Gondola at Aspen © Grafton Smith, Corbis

Skiers and snowboarders searching for "the steep and deep" this winter may find the concept has taken on a much less appealing connotation: The price of the sport is getting so steep that some believe it may be becoming the exclusive domain of those whose pockets are exceedingly deep.

"You have the haves and the have mores," said Douglas Quinby, principal analyst at PhoCusWright, which conducts market research on the travel industry. "When you factor in the airfare of the typical ski trip, the accommodations and the length of stay, you're talking about a pretty significant penny."

Coupled with lift tickets that can top $100 per day and clothing and equipment that can cost thousands, it's not surprising that both the industry and its fans are concerned about the sports' long-term viability for those of more modest means.

Skiing, of course, has never been considered an inexpensive activity, but the sport has seen a significant upward shift in visitor demographics in recent years.

Last year, 54 percent of skier visits, defined as one skier/snowboarder riding for one day, came from households earning more than $100,000, according to the National Ski Areas Association. That's up from 48 percent five years ago, a 12.5 percent increase.

In contrast, visits from households earning less than $100,000 during the same period slipped from 52 percent to 46 percent -- an 11.5 percent decrease.

"They're chasing existing customers who have the money to spend rather than going after new customers," said Roger Marolt, a lifelong skier and Aspen resident. "They're creating all these expensive amenities to attract them, which drives the price of skiing up even further."

The average weekend lift-ticket price last season was $85.52, which was actually a bargain compared with the $129 you'd have paid if you walked up to a ticket window at Vail or Beaver Creek last Christmas. This year, Deer Valley, Jackson Hole, Park City and Sun Valley have all joined Aspen and Vail in charging $100 or more for a lift ticket during peak periods.

Such prices clearly play into the perception that skiing is the exclusive domain of the well-heeled, but it's also true that few people pay such stratospheric rates. More than half of so-called ski travelers (as opposed to day-trippers) now buy their tickets at least a week in advance and just under half buy them online, garnering potentially significant discounts by doing so, according to Quinby's research.

Many get discounts as part of lodging packages that include multi-day lift tickets; others by taking advantage of "dynamic-pricing systems" that peg prices to seasonal demand and how far in advance they buy.

"Selling lift tickets at the window is like the airline industry selling all its tickets at the counter," said Evan Reece, co-founder and CEO of Liftopia, which sells online advance tickets, rentals and other products to 250 resorts around the world.

For those willing to commit in advance, the site offers deals such as day tickets at Smugglers' Notch, Vt., in December for as low as $38 (43 percent off) and 5 of 7 day tickets at Sun Valley, Idaho, in January for $261 (45 percent off). There's even a one-day lift ticket and bacon Bloody Mary deal at Arapahoe Basin, Colo., for as low as $58 (24 percent off).