Lift ticket prices reach zenith
December 27, 2002
Anyone who strolled up to a lift ticket window around North America yesterday likely paid the highest price of the season for a ticket.
And if they were at Stratton Mountain in Vermont, they paid $72 for a single-day adult lift ticket, which is currently the most expensive lift ticket in the country.
Most ski resorts have adopted a seasonal pricing strategy, and they typically charge the most for their product during the busy holiday period.
The Aspen Skiing Co. is currently charging $68 for its adult lift ticket at the window, which is its top price for the season. And its single-day ticket price is less than skiers will find at Stratton, Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek and Deer Valley, Utah.
“We certainly don’t feel the need to claim the highest walk-up rate in the nation,” said David Perry, the Skico’s senior vice president of marketing and sales. “That said, we believe that the quality of the product that we offer here deserves to be among the most famous resorts in the world.”
Lift-ticket pricing can be a complex science, and the bigger ski resorts will offer a variety of prices based on a person’s age, the time of year, the time of day, and whether the ticket was part of an advance purchase, a lodging package, a group package, a multi-day package and many other variables.
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Some resorts, however, keep it simple. The Alta ski area in Utah is famous for its low ticket price, as well as its collection of fixed-grip lifts (and deep, light, dry powder). Its price for the year was $40 with no seasonal variations.
And lift-ticket pricing is now similar to airline pricing – it is cheaper to shop around and buy in advance and more expensive to pay for last-minute convenience.
Many ski areas play down how many customers end up paying full price for a lift ticket at the walk-up window, but, obviously, customers still do go up and pay the going rate.
“At other resorts I have studied, it has been in the 20 percent range and ours is not inconsistent with that,” said Perry, the former president of Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association of ski areas.
And industry executives are quick to point out that the price of a day of skiing is still a good value, especially compared with other sporting events. For example, tickets for the Colorado Avalanche range from $35 for seats in the rafters to $110 for seats three rows off the ice.
For the most part, the resorts at the top of the annual most-expensive-ticket list are in their usual ranking. And this year, they were no surprise to Perry, or to Michael Berry, the president of the National Ski Areas Association.
“The departure from historical patterns is obviously Stratton ending up on the list,” Berry said. “And that’s clearly a positioning statement. It is making a fairly definitive statement about who you want your customers to be.”
Stratton, an Intrawest resort in southern Vermont popular with New Yorkers, was recently voted by Ski magazine readers as the best ski area in the East. It has 14 lifts covering 583 acres, a 2,000-foot vertical drop and a compact and lively village at its base. It also offers its guests a multitude of discounts, including an online offer to “never pay more than $51.75.”
Perry, who also worked for years at Whistler, British Columbia, for Intrawest before coming to Colorado, said Stratton’s $72 walk-up pricing is consistent with where Intrawest wants to take the resort.
“They want some level of exclusivity,” Perry said.
But does a company’s holiday ticket price influence people’s vacation choices?
“Would someone not take a vacation at a place because a lift ticket was $68 instead of $64?” Perry asked. “Some, yes, but most, no. The price of lift tickets has become less of a differentiating factor for destination resorts. Most people are not making their destination vacation decisions based on the price of a lift ticket.”