Peak 1-Day Lift Tickets to Hit $299 at Vail, Beaver Creek, Park City. Not Even Vail Wants You to Buy Them.
The Experience Of A Lifetime does not occur in a rational universe
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Disclaimer: well hello Random Internet Bro who followed this link from social media, believing it was another piece of AI-generated clickbait pumped out of the digital ethosphere. I know your intention is to scroll to the bottom and leave an all-caps Truth Bomb about how only the Jerriest of Jerry McJerrysons pays the window rate, in case I missed the identical comment you made over on Instapost (which I promise you I did). But we don’t target Jerry here. We prefer to make fun of the people who make fun of Jerry (that’s you). The truth is that a lot of people have no idea how skiing works, and they end up paying this rate when joining a bro trip/reunion/on-snow bar mitsvah. And they won’t be happy about it. And they’ll never go skiing again. Which is bad for all of us. Rack rate matters.
Are you sure you want to buy this terrible product?
A U.S. American traveling abroad will encounter a strange phenomenon: basic food and drink items, when offered in a bar or restaurant or beachside snack stand, are rarely marked up 700 percent from their sale price at the grocery store, as American businesses are wont to do. There is some markup, of course, but not of the extortionate sort that, in my frothier days, emboldened me to wander Manhattan bars with a six-pack of Miller cans stashed in my coat pockets so I could avoid shoveling over nine dollars per 12-ounce drink. Such practices – $6 boxes of Junior Mints at the movie theater, $17 chicken fingers at Yankee Stadium, $23.50 bowls of baselodge chili – invite hacks, workarounds, and subtle protests. Candy tucked into purses, brown bag lunch in the baselodge basement. Everyone hates feeling taken advantage of.
An internet super-charged version of this has taken hold at U.S. ski areas: walk-up peak-day rates will range between $225 and $299 at the nation’s 10 largest ski resorts for the 2023-24 ski season. But in this case, the ski areas themselves have provided us with the hack: you simply have to purchase your ski passes between seven and 16 months before you intend to use them. If you’re clever, motivated, and somewhat organized, you can ski an Epic or Ikon Pass down to $30 per day without resorting to amazing feats of logistics. Just go skiing once or twice a week from November to April.
This formula has existed for years. But as 2023-24 lift tickets come online, large resort operators – and Vail Resorts in particular – have tweaked their websites to nudge skiers into buying anything other than a single-day, date-specific lift ticket. Many skiers – maybe most – don’t need the horsepower of an Epic or Epic Local pass. Four or five days of big-mountain access will probably do it. And Vail wants to sell you that access, as badly as it wants to warn you away from its worst product.
Tiptoeing toward $300
Arizona Snowbowl, of all places, last January became the first ski area to blow past $300 for a single day of skiing that did not involve a helicopter. But that was some weird form of surge pricing – you could ski Snowbowl the following Monday for like 75 cents. The Mountain Capital Partners-owned resort has not institutionalized Holy Shit rates in the same way that its larger competitors have. Here are the top anticipated peak walk-up rates at U.S. ski resorts for the 2023-24 ski season:
Here’s a larger look at walk-up rates across Vail Resorts’ owned portfolio:
And all the ski areas on the Ikon Pass:
And if you need a reminder, here are the current rates for Epic, Ikon, and Mountain Collective passes:
And the fantastic Epic Day Pass:
And the less-fantastic Ikon Session Pass:
The differential between walk-up lift ticket prices and season pass prices is one of the dumber dynamics that I’m aware of. The only thing I care for less is powerhouse college football teams pummeling the Alabaster State Flying Hedgehogs 82-0 in a September walkover. Sometimes the world just is how it is, and there isn’t much you can do about it.
WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT PURCHASE THIS VERY EXPENSIVE PRODUCT!!! YOU DUMBASS.
Even though they sell them, Vail does not want you to pay $299 for a lift ticket. If you visit Vail Mountain’s lift ticket sales page, a screen-width billboard wards you off like a head planted on a pike at the edge of a savage kingdom:
There are so many amazing things about this: the 60 percent price differential between the two equal-access products; “no additional perks” listed where a consumer may expect to find this product’s perks; the are-you-sure-you-want-to-do-this vibe of the whole experience (less amazing: the Epic Day Pass price is wrong; the current price of an unrestricted, all-resorts Epic Day pass is $125). Even if you ignore this talisman and charge through to the date-specific lift ticket page, the my-God-don’t-do-it messaging follows you around:
But the real clincher happens when you click “add to cart”:
Just for fun, I tried it again with a seven-day lift ticket starting on Dec. 26:
That’s a lot of money. For anyone. If Vail has sold more than zero lift tickets for the 2023-24 ski season, then someone needs to stop drinking while they online shop.
So what about everyone else?
Vail has a clear, publicly stated, oft-repeated incentive to get you to stop buying lift tickets: the company’s goal is to move as many people as possible to “frequency products,” i.e. Epic Passes. And yes, Epic Day Passes count as Epic Passes. The goal is seventy-five percent of all skier visits, and the company hit 61 percent as of its March investor presentation (page 22). The company has also fashioned a clear, attractive alternative to date-specific lift tickets in its three-tiered Epic Day Pass, which is one of the most outstanding values anywhere in skiing.
So what about Alterra? The company’s Ikon Session Pass is not as nuanced an offering as the Epic Day, but it still delivers substantial discounts to buying date-specific lift tickets. There’s no mention of Ikon Session when you visit, for example, Palisades Tahoe’s lift-ticket page, but they do offer you a four-pack at a substantial discount:
The four-pack runs $483 for adults, a bit more than the $469 rate for the four-day Ikon Session. But the latter product includes holiday blackouts, making the four-pack a good (or at least an acceptable) choice.
But Palisades’ website is not quite the downgrade (er, sorry, “upgrade”) gnat that Vail’s is. If you click through to lift tickets, you won’t find any mention of the Ikon Pass or the four-pack.
Dang, Dawg, you just got OWNED. But Alterra is good enough to remind you that you can apply to finance this extraordinary purchase with terms as low as $22 per month!
But hey, who says lift tickets shouldn’t be slotted into the same retail tier as used cars and home appliances?
Moving along to Boyne, skiers have lots of options, but they’re buried. You could access Sunday River, for example, with an Ikon Pass or the New England or Maine Day passes (Boyne’s equivalent to Epic Day), but when you click onto the lift ticket page, all of these options are buried at the bottom:
Big Sky maroons lift tickets on its own page, without referencing the mountain’s incredible suite of season pass products. Big Sky will let you purchase a three-day lift ticket starting on Dec. 23 for $513, without nudging you toward the Flex 3 pass, which includes any three non-holiday days throughout the core season, plus 52 early- and late-season bonus days, for just $64 more ($579). Not that the sales process doesn’t include upsells:
Powdr similarly misses – Snowbird sells a five-day pass for $449, but there’s no mention of it on the resort’s lift ticket page, and it’s never suggested as you move through the purchase process. Instead, the Flex-5 sits on the season pass page.
But what if I hate them all anyway?
Well you’re in luck, Angry Ski Bro, because I’ve assembled a chart of anticipated peak lift ticket rates at more than 50 of America’s largest ski areas. While the top dozen have been infected with the Buy-Our-Megapass-or-We-Will-Crush-Your-Soul-at-the-Ticket-Window virus, 3,000-acre Whitefish still lets you in the door for less than a Ben Frank (well, they did last year; 2023-24 rates aren’t public yet, but I guarantee they will not be $299). Other large operations with bargain tickets include Bogus Basin, 49 Degrees North, Bridger Bowl, Brundage, Lost Trail, Mt. Spokane, Great Divide, Silver Mountain, and Wolf Creek:
Never heard of these places? Good. That means no one else has either. Go exploring, get lost, and have fun skiing without having to sell your bone marrow to afford lift tickets.
So why even sell lift tickets?
When a company finds itself in the position of actively steering customers away from its product, then it’s not a good product. And the big-mountain walk-up lift ticket is a profoundly broken product that needs to be reset or killed. Vail has done a good job fixing this problem on the front end, by making the financial hazards of purchasing a lift ticket clear. And that will work great until Epic Passes go off sale sometime around the first week of December. Then what?
Then it’s (up to) $1,196 for a family of four to wait in line at Lionshead. That’s a brutal line item on the credit card statement. So how to demonstrate that Vail Mountain is, actually, a very good value for the prepared skier, with a season pass that is less expensive now than it was during the Clinton Administration? Vail has a great but minimally promoted turn-in-your-ticket program, which converts $100 of any previous season’s lift ticket into a down payment on next season’s Epic Pass.
I’ll turn it over to the geniuses in Broomfield to figure out the rest. But they need to do something. Not because charging $299 for a lift ticket is immoral or evil or ruining skiing – it has never been more affordable to be a frequent skier – but because it’s short-sighted and ridiculous. No one would drink wine if the cheapest bottle was $300, and no one is going to try skiing if they can’t figure out a way to get on the bump for less than a week’s pay.
Either something breaks, or we start the race to $400 in 2024. When Alterra CEO Jared Smith joined me on the podcast in July, he acknowledged that our current lift ticket schema was unsustainable. He pointed across town, to Coors Field, where tickets to watch a ballgame ranged from cheapo bleacher seats to suites with iced champagne and choreographed between-innings performances by a troope of dancing ostriches. Skiing, he said, needs to become some version of that, so that Backpacker Bill and Hedgefund Henry can both Facepost slopeside at Steamboat. Play ball.
Below the paid subscriber jump: a new ski area masterplan takes shape in the West, the non-ski media writes another stupid doomsday story, coping with the digitization of trailmaps, and more.