Killington’s Top Day Ticket Hits $170 as Rates Tick Up Across the Northeast

Will the region follow the West into the lift ticket stratosphere?

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If you only plan to ski Killington for one day, how much is that one day worth?

It’s become an annual digital spectator sport: the unveiling of the top single-day lift ticket prices in America, with many destination resorts west of the Front Range blowing past the $200 mark in recent seasons. The lists are shocking and amusing and mostly irrelevant, punctuated by social media commentary from a fantastic assortment of characters apparently unaware of any attribute of the modern world outside of Facebook.

“Why, we sent a man to the moon for less than a family of four pays for a day of skiing at Vail. I remember when you could ski all day for a nickel on natural snow up to your eyeballs. Now they unload the snow from a truck and you have to ski next to a bunch of snowboarders who take turns farting on each other all day long!”

Or something like that. These are the same people who spend five dollars on a box of Junior Mints at the movie theater, as I pointed out last year (when there was still such a thing as movie theaters), instead of buying them ahead of time for a dollar at the grocery store. The rest of us, smug with our megapasses purchased last April, ski for $20 or $30 (or less) a day, mountain-hopping with lunch buckets in tow and regarding the ticket window only from a curious distance.

Still, it is worth noting the sudden, dramatic rise of single-day peak lift tickets in the Northeast this season, a fact that is only now becoming apparent as more terrain comes online and ski areas open their inventory beyond passholders. Killington, long known for providing big discounts to passholders from smaller ski areas and consistently tamping down day ticket prices, now leads the region with a $165 top ticket price on peak days (a refillable RFID card adds an additional $5), a stunning 31 percent leap over last year’s $130 maximum. It could be a temporary jump.

“This season’s full price, day-of rates are intended to be temporary,” said Killington Communications and Social Media Manager Courtney DiFiore. “It was one of the many actions we took to limit the number of guests on the mountain on any given day. That being said, guests are encouraged to plan ahead and buy in advance. The earlier one buys, the bigger the savings.”

Here are a few of the larger jumps across the region, according to New England Ski History (non-peak tickets are considerably cheaper):

Compare those increases to the same ski areas’ price changes between the previous two seasons:

The likely catalyst for these jumps is no mystery: with expected skier volume down substantially due to state-mandated social distancing protocols and travel restrictions, charging more for a day ticket is an easy way to make up some lost revenue (Bousquet is an outlier here, as the ski area has new owners who invested in substantial improvements this offseason). Higher prices also theoretically discourage crowds, though I’ve yet to see evidence of this working in the Northeast.

The price increases are not universal. Vail has shown surprising restraint, with the top listed ticket prices (so far) up single digits percentage-wise (these could rise dramatically as the season goes on). Busy Loon, which dropped off the multipass with its sister Boyne mountains well before the season began and is one of the few Northeast mountains to require Ikon Pass reservations, kept its top ticket rate flat at $104. Waterville Valley’s top price ticked up just six dollars, from $96 to $104. And Bromley’s top rate appears to have decreased from $92 to $85.

It’s too early to tell whether these changes are a temporary adaption to Covid – which has gutted revenue from lessons, rentals, and food, along with lift tickets – or a bellwether to a future East that follows the West’s cheap season pass/expensive day ticket trade-off. I think we’ll land somewhere in between – prices won’t likely drop significantly, but they won’t jump up dramatically either. The reality of New England geography is that its six states combined are smaller by nearly half than Colorado and have approximately 90 ski areas between them, with 50-some more next door in New York. The competition and pricing pressure is immense.

Still, it is not difficult to justify $170 single-day lift ticket to Killington. The place is enormous, well-appointed, and well-organized, with substantial lift and trail improvements in recent years. I wouldn’t pay that for a day at Killington, and neither would anyone reading this newsletter, but I can understand how a certain type of experience-oriented person who skis three to five days per year could find this worthwhile.

An analogy: I spent last Christmas Day at Disneyland. I want to be clear that this is something I did because I was in California and not something I traveled to California to do. Also I have a 4-year-old (he was 3 at the time). Though I’m generally a Disney skeptic, I had a fun and memorable time and so did my son and everything was very well done in general, with the Star Wars land making me feeling like I was walking around some dusty space-trading outpost and the Cars land looking like actual Radiator Springs from the movie and Mickey Mouse’s house feeling like I was in the actual cartoon home of a six-foot-tall talking mouse.

Day passes to both side-by-side parks (Disneyland and California Adventure), for my wife and I were something on the order of $200 each, which did not include the 20 bucks for parking or any kind of food. Season passes, meanwhile, started at $599 and tiered up to a bit over double that, mirroring skiing’s expensive day ticket/cheap season pass model.

I left Disneyland that day pretty satisfied with what I’d paid compared to the experience that bought. I also left fairly certain that I never needed to go there again for the rest of my life. And if I was the kind of dude who only needed to ski three to four days per year and I skied a full peak day at Killington amid all the wonderful volcano-storm chaos that is a mid-winter’s day at that sprawling funhouse of a ski area, I would probably walk away thinking that was a pretty good use of $170 to say I’d experienced The Beast of the East.

With former discount broker Liftopia in ruins and most other discount programs cancelled or curtailed, almost anyone who wants to ski Killington this year and didn’t hook up a pass ahead of time is going to have to decide whether that price is worth it (some discounts remain). For a Killington that may end up being less crowded than usual in sealed-like-a-submarine Vermont, I think that it probably would be for a certain type of skier.

The best argument against high day ticket prices is that they preemptively cut beginners out of the sport, but beginners don’t need Killington, and there are plenty of community hills in Vermont – including Ascutney, just an hour away – where a lift ticket tops out at $15 and the learning experience is likely far less stressful.

This is skiing’s new rehab model

This year, mothballed Saddleback and formerly anemic Bousquet have been reinvigorated by investment funds with similar orientations and missions: to restore and revitalized underused community assets. While Boston-based Arctaris intends to fix-and-flip Saddleback over the long term and Pittsfield-based Mill Town Capital plans to hold onto its hometown ski hill, both have invested substantially in infrastructure and management, signaling their intent to make these places succeed.

This could become a thing. Les Otten told the local planning board earlier this month that he is seeking, according to the New Hampshire Business Review, “ESG investors, which consider environmental, social and governance factors in analyzing an investment” to fund his revitalization of the abandoned Balsams resort. This appears to be the most rational possible direction, as the real estate investors Otten had been courting have withdrawn into the Covid shadows to await a collapse.

Dixville Capital has pumped $11 million into the project in the meantime, Otten said, telling the board, according to the Review, that, “I’m as confident as I can rationally be looking at what we’ve had to deal with, the setbacks that we’ve had. But I want to assure you that I remain committed to seeing the project forward.”

I’m rooting for Otten. Because this could be one badass ski mountain if he succeeds:

Read local

The Storm got some love from Worcester Telegram & Gazette columnist Shaun Sutner:

Once Sutner and I talked, I started looking back at some of the source material I’d been using to research podcasts and Northeast ski areas in general over the past couple years, and I realized he was the man behind some of the best of it, including this terrific profile of Berkshire East owner Jon Schaefer.

As the national ski media orients itself more toward improbable adventure stories with celebrity skiers who catch so much rad air they can cook a lasagna between takeoff and landing, journalists like Sutner are a conduit to the local bumps that most of us actually ski on most of the time. He’s telling the story of Massachusetts skiing (and beyond), better than anyone, with a tangential focus on points north. With the volume of quality work he’s been putting out, I should have been linking out to it in the Elsewhere section for a long time now. I will from now on, starting with last week’s primer on some of New England’s best cross-country skiing. Follow him on Twitter and support your local paper.

Unless it’s this one

So occasionally people who don’t know anything about skiing write about skiing, and the results are typically disastrous. From the New York Post:

You don’t have to jump on a plane to Vail, Aspen, Jackson Hole or Park City to ski this winter: New York is within driving distance of several destinations that promise almost as much allure.

Let me stop you right there. No it isn’t. Proceed.

From the great peaks of Vermont to snow-shoeing meccas in the Berkshires, these are some of the best drive-to locales in the northeast for hot doggers and amateurs alike.

Time machine glitch – I believe someone just said “hot doggers” in reference to someone not doing a backscratcher in a onsie circa 1976? Proceed.

[Vermont] is also home to Stowe Mountain Resort, which has two mountains connected by a gondola: Mountain Mansfield, the state’s tallest mountain with a height of 4,395 feet, and Spruce Peak. Expect 485 acres of skiable terrain, most of which are intermediate, 116 ski trails and 12 lifts. The biggest vertical drop is 2,360 feet.

Classifying Stowe, one of the shredliest mountains in the Northeast, as a “mostly intermediate” ski area is like calling American political debate “mostly good-natured chumming around.” Proceed.

Vail Resorts acquired the resort in 2017, which means frequent skiers can purchase an Epic Pass ($133 for adults) that’s valid at multiple locations including Okemo Mountain Resort — just two hours away.

Did you hear that, kids? $133 Epic Passes for everyone! Wait, that’s for one day of skiing? Why I remember when you could trade a stick of bubblegum for a ride up the towrope at the Johnson farm.

The author then goes on to recommend commuting up to Stowe via a $10,200 private jet charter before, regrettably, attempting to explain Catskills skiing:

The Catskills have three ski mountains: Belleayre, Windham Mountain and Hunter Mountain.

No. It. Fucking. Doesn’t. Have. You. Ever. Heard. Of. Fucking. Plattekill? Of. Course. You. Haven’t. I. Don’t. Think. You’ve. Actually. Ever. Been. Skiing.

The author then finishes with a Berkshires round-up that leaves out Berkshire East, the best skier’s mountain in the area and one that, you know, has the word “Berkshires” in its name.

I’m really not trying to be an asshole here. The Post has been through so many rounds of layoffs that its newsroom is a fraction of what it once was, and I’m sure some editor just said, “we need a skiing story,” and so whoever was available had to write a story about skiing, which seemed to mostly have been accomplished via Google searches. But I guess the big lesson here is maybe don’t use the New York Post as a primary source about downhill snowskiing.

Elsewhere

Everything is bad everywhere: Western hotel bookings have plummeted. Ontario closes all ski areas. Ski restrictions continue throughout Europe. Burlington Free Press does a multi-part overview of the dizzingly stupid Ariel Quiros fraud case that threatened to crater Jay Peak and Burke.

Well, maybe they’re not terrible everywhere: New England Ski Journal on the importance of the recent megastorm. A plea to support small ski areas this season (Slopefillers). New York Ski Blog hits Plattekill (twice), and drops by Belleayre. Thoughts on skiing alone (Ice Coast). Vail will move ahead with several stalled capital improvements, including a big lift upgrade at Okemo. Epic Pass sales also jumped 20 percent year-over year, though pass earnings were flat as many skiers took advantage of renewal credits. A nice profile of Cranmore. Sunday River will target next season to bring Merrill Hill, a real estate development with a few ski trails serviced by a triple chair, online. Timberline, West Virgnia reopens.

Got $50k? Buy Ragged’s old Spear Mountain Triple.

This is so good:

This week in skiing

Spent the week at Sunday River with my family. Had a lot of groomer mornings and one storm skiing day, but the highlight was this:

And no the kid’s not wearing a bucket but we were on a three degree slope that wasn’t even a ski run, and we bought him one the next day when the magic carpet opened. So chill out and follow me on Twitter for more in-the-moment rager excitement.

I also hit Saddleback for opening day. I wrote about it here, and here’s first chair, snagged by a skier named Ben Klosowski, who seemed like the kind of dude who could ski backwards off a kicker and pull some combination of flips and tumbles indiscernible to the human eye:

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