How Did Lift Tickets Become So Expensive? | TransWorld SNOWboarding

As the scope of resort offerings continued to expand, so did the inputs they needed to operate: massive amounts of energy, legions of seasonal employees, large equipment and infrastructure investments and maintenance–all while remaining highly dependent on weather. Given these factors, it’s logical to assume prices at a more complex and sophisticated resort to be higher than those at the local ropetow. Somehow, snowmaking, grooming, lift service, ski patrol, parking attendants, and shuttle bus drivers need to be paid for, right?

But this linear explanation of business costs plus inflation doesn’t complete the story of season pass and lift ticket pricing. There’s the wildcard of “big passes” like the Epic Pass, offering full access to 15 or more resorts– at a price that halves pre-Vail acquisition pass prices at individual destinations like Stowe and Whistler Blackcomb. Then, there are the multitude of presale and discount online lift ticket offers through websites like Liftopia.

What changed? During the late 1990s, a few resorts in Colorado took the existing pass and ticket playbook, and chucked it. As of now, we’re riding by the new rules. Here’s how that happened, and what it means for the riding public.

Pass Wars
Pre-Epic Pass, the prevailing mindset in the ski industry seemed to give the purchasing power of pass holders and ticket buyer equal value. In some cases, as I once overhead resort managers grousing in a mountain town bar, the pass holder was the onerous reason resorts had to keep the lifts open another few weeks in the spring. Starting with the Epic Pass, that attitude has undergone a radical change. Resorts around the country are now vying for the loyalty of the pass holder, while taxing the convenience of the walk-up ticket buyer with steeper and steeper pricing.

What happened? The spark was the late 1990s pass war in Colorado. In 1998, Winter Park dropped its season pass price to around $200 if you bought with four skiers or riders at the same time. According to Diamond, this price drop wasn’t designed to revolutionize ski industry pricing–it was a last-ditch effort by the Winter Park Recreation Association, which ran the ski resort, to make payroll that summer and avoid bankruptcy. The plan that saved Winter Park was so successful that the Colorado Front Range ski resort market scrambled to react.

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How Did Lift Tickets Become So Expensive? | TransWorld SNOWboarding.

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