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Paying the price for powder

Janet Urquhart
Aspen, CO Colorado

While Aspenites rethink their “friends don’t let friends ski Vail” mantra this week, in light of Vail’s latest affront to our sensibilities ” a ski pass so cheap that Aspen locals are muttering about carpooling over there next season ” I crunched the numbers.

The only thing that doesn’t add up is why I bought a two-day-a-week pass, but skied less than once a week over the course of the season to date. I’ll ski both days this weekend with friends, which will bring my total days on the slopes to 15 ” or $58.60 per outing.

That’s nearly 60 bucks for the time I took one run at Buttermilk ” an event that entailed crawling up the slopes on the Tiehack chair in gale-force winds right before they shut it down, cowering in the Cliffhouse restaurant with a mass of screaming children while the snow blew sideways outside, and venturing into a whiteout to ski back down to my car. Then I went home. I guess that would constitute my most expensive run of the winter. Still, the outing was cheaper than a round of golf, and every bit as enjoyable.



To be fair, $60 also bought me some memorable powder days.

And, had I faithfully skied two days a week, I’d have whittled my cost per outing down to just shy of $26 by now, which doesn’t sound all that unreasonable.




What feels unreasonable is the notion that a Vail local can buy a full ski pass for next winter, good at five resorts, for $579. Heck, I could buy it, too. They’re offering that price to everybody.

My two-day ski pass this season cost more than that ” $879. (I couldn’t bring myself to buy a full Aspen/Snowmass pass for the “discounted” price of $1,239 ” more than twice what Vail is charging.)

On the other hand, value is a matter of perception. A ski pass that works out to $26 per outing is fine by me, even if skiing twice a week with a Vail pass would cost me $17. That’s like quibbling over lunch and libations at the J-Bar versus Little Annie’s. I might go to the J-Bar just because it’s closer to the office, just like I’d pay more to ski Aspen Mountain because it’s closer than Vail. Plus, have you noticed the price of gasoline in Aspen lately?

Here’s the thing, though: I refuse to have lunch at the J-Bar even though it’s right next door to The Aspen Times building and makes a damn fine burger. I used to grab takeout lunch there regularly until a few years back, when the prices seemed to change every time I went in. The final straw was a Caesar salad with chicken (my usual order), which had long been one of their $10-or-so lunch specials. The bartender handed me a bill for $16.33. I still have the receipt tacked above my desk as a reminder that I’m boycotting the place.

Granted, it’s a lot easier to find another convenient option for lunch than it is to find another convenient option to ski, but if the Aspen Skiing Co. announces pass prices for next season that I can’t stomach, I don’t have to bite.

I’ve faithfully kept track of all my skiing this season. In addition to my lackluster attendance on the slopes, I’ve been cross country skiing on nine occasions and got out on my backcountry touring gear 14 times.

Maybe I’ll make a concerted effort to skin up the slopes next season and take my powder turns for free.

I’ve got a lot of options.

Vail is just one of them.