U.S. Lift Ticket Prices: Why So High?

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U.S. Lift Ticket Prices: Why So High?

Postby jamesdeluxe » Sun Jun 28, 2015 7:43 am

Someone on the German-language Alpinforum recently posted a series of TRs from a Colorado visit at the end of February with lots of nice photos and interesting observations from the POV of an Austrian skier.
http://www.alpinforum.com/forum/viewfor ... 5caf3d932d

A discussion point was the price points of day tickets at the marquee places. The Euros are aware that only the truly rich or egregiously unprepared actually pay these insane prices (either by purchasing an Epicpass or using Liftopia), but they're still wondering why Alps day tickets are significantly cheaper.

Theories included far more on-hill personnel (still very few RFID systems with turnstiles), including lifties who actually help load people on lifts, ask everyone how they're doing (unheard of in the Alps), and make sure that the chairs are full during peak days along with a comparatively extensive ski patrol presence, which includes getting injured people off the mountain (included in our ticket price/not in the Alps).

But isn't a major reason for expensive lift tickets in the U.S. that ski areas are forced to spend extensive amounts on insurance to protect themselves from lawsuits? Please refer me to a previous thread if this has already been covered.
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Re: U.S. Lift Ticket Prices: Why So High?

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Jun 28, 2015 6:17 pm

http://www.epicski.com/t/95305/increase ... st_1237622
That thread is 5 years old and one of the links is broken. But I read it as showing insurance being about 5% of the cost of a lift ticket.

I recall liability insurance being viewed as a big crisis in the early 1980's. The famous case was Sunday vs. Stratton in 1974. This article discusses the liability situation in Vermont: http://www.pfclaw.com/pdf/Andrew_Beerwo ... bility.pdf . The article blames the liability crisis for the demise of many "mom-and-pop" Vermont areas during the immediate period after the Sunday case. The article goes into some detail about varying ski area liability laws in different states.

There have been more recent threads on Epic about ticket pricing in general. It varies all over the map by region, ownership structure, management strategy.

One of the obvious divergences has been Colorado (season pass price wars but nosebleed day tickets) vs. Utah (reasonable day tickets, especially in the SLC ski shops but expensive season passes).

On of the Epic posters says the escalation in day ticket prices at the big name resorts has been a great development for some of the smaller places. Places like Loveland, Monarch and Wolf Creek are supposedly comfortably profitable with ~$60 day tickets.
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Re: U.S. Lift Ticket Prices: Why So High?

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Jun 29, 2015 5:01 am

Tony Crocker wrote:The article blames the liability crisis for the demise of many "mom-and-pop" Vermont areas during the immediate period after the Sunday case.

Yes, that case has been discussed extensively on the Snowjournal/NELSAP site and was what I referring to, but if liability insurance only makes up approx 5% of the total costs, I guess it's not really relevant today.

Tony Crocker wrote:One of the obvious divergences has been Colorado (season pass price wars but nosebleed day tickets) vs. Utah (reasonable day tickets, especially in the SLC ski shops but expensive season passes).

And then there are places like Jackson Hole and Aspen with nosebleed day tickets AND season passes.

So it looks like we have no blanket reason for the comparative high cost of U.S. day tickets other than how a ski area or ski corporation like VR positions itself amidst market forces. One Alpinforum comment mentioned that "Skifahren in USA ist kein Massensport wie hier" (skiing in the U.S. isn't a sport for the masses like in Europe). In his 2014 Zermatt TR, Tony brought up that "skiing participation is wider but more casual in Europe," which I suppose is another way of saying "skiing is a sport for the masses." Thus, Alps resorts make up the revenue difference in volume and have far more extensive ski areas in which to contain the larger numbers of guests?
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Re: U.S. Lift Ticket Prices: Why So High?

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Jun 29, 2015 12:53 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:And then there are places like Jackson Hole and Aspen with nosebleed day tickets AND season passes.

Geographically isolated areas will probably always have high season pass prices because their locals are a captive audience. At least Aspen and Jackson are both on Mountain Collective.
jamesdeluxe wrote: In his 2014 Zermatt TR, Tony brought up that "skiing participation is wider but more casual in Europe," which I suppose is another way of saying "skiing is a sport for the masses." Thus, Alps resorts make up the revenue difference in volume and have far more extensive ski areas in which to contain the larger numbers of guests?

I think that chain of causality is rather simplistic. A lot of these far flung trams in Europe were built originally for summer tourism. When you get off Grand Montets and walk down something like 150 stairs to get to the snow you are reminded of this. Summer tourism is still a big deal in a lot of these places, as we noted when we went up the Zugspitze tram from the Austrian side in 1999.

There's a huge Euro population within drive-up distance of the Alps. The major one that isn't, the Brits, seemed to establish a culture of cut-rate ski trips into cheap apartments in the French Alps a long time ago. Back in the day when US lift tickets were cheap, airfares were much more expensive so how many non-affluent people outside the West and New England were able to ski much?

Another point in favor of the Euros is how much vacation time they get. So if skiing is a casual, secondary interest they are using only one or maybe 2 weeks for skiing out of the 4 or 5 they get each year. An American needs to have a higher priority on skiing to devote half of his/her lesser vacation time to it every year.

The 3 factors above were all in place 35 years ago before the precipitous increase in US day ticket prices. And my understanding is that skier visits to the major alpine countries in Europe are on the same near flat trajectory as they are here.

That's not to say James' criticisms of the US pricing model don't have validity. Overall population growth in Europe is stagnant while the US population is still growing. So anemic growth of skier visits here does mean percentage participation is declining.
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