Sean Beckwith: Cost, not generation, the issue for ski resorts
August 14, 2018
Add mayonnaise to the long list of things millennials killed. Being included in the most ruthless generation — which includes those born from 1981 to 1996 — evokes pride. Killing off the condiment that gave me PTSD from working at Subway feels great. Oh, you want four passes with the mayo squeeze bottle? How about I puke in the olive bin and spoil your appetite, sending you back to your cubicle for an afternoon on an empty stomach?
Being blamed for the fall of McDonald's, bar soap, Applebee's, Buffalo Wild Wings, cruises, cable television and dozens of other American staples is wrong; we should be thanked for ruining those things. Cable at my college house was the costliest bill behind rent. McDonald's, Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings serve microwaved/fried trash. The only advantage to cruises is you get to experience a bunch of tourist hot spots at different islands in a week. (*Whispers* That's not an advantage.) As far as bar soap is concerned, you get the lovely chore of cleaning off body hair before or after use.
The one thing millennials should not be saddled with is the future of the skiing industry. Resorts are concerned with baby boomers aging out, yet the price of lift tickets continues to increase. It's hard enough to get millennials to book a hotel room over an Airbnb; buy a house as opposed to rent; or purchase a car rather than utilize ride-sharing apps, public transportation or bikes. But go ahead and put to the onus on those who came of age in the Great Recession.
Graduating college with massive debt from student loans and then being encouraged to take unpaid internships to gain entry to desired careers not only hinders the ability to save money, but makes normal life — in terms of our parents' definition of normal — impossible. House, car and personal life are all notably below career on millennials' list of priorities, which should indicate that skiing is, as well. It's not just Aspen Skiing Co., either. Lift tickets are pricey at pretty much all the top-notch ski mountains.
The reason why traffic on 14ers and at state and national parks is increasing and millennial ski visits are decreasing is cost. It also is alarming that a demographic increasingly spending time outdoors is being blamed for its inability to shell out $160-plus for a full-day pass. The mayor of Aspen wants to spend $75,000 to figure out how to increase uphill recreation in the area. Well, Steve, the answer to that study is easy: Just ask Skico to continue hiking lift-ticket prices.
There are some fitness freaks who genuinely enjoy skinning up a mountain, but there are a few who do it out of financial necessity. Most Aspenites have that passless friend who asks them to meet at that skin-accessible, non-scanning lift in an hour or two after they trek up.
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What a lot of locals in the younger age range don't have are friends eager to pay absurd costs for a weekend visit. A fistful of half-price vouchers is rapidly becoming less of a bargaining chip because Skico raised the rates of half-day passes. I guess people were "getting one over" on the company that is buying up ski resorts like Monopoly properties and recently announced plans to add another lift to Aspen Mountain, which comes after building the incredible money-grab that is Snowmass' Lost Forest. (A cool $184 for the Lost Forest plus Canopy Run Zipline tour package is $60 more than my monthly car insurance payment, if you're looking for some perspective from a local who lives paycheck-to-paycheck.)
Far be it for me to encroach on The Aspen Way, but what's the worst-case scenario for actually decreasing (*GASP*) lift-ticket prices or, at the very least, the cost of food and beverages? If Skico is worried about the easement of access for people in a lower tax bracket, then that goes against The Aspen Way ethos of inclusiveness. Companies appeal to seniors and children via pricing all the time, so may I suggest a millennial package? Maybe start by offering a two-day lift ticket for the price of a day and a half or hacking the half-day prices back to half the price of a full day.
If there's something millennials have learned, or been forced to learn due to financial constraints, it's how to spot and take advantage of a deal. (See: cord cutting, Airbnb, bottomless mimosas.) No one is equating to millennials to children or seniors, but if the ski industry is concerned about baby boomers aging off the slopes, then the logical conclusion would be to market to the most group with the most potential and ideal age range.
The key to getting people hooked on skiing isn't a yearly visit where they gauge their skill level by how many times they fall. If ski resorts can make the sport affordable enough that people can make multiple trips a year then that increases skill level, opportunities for powder days and all of the other aspects of winter that incentivize return visits.
Blame millennials for the decline of the Big Mac, the extinction of Applebee's Signature Bourbon Street Steak and pube-infested bar soap, but do not blame them for the choosing bills over exorbitantly expensive ski trips.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Email him at email@example.com.
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