Back in 1969 when the very first people invested in Keystone Ski Resort, a special enticement for the investment was offered. Along with their shares of Keystone stock, the 33 investors were each given five lifetime ski passes for their $25,000 investments. And the lifetime passes weren’t just for the person whose names were on them — they could be loaned to other people or sold and permanently reassigned, though they would still only be valid for the lifetime of the original owner.
And since 1969, the holders of these transferable passes have made money by renting them to skiers and snowboarders, charging about 10 percent less than the going rate for lift tickets. Some lifetime pass owners have made thousands of dollars a year.
A lifetime pass could bring its owner more than $8,000 a year at today’s lift ticket rates. Without accounting for inflation and lift ticket price increases, that translates to nearly a quarter million dollars over 30 years.
Vail Resorts bought Keystone from Ralston-Purina in 1996, and in 2006, Vail announced it would stop honoring rented lifetime passes. Vail, in addition to the ban on renting, also started requiring pass owners to send in or fax a transfer form when they lend passes to others, even if it’s given without compensation. Vail has also stated that it has no legal obligation to honor the Keystone lifetime passes at all, but for now it will continue honoring them.
More than 20 pass owners are suing Vail Resorts for violating the lifetime pass agreement. When Snyder v. Vail Resorts, Inc. goes to trial in Summit County District Court in Breckenridge on Sept. 21, the plaintiffs will be seeking damages or an injunction forcing the resort to honor rented passes, or both. Judge Karen Romeo is to preside over the two-week trial.
The 24 plaintiffs listed in the case are seeking damages to compensate for the money they could have made renting the 32 passes they own. Because the amount of time that a pass is valid is tied to the lifetime of the original owner, the damages sought for each pass vary depending how long that person is expected to live. In some cases, the passes were originally assigned to investors’ grandchildren, who are in their 40s now and could easily live another 30 or more years.
Some of the plaintiffs are also seeking exemplary — or punitive — damages.
Vail spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga declined comment, other than to say, “We will always vigorously defend our rights when others abuse their privileges.”