Yesterday, I was trying to talk a friend into making a day trip to Pennsylvania’s Whitetail Resort. He is a 20-something millennial, and although he had gone skiing with me twice before, he was pushing back.
“Did you not have fun before?” I asked.
“Oh, I did — skiing is a lot of fun,” he replied.
“Was it too cold?”
“No, that’s not it.”
After pressing him gently, he finally admitted why he was resistant.
“It’s just.. Skiing is so expensive,” he explained.
I started to think about this. I own my own skis, boots, and helmet, and I had purchased a season pass at Whitetail pre-season. I’m also a Gen-X’er; I own my own house and my salary has climbed since I was in my 20s.
But my friend didn’t own any equipment. He would have to pay the ticket window prices. At Whitetail, a weekend all-day lift ticket is $82. Rentals add another $55 with tax, and a helmet rental adds another $15. That’s already over $150. You can save a bit of money by purchasing an All Mountain Package, which includes lift ticket, rentals with helmet, and a group lesson for $132. But that’s still a lot of money. A couple modest meals at Whitetail easily add another $40. Add gas money on top of that and you’re looking at close to $200 for one day of skiing.
“It’s just not a good value,” my friend explained. “I don’t have that kind of money.”
If you wanted to take a family of five to the slopes of Whitetail, you’re already north of $800.
Of course, there are ways to save money. Purchasing an Advantage Card can provide discounted lift tickets, and renting equipment off-slopes might save some money too. Families can brown-bag their lunches rather than paying resort prices for mediocre food. But for a family or individual who is just interested in trying out skiing for the first time, the sticker shock can be intense. It’s no wonder ski areas are having trouble attracting new blood to the sport.
Things are even more bleak for a family looking to spend a week at a destination resort.
One extreme is Colorado’s Vail Resort, which is considered one of the nicest ski resorts in the United States.
Consider a family of five who would like to visit Vail from February 11-17, skiing five days and lodging six nights. Going to vail.com, this family prices out the cheapest possible package. The lowest lodging rate is at Timber Falls, which offers a 3-bedroom, 2-bath condo on the shuttle route to Vail. A discounted package is available which includes 5-day lift tickets for the five family members. The total price of this lodging package? $6,911.99, which includes travel insurance.
But that’s just the beginning. If the family of five needs to rent skis, a rental package is available for $1,468.41. That includes Performance Skis and boots for the two adults and Junior Skis for the three children for a total of five days.
But the family must get to Colorado. The cheapest round trip tickets from BWI to Denver are on Southwest, at a total of $2,264.80 for five people.
That gets the family to Denver International Airport, but they still have to get to Vail. A Colorado Mountain Express shared shuttle runs $712.50 (plus a $130 or so tip) for round trip transportation to Timber Falls.
A family has to eat! And on-mountain dining at Vail isn’t cheap. The family of five will easily spend $200 per day on food, so that’s another $1,000.
What is the grand total for a 5-day ski trip to Vail, using the cheapest lodging package available on Vail.com? $12,487.70.
What is the median household income in the United States? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 the median household income was $59,039.
Let that sink in.
Granted, Vail is on the pricier end of skiing, and staying outside of Vail and driving in each day can save money, even after spending extra on a rental car.
But lift tickets at all ski areas have been climbing up, somewhat dramatically.
A 1-day lift ticket at Vail now costs $189. Colorado’s Winter Park Resort, which has always been a more economical option, charges $159 at the ticket window for a 1-day lift ticket.
For comparison purposes, a 1-day ticket to Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park in Florida is $107, with prices dropping significantly for multi-day tickets. And you don’t need to rent equipment to enjoy the rides at Disney.
Businesses work by the laws of supply and demand: the cost of skiing has skyrocketed over the past decade because there are enough consumers still willing to pay those prices.
But there is no question that skiing is becoming a rich man’s sport, if it wasn’t already before. I see less and less young people showing interest in the sport. And it always helps to hook skiers and snowboarders at a young age. A 20-something year old who shows no interest in skiing right now is less likely to pick up the sport later in life, once they are more financially stable and have disposable income.
Some resorts offer compelling, inclusive packages for first-time skiers, but these tend to only include bunny slope lifts. And some resorts offer compelling season passes — even across multiple resort properties — for skiers and boarders who plan to ski many times over a season.
But for that middle ground — skiers and boarders who are starting to pick up the sport but only plan to ski a few times a year and don’t yet have their own equipment — the costs have become prohibitive.
In the long run, this is likely to hurt the snowsports industry and our favorite sport.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
I bought the PA Ski pass for my 4th grader's Christmas present. $40 I think. The first visit, we got a break and rentals, my lift ticket, etc. came to $55 at Whitetail.
The second trip - $180 or so.
The break the first time was great and I recommend the pass. However, I dont' think we'll get up again this season. I might go on my own day trip with a friend.
I had my own boots for 20 years (own early 1980s skis for 10) but if I dont' see buying my own equipment any time soon. How many trips would I have to go on to recoup the cost of that investment? 5? 10?
FWIW, Whitetail was crowded both days. The demand still seems there.
The increase in resort-specific passes has popularized the multi-resort passes. The Max Pass, was $600 if purchased early (before May) and allows 5 days at 44 mountains throughout the country and is the only one that has a substantial New England offering. Others are also great deal but may have less days and less resorts.
You can still get good deals with advance planning. To pay the "rack rate" at a ski resort today is crazy. Liftopia and several other ski web sites offer generous discounts. But again, with time and prior planning.
A year-old article about the several multi-mountain tickets....
Interesting article published a few days ago in the Times about how Swiss resorts are converting hotels to appartments. Why? It is more affordable for families to self-cater than eat out. The article also mentions that skiing is declining in popularity in Switzlerland.
Hate to say it but I agree with the article. If I were just starting out as a skier, I probably would not start out. The only way skiing makes sense financially is if you own your equipment, have a season pass or use 4 packs or similar discounts and not eat on mountain $20 hamburgers. If you are just starting out, you can't do most of those things..The other thing to do is avoid destination resorts and holidays.
Day trippers have it easier financially, but destination trips to name resorts are outrageously expensive. My condo in Breck rented for $700/night over the holidays. It was occupied every single night. So some segment of the population has no problem with the cost, but I wouldn't pay that to rent my own condo. BTW the place is a pretty standard 2BR 2 bath 1200 sq ft place - nothing really special about it..
Oh, Scott forgot that people that drive and park at places like Vail and Beaver Creek pay $25 for parking - at least at BC if you get there early enough there is some free parking in the Bear lot.
Good read. I agree walk rates are too high and not a good business strategy. The issue is how to get new blood on the hill. Sure all us old guys know all the tricks but what about the walk up like Scott's Friend. The problem is the base or entry cost is too high. The resorts think short term instead of long term. They try to get the most out of the customer on there one visit to the hill vice developing that customer for the long term.
Some areas have figured this out. Pat's Peak in New Hampshire has a $50 one price promotion that includes lifts, rentals, lesson and even tubing! The idea is to get Scott's Friend to try skiing a couple time and get hooked on it so he will come back. Maybe so much so that he buys a pass next year then bring his friends!
As to Vail and the big name resorts, think about the cost per hour of that $189 lift ticket. It enables you to be on the mountain for seven hours for about $25 a hour. If you get a reasonable 5 runs in a hour that is $5 a run. Five dollars a run seems reasonable. Of course buying lift tickets has become like buying everything else, if you are paying full price you are doing it wrong. Dont think too many beginners show up at Vail and if they do they can probally afford it.
I agree with the general points that Scott makes. I am more concerned about the Whitetail pricing than I am about the Vail pricing.
Vail is not the future of skiing. Vail will exist no matter how many people are skiing in the future. Vail is basically selling to the International well-off. (I am I guess sorta in that niche, but I prefer to spend my money elsewhere.) Vail is not lacking for crowds and thus, they can charge what they want to as long as customers still pay. Internal joke: Vail raises prices each year to keep the crowds down.
This sport needs low cost feeder hills to keep skiing alive. This feeder *hills* exist all over the country, even in CO. Cooper, Eldora and Sunlight would qualify. Once you gain experience at a feeder hill, you can be more savvy about where to ski next. My question is, which areas are the feeder hills in the DC area with the lowest barrier to entry? How would people know about them?
Considering either vacation (though skiing costs more)...I ask the kids: "Where would you rather go --- skiing or Disney World?" Guess the overwhelming answer?!? I think the eventual demise of the industry will be based on one word: "attrition ". Old-timers will continue, but won't be replaced by enough "new" timers! I reflect on another "hobby" that just got to be too expensive. Forty years ago I (and a lot of others) was really in to BOATING (was in the US Power Squadron) ! Cabin cruiser I kept at the Pentagon (Columbia Island Marina). Thank God (I said it) - happiest day = day I sold it! LOL LOL LOL
I agree with Scott’s findings. Unfortunately, many local areas charge new skiers too much. Sad state of the Union for our industry.
It’s a very good argument for climbing skis. The cost is about the same as a walk up pass at Vail and they will last many years.
But, the problem with backcountry is that it takes most people years of skiing/riding on prepared slopes to develop the skills for it. I had the enormous good fortune to grow up in Massachusetts in the snowy years of the 1950s and spent many an afternoon after school hiking up golf course hills and skiing down. A 10-15 year old kid laughs off falls and has fun where they can find it. That mindset never fully left me and now, decades later I can Ski the backcountry although I have nothing against lifts
JohnL: "My question is, which areas are the feeder hills in the DC area with the lowest barrier to entry? How would people know about them?"
#1. Bryce, very inexpensive in relative terms and pretty close to DC, low crowds, doable day trip at approx 100 miles each way. Terrain is mild, but great for novices and those entering the sport.
#2. Canaan Valley, very inexpensive in relative terms with low crowds, but 150 miles from DC, affordable overnight lodging at CVR. Good terrain for novices and aspiring advanced skiers.
#3. Blue Knob, very inexpensive in relative terms with low crowds, but 160 miles from DC, good terrain for all levels, especially good terrain for advanced skiers when they have natural snow.
For what it's worth, Whitetail offers a pretty decent starter package:
A FIRST TIME SKIERS program like no other, this special program includes 4 lift tickets, 4 class lessons and rental equipment for 4 visits. Prior to your fourth visit, you'll receive your own pair of brand new skis and bindings as our graduation gift! Plus, you'll earn a Advantage Card and save 40% on lift tickets and class lessons for the remainder of the season. You get it all for only $349 (a $961 value).
Scott - couldn't agree more with your analysis. Skiing/riding is getting more and more expensive over time. I still remember the sticker shock I felt when Vail went over $100 for the walk up price for a lift ticket. Almost to $200 now!! While local resorts (e.g., Snowtime Inc.) have tried to provide a variety of products to help defray costs (e.g., Advantage Card, Night Club Cards), these discount packages help, but may still have the effect of scaring too many newbies away from the sport everyone on this site loves so much.
That said, I do believe there are creative options that folks can (and should) explore. Ski clubs are a great option where group discounts can be available. You've done a great job listing them on this website (http://www.dcski.com/skiclubs/DC). Those tend to be best for newbies. For regulars that are looking for economical options, actually volunteering at a local area can help. Liberty Mountain (as well as Whitetail and Roundtop) have several departments that provide volunteer and part-time paid opportunities for folks that love to ski - everything from becoming an instructor, to joining Ski Patrol or Mountain Safety to becoming a member of the Courtesy Staff. These opportunities often come with a free or substantially discounted season's pass for thoseresorts. Depending on department and credentials, you may even get a free or discounted lift ticket at other resorts.
Regardless, the central premise of your article is a good one and I think that all resorts should seriously consider their pricing strategies and marketing. When "walk up" lift ticket prices are the first thing folks see, such displays tend to discourage, rather than encourage participation in a sport I'm hoping has much more life in it for decades to come - and not just for high net worth individuals!! Here's hoping resorts all over start to recognize that charging ever increasing and exhorbitant prices are not a sound long-term business strategy.