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Skiing remains an incredible bargain. Haha.

The $300-a-Day Lift Ticket That Every Skier Hates

Single-day passes now cost enough to pressure beginners to commit to more than one day on the mountain


Popular ski properties owned by Vail Resorts, including Park City in Utah, are charging as much as $300 for same-day lift tickets this season.


By Allison Pohle, WSJ

Oct. 10, 2023 9:00 am ET


Top ski resorts want even the most infrequent snow bunnies to pay for their passes long before the first flakes fall. It is part of a big push by resorts to nudge skiers into prepaying for passes for multiple days or full seasons.


This dynamic has long existed at ski mountains, but prices are soaring for passes bought the day you ski. A single ticket at A-list resorts Park City, Vail and Beaver Creek will set you back $299 a person on a peak day this season. A $949 season pass offers unlimited access to those resorts and dozens of others all winter.


Major ski companies have also introduced a range of lower-tier passes meant to entice even occasional skiers into prepaying. Steep day-of prices strongly discourage casual visitors, especially families, from making last-minute trips, skiers say.


“For somebody who’s just getting into it, it’s a huge barrier to entry,” says Colton Zenni, a 24-year-old beginner skier from the Charlotte, N.C., area who says he paid more than $350 for two walk-up lift tickets last year because he didn’t know about buying in advance. Zenni purchased a seven-day Epic pass this year for $479.


A record 11.6 million Americans skied or snowboarded last season, according to the National Ski Areas Association, a trade group. In recent years, season passholders have made up a larger share of the visits to mountains.


The prices for the two most popular mega-passes, Epic and Ikon, are set to climb this week. The passes are cheapest in the spring before the prior season ends and rise until they go off the market in late autumn. There are now dozens of pass options, which range from under $100 to over $1,200. Some passes have a range of blackout dates and locations that are ineligible for use, but tempt skiers by providing a better value over multiple uses than the day-of lift tickets.


Skiing subscription

Vail Resorts, the nation’s largest ski-resort operator, created this model when it introduced the Epic pass in 2008. It now gives skiers unlimited access to over 40 resorts for one set price instead of purchasing individual lift tickets or passes to several mountains.


The Ikon pass, from Alterra Mountain Co., lets skiers choose from 58 resorts around the world.


Mega-passes are controversial among skiers. Some appreciate the broad access. Others say they have turned mountains into tourist zones with crowding and long lines, pricing out locals.


Those who purchase passes early and ski often find that it’s never been cheaper to ski, says Stuart Winchester, founder of the Storm Skiing Journal, a newsletter and podcast dedicated to the business of skiing. Decades ago, season passes for one resort could cost more than $1,000, he says. While this can still be the case, mega-passes let skiers access dozens of resorts for less than those passes once cost. If you ski 10 days a year, you could pay under $100 a day.


“If you’re a vacationer and you are not aware of this dynamic, you’re going to be disappointed,” Winchester says of the individual lift-ticket pricing.


Nonrefundable tickets infuse resorts with cash before the season starts, and help ensure customers commit to skiing at their properties. Vail says it is “intentionally working” to get all levels of guests to buy passes.


In exchange for purchasing ahead of the season, skiers also get discounts on rentals and restaurants, Vail Resorts Chief Executive Kirsten Lynch says: “It’s become like a subscription to the season.”


In an ad on its website, Vail directs customers to cheaper, advance purchase passes. The company says it is ‘intentionally working’ to get all levels of guests to buy passes.

Lower-tier products

Some skiers lament the lack of flexibility the prepay model has created.


Sugarbush in Vermont responded with “TBD tickets” for $99. Unlike refundable lift tickets, these nonrefundable advance passes include one free ticket that skiers can use later in the season. The Alterra resort’s website cautioned skiers against buying at the window: “Seriously, don’t be that person. You will be sad. Soooooo sad.”


Vail introduced an Epic Day Pass for those who plan to ski between one and seven days that slashes up to 65% off the cost of lift tickets. The company says the pass is one of its fastest-growing products. A single, unrestricted day pass can cost $125 on a peak day at a popular resort like Park City, compared with a $299 lift ticket, according to Vail’s website.


More skiers have also bought the Ikon session pass, which allows people to choose two, three or four days of skiing, since its introduction a few seasons ago, says Erik Forsell, chief marketing officer for Alterra. A two-day Ikon session pass costs $279, with prices set to increase to $319 on Friday.


Good deals still exist at local mountains, Winchester says.


The Indy Pass gives passholders two days of skiing each at more than 180 independent resorts worldwide for about $400.


Some industry executives have acknowledged the model needs revisiting. Alterra President and CEO Jared Smith said on Winchester’s podcast that charging first-timers the most isn’t a sustainable model.


Fernando Ocon, a 24-year-old financial analyst who recently moved to Salt Lake City, hopes to learn to ski. He was surprised to learn day tickets cost more than $200, but won’t commit to a season pass before gauging how much he likes the sport.


Ocon bought a $799 season pass to nearby Snowbasin Resort as part of its learn-to-ski program. He’s fine not skiing as many places as friends with mega-passes.


“I’ll get to know that mountain, and I just want to feel comfortable doing it,” he says.


Sign up for the new WSJ Travel newsletter for more tips and insights from the Journal’s travel team.


Write to Allison Pohle at allison.pohle@wsj.com



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