Snow sports, such as skiing and snowboarding, have always been fairly expensive activities. Lately, however, daily lift tickets have risen to over $100 during peak season, making it harder for middle-class individuals to afford a sporadic trip to the slopes, according to Ken Schapiro of Condor Capital Wealth Management. Data supports the trend that those with deeper-pockets are dominating attendance at the nation’s resorts, as 58% of visitors during the 2014-15 season earned $100,000 or more annually compared to only 45% during the 2006-07 season according to the National Ski Areas Association’s 2014-15 National Demographics Study. Put another way, only 18% of visitors during the 2014-15 season earned less than $50,000 annually compared to 30% during the 2006-07 season.
The movement towards increasing prices at the slopes has resulted from a combination of factors, including consolidation in the ski industry and a focus on maximizing marginal revenue. Major resort operators, such as Vail Resorts, have formed economies of scale by acquiring smaller ski areas around the nation. This has allowed them to influence prices across the U.S. to a greater extent than their independently-owned peers. In the same manner, resorts have targeted wealthier consumers due to the heightened spending habits of this demographic. From offering top-quality amenities to gourmet services, resorts are focusing on increasing revenue in the near-term, without taking into account that visitation of other groups of people is falling.
Recently, many resorts have taken a page from airline and hotel companies by adopting dynamic pricing, a system that allows for variable ticket prices in accordance to supply and demand trends. Therefore, individuals looking to buy lift tickets the day of their visit will usually have to pay up. Despite its use at many resorts, dynamic pricing is a double-edged sword. While prices for last-minute lift tickets trend higher, those purchased far in advance can usually be bought at a discount. San-Francisco-based startup Liftopia has taken advantage of this trend by selling lift tickets for a variety of dates during the season, and offering individuals committing early to a particular date steep discounts. In addition to selling tickets through its website, the company is also leasing its e-commerce software to resorts for a small cut of every transaction. With dynamic pricing strategies being utilized at more and more resorts, the bifurcation between present and future lift ticket prices will increase. However, those willing to get their foot in the door early enough can find attractive deals and enjoy the slopes in tandem.