‘Tis the season for season passes… or is it?

It’s that time of year again. Trailers to the new crop of ski movies are coming out, Eurostar ski train tickets have just gone on sale and the other morning we woke up to a fresh dusting of snow on the peaks.

Am I the only one starting to think about winter already? Clearly not. Right on cue, last week the post lady delivered our Evasion Mont Blanc season pass renewal forms.

So I spent a few hours recently not just watching ski movie trailers but also researching what other French resorts are doing about marketing next seasons’s passes, timing-wise.

What I found was a huge variation.

Early birds do catch the skiers

In the US, marketing next year’s seasons passes starts even before the last season has finished. Some early bird incentives have deadlines as early as April. And they seem to work, as a piece of analysis by Ryan Solutions shows.

In France, some but by no means all resorts have early bird offers, and the amount of incentive to commit early varies considerably.

First off, Les 7 Laux had a early bird offer for season passes valid up until 15 August allowing you to spread the payments over three instalments but that’s now over and, at the time of writing, there was no other special offer up on the site. Its rates for 2013-2014 are listed here.

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Banner ad on Les 7 Laux’s home page earlier this summer

Montgenèvre has been offering a discount since mid-June if you buy before 15 September with – among other things – the added benefit that you get free access to the lifts this summer, which seems like a very decent incentive to buy early.

Serre Chevalier, conversely, has its season pass rates up and, if you order before October 31st, you get next summer’s lift pass included.

(Unfortunately, for both Montgenèvre and Serre Chevalier, the English version of the relevant website pages was not fully updated when I just checked; no doubt that will be corrected soon.)

Orcières 1850 also has an offer running, in place since the 1st of August, and with a deadline of 30 September. The pass includes 6 days skiing at other LaBelleMontagne resorts.

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Orcières’ early bird offer

Alpe d’Huez meanwhile has two different discount offers: buy before 15 September and you get €250 off the full adult price of €790; buy after that and before 15 November and you get €125 off.

The season pass includes several days free skiing also at other Grande Galaxie resorts (Les 2 Alpes, Serre Chevalier, Puy St Vincent, Montgenèvre and the Italian Milky Way), with an interesting twist in that, if you buy at the cheaper rate before 15 September, you get 5 free days in Les 2 Alpes and, if you choose to buy after that, you get 10 free days there.

For the rest, it is a very mixed bag. The Evasion Mont Blanc early bird discount is valid until 15 November so, although it is good to know the rates, I don’t really see any reason to buy much before then. La Clusaz, similarly, has its new rates up and a decent discount if you buy before 1 December.

What is the best timing?

To what extent French resorts’ early bird season pass offers are successful in lifting overall sales is something I hope to research and report on later in the year.

It certainly seems like a good idea to engage with a resort’s summer holiday clientele before the end of their holiday while they are still in the mountains and starting to look forward to when they might next come back… or not.

It would also seem to make sense for the resorts with a big international clientele to allow them to plan ahead in a timely way. In the UK, the annual frenzy to snag ski train tickets to the Alps got underway recently and Easyjet flights have been on sale for a while. Yet, at the time of writing this, Val d’Isère was still showing last year’s rates on its website and it was by no means the only one.

Others, including La Plagne, have their rates up but also a message saying online purchase will be possible from this autumn.

Competition is increasingly global

Meanwhile, in the US, you have been able to buy the Epic Pass for 2013-14 since spring, which has 5 days in Verbier included and announced in May that 5 free consecutive days in the Austrian Arlberg (St Anton, St Christoph, Stuben, Zürs, and Lech) are now also included.

The Epic pass

Recent banner for the Epic Pass

That’s globalisation for you, and it will be interesting to see how the marketing of season passes by ski areas in France and, indeed, across Europe, reacts.