted to continue to operate a viable business,” said Brad Wilson, who became the general manager in November. “I can’t think of another business that’s had the same revenue for 18 years with the increasing costs of doing business. ... Really, we revolutionized the ski industry when we dropped to that $199 pass. Everybody else (who emulated that) continued to bump up prices to the point where the vast majority of season passes are well above the $299 price.”
Brundage Mountain near McCall joined the $199 craze in 2001-02, but the resort has increased its price incrementally since, to $349 for 2016-17.
Tamarack Resort near Donnelly will sell its season passes for $299 for next season. Tamarack raised prices significantly last year.
Bogus Basin’s annual sale runs Feb. 15-21 this year. The ski area has about 20,000 pass holders this season, which is one of its worst totals in the low-price era. The peak was 34,000.
“It’s a little bit of sticker shock compared to last year,” said Dustin Gardiner, of Boise. “I think that I’ll probably still go ahead and purchase the pass. ... When you compare them to other places like Brundage — I think Brundage is similar but has better snow — what you’re paying for with Bogus is the convenience. I see people saying on social media they’ll just buy at Brundage. Well, if you want to drive an extra hour or two, go ahead. I don’t have that kind of time.”
Bogus Basin was on a four-year run of bad snow years before this winter and has lost $800,000 over the past 10 years, Wilson said. In the most recent tax return available — for the fiscal year ending May 31, 2014 — the ski area reported a $422,953 loss.
A feasibility study commissioned by Bogus reported that skier visits dropped from 356,000 in 2010-11 to 173,000 in 2014-15. The other 29 ski areas studied average $70 of revenue per skier visit; Bogus Basin gets about half that. The other ski areas have increased their profit per skier to as much as $6; Bogus Basin over a three-year period lost between $1.43 and $4.14 per skier.
“We’ve had to borrow some money because we haven’t had the money to do the things we need to do,” Wilson said. “The ski business is incredibly capital intensive.”
Wilson has tried to be upfront with customers about the need to increase prices — he indicated this was coming late last year — and hopes they understand and are willing to protect a mountain that has raised many of the state’s skiers.
“If they’re being honest about it and they truly are in debt and they say that this is something we have to do, then yeah, it’s something that’s worth it,” said Gardiner, who skis with his son. “I can’t imagine not having Bogus there. If that really is in jeopardy, I definitely think it’s worth it.”
Joshua Hull, a Boise State student from Elko, Nev., said he doesn’t mind the price increase because he appreciates the little things the new staff has done, such as updating road conditions and keeping the website fresh. He has a friend who pays $650 for a college pass in the Lake Tahoe area.
Hull went to Bogus on Thursday — his 20th ski day of the season.
“This year, I’ll be paying the $70 more, but this year the base is at 70 inches,” he said. “I don’t see any way that it will be closing before the end of March. Just right there, you’re getting a whole month more than you would have last year.”
Some on social media panned the price increase. Wilson, though, spent the day on the mountain with 150 Chamber of Commerce members and said most people have been “understanding.”
Bogus is offering cheaper passes for night skiing only ($99) and weekday/nonholiday skiing ($239).
“Those who are skiers outside of this area understand that our season passes at $299 are still a big bargain,” Wilson said. “We have some real attributes that some of the other regional ski areas don’t, like 42 percent more hours open (because of night skiing).”
The feasibility study supports his case.
Bogus Basin began offering deeply discounted season passes for the 1998-99 season. The price was $199, less than half of the previous price. Sales jumped from 3,500 passes to 25,000.
Bogus’ price moved to $229 in 2003-04 but dropped back to $199 in 2005-06. Returning pass holders got them for $179 in 2012-13 because of a short season the winter before. The price returned to $229 in 2013-14.
“The heart of the issue that Bogus Basin currently faces is in its pricing structure,” the feasibility study states. “... While these deeply discounted passes were popular many years ago, all of the ski areas have substantially ‘moved the pricing needle’ over the years in order to address increasing capital and operating needs. Simply stated, Bogus Basin can no longer afford to continue this practice.”
The next stage of the feasibility study will be completed later this year and indicate a path forward for the ski area. Two key ingredients will require money to invest — increasing the summer operation, which isn’t as weather-dependent, and making enough snow to avoid the short seasons that reduce skier visits and lead to lower season-pass sales for the following season.
That double whammy struck last year. Bogus usually generates about 80 percent of its pass sales during the February deal. Last year, it sold only 11,000.
But this year’s plentiful powder has the mountain on pace to make enough money to pay for some necessary upgrades, Wilson said. Many people ended up buying passes at the full price of $429 when the snow fell, and single-day ticket sales have spiked.
Next year’s bottom line will be heavily dependent on how skiers respond to the price increase.
“As we go ahead, we’re trying to protect ourselves from big swings in the weather,” Wilson said.
Season pass deals
Sale dates: Feb. 15-21
Adult, $299; Adult weekdays/nonholidays, $239; Nights only, $99
Junior (12-18), $229; Senior (70 and older), $199; Child (7-11), $69; Preschool (6 and younger), $29; Family, $999
Perks: Most passes include two half-price buddy tickets, three Tamarack tickets (one late this season, one early next season, one summer), four tickets to Diamond Peak at Lake Tahoe, four tickets to June Mountain at Lake Tahoe, two summer tickets at Bogus and free Nordic skiing at Bogus.
Sale dates: Feb. 15-29
Adult, $349; First-timer, $249; Senior (70 and older), $159
Junior (12-17), $199; Youth (7-11), $89; Child (6 and younger), $15
Family, $999; Military, $199; College, $199
Adult, $299; 20-something (18-29), $179; Midweek, $229
Teen (12-17), $199; Local teen (12-17), $159; Junior (7-11), $89; Senior (70-plus), $129; Child (6 and younger), $15
College, $89; Military, $249; Family, $899
Perk: Passes include two night-skiing tickets at Bogus Basin.
Note: Passes for all three ski areas are good for the rest of this season and all of next season.