12/13/2013 9:30 PM ET|
Skiing becomes a luxury sport
The number of new skiers and snowboarders hitting the slopes is declining as lift ticket prices soar. Advance planning and a little shopping around, however, can still score you deals.
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).
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Too much BAD going on in society... to much greed... and it's evident in Skiing as well as most sports now.
Almost gone are the family owned resorts with somewhat reasonable prices. Hardly a handful exist and those are best kept as secrets so they don't feel the pressure.
I was a lower middle class child, did paper routes to help with recreational costs but still managed to be on a Ski Team (Olympic dreams too) and ski 50+ days a year. Even up until the early 90's it was somewhat possible for lower middle class families to find a way to ski a dozen times a year. NO WAY NOW... there is more at work than just greed in the ski industry. This is a social shift. Major social shift... The Haves are international now and the Have Nots have been redefining a new lower class of less mobile and are just those that are not good business.
Will this change the resorts or sports? or any of the inflationary recreational activities? Yes but not in a way to allow more to go. Unlike Walmart with it's cheap China made goods and processed goods that are less healthy, the recreational and sport world is going to increase price to reduce exposure yet profit off the few. In their book it's called work smarter not harder.... Large margins off a few works in this case. Corporate resorts make a better experience for their clients. It's simple business with the usual dash of corporate greed. And get real, the corporate world and the upper class don't care to see poster children from the lower class and the lower class idolizes the upper classes success stories. Straight forward as it is. Somehow enough idolize the Kardasians, Hiltons, even what British royalty uses to wipe their bum with. Sadly these people have little to nothing to offer the world (other than drama or admiration of their Aristocracy, hence Jersey Shores junk!).
So back to the point of the article. About catering to fewer yet wealthy ski customers paying more for short lines, who will then give great reviews about wonderful open trail experiences at a better profit margin, that's what it is about. As the numbers of Skiers started to dwindle in the 80's the industry started to shift its efforts and changing it's ways. Before snow boarding it realized it had to focus on upper middle class families! period! Then with the invent of snowboarding and marketability by corporate powers the industry established a new social class & client profile to appeal too. In this case the mass of frugal less wealthy customers who packed lunches and thermos's just didn't make sense. Besides these are the people who, if given the chance, would filling trails and lift lines creating an issue requiring lift upgrades, expansion and more. It's harder to cater to 5,000 than 2,000. This new model is a "Starbuck's" experience on the hill. I'm one of the lower class so I'd never buy a $4.00 cup of coffee just because it's fashionable or offers an experience. So I won't be doing what I love anymore... and neither will my children. However there are enough worldly wealthy people who can and do and they have enough to spend at the resorts so those at the helm wealthier than ever.
Sadly, after being a ski instructor who taught thousands to ski and enjoy it, as a once national level competitive racer and freestyle skier, my children ( all 4) will hardly be privileged to ski only a handful of times in their entire life. The subject is sad! I know so many who feel the same way.
There are the Haves and Have Nots now. Seems like we are OK with that!
And social mobility has been struck a major blow. I'm not Liberal and not Conservative as both are purely screwing the broad middle.
When was downhill skiing ever really for the lower classes? Maybe cross-country...skis and poles. But travel...equipment...hotel/lodge...lift tickets?
Unless you lived in or very near a ski area, never all that cheap.
I doubt there is any significant grass-roots push out there to make downhill skiing affordable. Especially if, at existing prices, the resorts are so crowded that the relative financially elite are complaining about overcrowding. Like the resorts are gonna cut the costs so not-so wealthy people can get their opportunity to enjoy the sport among the rich and crowd the silver spoons out even more? Forget it. Downhill skiing will continue to be for those who can afford it. Market economy says the prices will be as high as possible while still filling the slopes. Simple economics.
Poor or middle class folks - find a small local ski resort and save up to go once or twice a year. That will be your experience; better than nothing right? As far as the "major" ski resorts? Hey, they've been strictly for the financially well-to-do from the beginning. Since when has a student group from Watts gone to Innsbruck?
I gave it up 10 years ago because of the cost. I also can't afford a BMW M3. Some things in life you simply have to accept.
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