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Why are lift passes so expensive?

Jazza

Certified Ski Diva
#1
I’ve been reading some of the posts from US ski divas and I almost fell off my imaginary chair when I saw the cost of a 6 day ski pass! >€600?!!!!!! Did I read that correctly?
are the chair lifts diamond studded? Is the ski area the size of a small country?
i thought €300 was steep (... actually, it is steep) even though the ski area is huge, you tend not to explore most of it.

Guess I won’t being skiing in the US anytime soon!
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#2
I haven't skied in Europe yet but have traveled a fair amount internationally to Europe and Asia. The legal, cultural, geographic, and snow situation is very different between American and European ski resorts. Just a few points:

* The large American ski resorts include far more in-bounds terrain that is managed and covered by ski patrol, meaning off-piste terrain that is never groomed and subject to avalanches on a regular basis.
* Pay for staff is different in American staff than in Europe.
* Insurance is a BIG line item for any ski area or ski resort in the U.S.
* There are a few companies (Vail Resorts, Alterra, Boyne, Powdr) that own many of the major destination resorts. They offer what are called "multi-resort passes" that change the cost of lift tickets for people who plan ski vacations well in advance. The passes go on sale in the spring and must be bought by mid-December.
* The percentage of Americans who like sliding on snow after riding a lift is lower than for many European countries. Travel distance is a factor. Flying from the east coast or midwest U.S. to the big mountains in the Rockies can take 6-8 hours, except for the limited airports that have non-stop flights.

Most advanced skiers who ski in N. America like to spend 80% of their time skiing off-piste. My sense is that is not the same as in the Alps.
 

Jazza

Certified Ski Diva
#3
I haven't skied in Europe yet but have traveled a fair amount internationally to Europe and Asia. The legal, cultural, geographic, and snow situation is very different between American and European ski resorts. Just a few points:

* The large American ski resorts include far more in-bounds terrain that is managed and covered by ski patrol, meaning off-piste terrain that is never groomed and subject to avalanches on a regular basis.
* Pay for staff is different in American staff than in Europe.
* Insurance is a BIG line item for any ski area or ski resort in the U.S.
* There are a few companies (Vail Resorts, Alterra, Boyne, Powdr) that own many of the major destination resorts. They offer what are called "multi-resort passes" that change the cost of lift tickets for people who plan ski vacations well in advance. The passes go on sale in the spring and must be bought by mid-December.
* The percentage of Americans who like sliding on snow after riding a lift is lower than for many European countries. Travel distance is a factor. Flying from the east coast or midwest U.S. to the big mountains in the Rockies can take 6-8 hours, except for the limited airports that have non-stop flights.

Most advanced skiers who ski in N. America like to spend 80% of their time skiing off-piste. My sense is that is not the same as in the Alps.
Thanks or your insight. Not sure I followed everything (insurance for example) but I can assure you we have plenty of powder hounds over here. Plenty enjoy off piste skiing and ski schools do o piste courses. Of course, you only go off piste if you know the back side like your own home, go with a local or a guide.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#4
Thanks or your insight. Not sure I followed everything (insurance for example) but I can assure you we have plenty of powder hounds over here. Plenty enjoy off piste skiing and ski schools do o piste courses. Of course, you only go off piste if you know the back side like your own home, go with a local or a guide.
One of the differences I notice for people who plan ski trips to Europe is that they buy separate insurance that covers any rescues, injuries, or medical issues that come up while at a ski resort. That's not required for U.S. ski trips. As long as someone is "in bounds" the cost of the involvement of ski patrol is not the responsibility of the person who ends up needing help.

At my favorite destination in the Rockies, Alta, the ungroomed terrain that most of the advanced/expert skiers enjoy is all considered "in bounds," not "backcountry." That's a lot of steep terrain, with and without trees, which is the responsibility of Alta Ski Patrol. Large sections don't open for a day or two after big storms while ski patrol does "mitigation" work that involves use of various types of explosives to start avalanches on purpose. In some places there are "gates" in rope lines but once thru a gate, the skier is still in-bounds. No guide required or expected. Especially for short runs that are 20-30 powder turns.
 

Jazza

Certified Ski Diva
#5
One of the differences I notice for people who plan ski trips to Europe is that they buy separate insurance that covers any rescues, injuries, or medical issues that come up while at a ski resort. That's not required for U.S. ski trips. As long as someone is "in bounds" the cost of the involvement of ski patrol is not the responsibility of the person who ends up needing help.

At my favorite destination in the Rockies, Alta, the ungroomed terrain that most of the advanced/expert skiers enjoy is all considered "in bounds," not "backcountry." That's a lot of steep terrain, with and without trees, which is the responsibility of Alta Ski Patrol. Large sections don't open for a day or two after big storms while ski patrol does "mitigation" work that involves use of various types of explosives to start avalanches on purpose. In some places there are "gates" in rope lines but once thru a gate, the skier is still in-bounds. No guide required or expected. Especially for short runs that are 20-30 powder turns.
Another interesting insight between the US and Europe. Most of us here will have travel insurance that includes winter sport coverage. That sorts out accident related medical costs (typically you pay out first then get reimbursed - depends on the insurer). Or, i also get additional insurance added to my lift pass. For €25 I was fully covered for mountain rescue etc. Bargain! Mountain rescue will always rescue whether you are in bounds or not.
we also have ski patrols here. They go out every morning to check the snow, set off avalanches etc.
also, you don’t have to have a guide; that’s just my preference. I lost a friend many years ago in an avalanche in Tignes. Off piste but in an area we had all boarded before and ski school even took U114s there. So, I now err on the side of caution. In fact, I’ve only gone way off piste once since then.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#6
Mountain rescue will always rescue whether you are in bounds or not.
we also have ski patrols here. They go out every morning to check the snow, set off avalanches etc.
The scale of the resorts in the European Alps compared those in the Rockies is quite different. To take an example, consider St. Anton and Alta as described on Wikipedia (excerpts below). The skiable area around St. Anton is listed as 167 sq. km. (64 sq miles, 40,500 acres), while Alta is 10 sq. km. (4 sq miles, 2600 acres). Snowbird on the other side of Mt. Baldy is about the same size as Alta. But Alta/Snowbird combined is still far smaller than St. Anton. The vertical at Alta is about 2500 ft, compared to close to 5000 ft for St. Anton. Alta has 4 chairlifts and a transfer rope two between the two bases.

Alta terrain is described as 15% green (easiest), 30% blue (intermediate), 55% black (most difficult). Alta Ski Patrol is actively managing 100% of that black terrain. Often the most challenging areas are closed for a few days after a snowstorm, which can include groomers below areas that are avalanche prone. My impression is that's not how it works at European ski resorts.

My home hill (near Washington DC) is much smaller than ski resorts in the Rockies. There is no off-piste terrain at all. The open trails are fully dependent on 100% snowmaking. A long run at my home hill takes 3 min to finish for an advanced skier, 5 min for an intermediate. It's sometimes hard to explain how that can be fun to folks who have only skied at big mountains in Utah, Colorado, or California.

St. Anton in Austria
"St. Anton is part of the Arlberg area of ski resorts – a region that includes 94 cable cars and ski lifts, 340 km (210 mi) of groomed pistes and 200 km (120 mi) of deep-snow runs, all of which are covered under one liftpass.
. . .
The groomed runs in the region cater to all levels; 43% are for beginners (blue), 41% for intermediate skiers (red) and 16% are for the more advanced (black). There are also 200 km (120 mi) of deep snow runs in the area.


Expert terrain includes less-frequently groomed ski routes such as Schindlerkar and Mattun, and the backside of Valluga (2,811 metres or 9,222 feet) down to Zürs, which is for experts only if accompanied by a guide. There are also a large number of off-piste routes in the area that experts can explore with the help of a guide."

Alta in Utah, USA
"Alta is a ski area in the western United States, located in the town of Alta in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, in Salt Lake County. With a skiable area of 2,614 acres (10.58 km2), Alta's base elevation is 8,530 ft (2,600 m) and rises to 11,068 ft (3,374 m) for a vertical gain of 2,538 ft (774 m). One of the oldest ski resorts in the country, it opened its first lift in early 1939.[2] Alta is known for receiving more snow than most Utah resorts,[3] with an average annual snowfall of 545 inches (13.8 m)."
 

kiki

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#7
The scale of the resorts in the European Alps compared those in the Rockies is quite different. To take an example, consider St. Anton and Alta as described on Wikipedia (excerpts below). The skiable area around St. Anton is listed as 167 sq. km. (64 sq miles, 40,500 acres), while Alta is 10 sq. km. (4 sq miles, 2600 acres). Snowbird on the other side of Mt. Baldy is about the same size as Alta. But Alta/Snowbird combined is still far smaller than St. Anton. The vertical at Alta is about 2500 ft, compared to close to 5000 ft for St. Anton. Alta has 4 chairlifts and a transfer rope two between the two bases.

Alta terrain is described as 15% green (easiest), 30% blue (intermediate), 55% black (most difficult). Alta Ski Patrol is actively managing 100% of that black terrain. Often the most challenging areas are closed for a few days after a snowstorm, which can include groomers below areas that are avalanche prone. My impression is that's not how it works at European ski resorts.

My home hill (near Washington DC) is much smaller than ski resorts in the Rockies. There is no off-piste terrain at all. The open trails are fully dependent on 100% snowmaking. A long run at my home hill takes 3 min to finish for an advanced skier, 5 min for an intermediate. It's sometimes hard to explain how that can be fun to folks who have only skied at big mountains in Utah, Colorado, or California.

St. Anton in Austria
"St. Anton is part of the Arlberg area of ski resorts – a region that includes 94 cable cars and ski lifts, 340 km (210 mi) of groomed pistes and 200 km (120 mi) of deep-snow runs, all of which are covered under one liftpass.
. . .
The groomed runs in the region cater to all levels; 43% are for beginners (blue), 41% for intermediate skiers (red) and 16% are for the more advanced (black). There are also 200 km (120 mi) of deep snow runs in the area.


Expert terrain includes less-frequently groomed ski routes such as Schindlerkar and Mattun, and the backside of Valluga (2,811 metres or 9,222 feet) down to Zürs, which is for experts only if accompanied by a guide. There are also a large number of off-piste routes in the area that experts can explore with the help of a guide."

Alta in Utah, USA
"Alta is a ski area in the western United States, located in the town of Alta in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, in Salt Lake County. With a skiable area of 2,614 acres (10.58 km2), Alta's base elevation is 8,530 ft (2,600 m) and rises to 11,068 ft (3,374 m) for a vertical gain of 2,538 ft (774 m). One of the oldest ski resorts in the country, it opened its first lift in early 1939.[2] Alta is known for receiving more snow than most Utah resorts,[3] with an average annual snowfall of 545 inches (13.8 m)."
This is very interesting. It’s useful to put in perspective the vastly different ski situations there are!!!!
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#9
This thread reminds me a different thread from a while ago:

Austria vs Western USA - costs, surprising

Post #17 from @Cantabrigienne provided a very insightful and informative response. Learned a lot from that post.
Forgot about that discussion. Was that from before or after you took your trip to Europe?

I've read that the lodges at Alta follow the model of ski chalets in Europe. Three out of the five include at least "half board" meaning breakfast and dinner. The Peruvian includes lunch for those willing to get back there at lunch time. Even the people who stay at the Snowpine without the meal option tend to eat dinner there.

From Post #18 in that thread:
I also think the ski culture in Austria/Germany is quite different to the US. Almost all skiing is on piste and it’s much more about relaxing than pushing yourself. People take long lunches, with beer and wine. There are definitely on-mountain lunch destinations - in Oberstdorf my ski instructor brought the group to a cheese-maker’s hut! In Obergurgl some of the apres-ski is on-mountain and the runs down to the village are floodlit. It took me a while to realise that the people skiing down long after the lifts had closed had been for drinks in the meantime!
 

Jilly

Moderator
Staff member
#10
But not every place has "board".. DH and I had basically a condo when we skied France over 30 years ago. But we did go on a tour type trip. The total price included flight, lodging , transfers, and ski pass. All we had to pay for was food. But with the condo type accommodation we could cook in. I remember the last trip, I picked up a roast of pork and cooked it in a counter top oven. The place smelled heavenly and all the neighbours wanted to know what I was making...

But the as mentioned the culture is different. You ski from village to village. I remember when we were planning the first trip. DH said to me....2 weeks in the same place? I pulled out the trail map and said - Really? Have you looked at this? It's like the whole the Laurentians in one place. Needless to say we had a great trip.

I'm heading over this summer to Chambery and Aix les Bains. Just down the mountains from Albertville....I suspect a lot of changes...
 

snoWYmonkey

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#12
Thanks or your insight. Not sure I followed everything (insurance for example) but I can assure you we have plenty of powder hounds over here. Plenty enjoy off piste skiing and ski schools do o piste courses. Of course, you only go off piste if you know the back side like your own home, go with a local or a guide.
Skiing in the US is not a common sport as @marzNC mentioned. Many days there are literally zero lines, yet they still have to pay 100s of employees. Also, off piste and out of bounds are 2 very different concepts in the US compared to most european resorts as she was explaining. Off piste, in the US, is not in avalanche terrain. Only for out of bounds do you need a guide, and transceiver, probe, etc... The entire ski area with a few small exceptions can be skied without worrying about avalanches. In most all resorts the snow fields between runs could avalanche as they are not controlled. The insurance is not to save skiers, but to protect the ski resort from being sued by skiers or even just visitors. I still agree that the cost is prohibitive.
 
#13
I'd like to bring up a couple of points.
First there's no mention of small, non-destination/resorts that are community hills/non-profits or small businesses. I have four within a resonale drive where tickets average $50 for a weekend day pass. They all have fun terrain: I not talking the little tiny Midwest areas. Second, don't blame it on ski patrol. There are over 600 volunteer ski patrols in the us. That's 600 areas that do not pay patrol, or only have paid patrol for the avalanche work.

It takes a lot of resources for the ski area to run. A Piston-Bully groomer (new) can run over $250,000. You all want nice grooming. Chairlifts are expensive: the detatchable quad they put in at Okemo cost almost $7 million. The non-detatchable trip (1500 feet) that got put in at my home mountain cost $2.5 million.People really like to whine about non-detachable/highspeed chairs but look at the cost to an area.

Bottom line is it cost millions to construct and run a ski area. Plus insurance costs, approx $300-500 for every 1 million in coverage.
 
#14
Second, don't blame it on ski patrol. There are over 600 volunteer ski patrols in the us. That's 600 areas that do not pay patrol, or only have paid patrol for the avalanche work.
Didn't mean to imply that it was ski patrol salaries, I was also thinking more of the resources necessary for ski patrol to do their work at large mountains that have avalanche-prone in-bounds terrain. I'm guessing, but I think the budget for explosives for Alta ski patrol is higher per paying customer than for St. Anton.

The small hills like my home mountain (under 100 acres, 1000 ft vert) that have no "off-piste" terrain are in a completely different category than the large destination ski resorts in the Alps or the American destination resorts that have been making headlines for lift tickets that cost more than US$150 for a day ticket. Although most people who don't live in the southeast might be appalled to pay $80 for a weekend lift ticket to ski 100 acres of groomed trails with 100% manmade snow.

As I understand it, European ski resorts groom miles of "pistes" and have a lot of relatively new chairlifts and gondolas. Those capital costs don't seem that different than U.S. destination resorts. However, the financial arrangements may impact the bottom line a bit differently. I would think the delivery cost and installation costs differ for large equipment that is built in Europe and shipped to N. America.

Every ski region has unique factors that go into their costs and who is the primary market, whether locals or travelers. The designation resorts associated with the multi-resort passes that cost US$500-1000 are what get into the news more and that more people are likely to have on their "bucket list." In Europe, each country is different. Have heard that for the ski resorts between Switzerland and Italy, it's a lot cheaper to stay in Italy or to ski over there for lunch.

As with real estate in general, location matters.
 

Jazza

Certified Ski Diva
#16
Didn't mean to imply that it was ski patrol salaries, I was also thinking more of the resources necessary for ski patrol to do their work at large mountains that have avalanche-prone in-bounds terrain. I'm guessing, but I think the budget for explosives for Alta ski patrol is higher per paying customer than for St. Anton.

The small hills like my home mountain (under 100 acres, 1000 ft vert) that have no "off-piste" terrain are in a completely different category than the large destination ski resorts in the Alps or the American destination resorts that have been making headlines for lift tickets that cost more than US$150 for a day ticket. Although most people who don't live in the southeast might be appalled to pay $80 for a weekend lift ticket to ski 100 acres of groomed trails with 100% manmade snow.

As I understand it, European ski resorts groom miles of "pistes" and have a lot of relatively new chairlifts and gondolas. Those capital costs don't seem that different than U.S. destination resorts. However, the financial arrangements may impact the bottom line a bit differently. I would think the delivery cost and installation costs differ for large equipment that is built in Europe and shipped to N. America.

Every ski region has unique factors that go into their costs and who is the primary market, whether locals or travelers. The designation resorts associated with the multi-resort passes that cost US$500-1000 are what get into the news more and that more people are likely to have on their "bucket list." In Europe, each country is different. Have heard that for the ski resorts between Switzerland and Italy, it's a lot cheaper to stay in Italy or to ski over there for lunch.

As with real estate in general, location matters.
You are correct that some aspects of skiing in Italy are cheaper - especially food! In St Anton a coffee could easily cost you €4 on the hill but €1.50 in say Cervinia. My good friend from uni is Italian: she explained there is no way Italians would pay €4 for a coffee so that keeps the cost down!
 
#17
For insight into some of the business issues related to running a successful ski resort in the U.S. Rocky Mountains, listen to this podcast from Jan 2020. The focus is on winter sports, so one point in the business thinking is missing. Major resorts in the west are actively becoming 4-season resorts now that the U.S. Forest Service can approve usage for summer revenue-generating activities such as ziplines, alpine slides, and Via Ferrata. The law changed in 2011 and the policies related to permitting weren't available until about 2013.

Note that the implication is that Aspen is part of Alterra, which isn't true. The Crown family who own Aspen Ski Co. is a co-founder of Alterra, but chose to keep Aspen/Snowmass as an independent resort. However, Aspen is on the Ikon pass as a partner for 2019-20, as are the other resorts that were on the 2019-20 Mountain Collective Pass.

 
#18
[QUOTE="Jazza, post: 405201, member: For €25 I was fully covered for mountain rescue etc. Bargain! Mountain rescue will always rescue whether you are in bounds or not.
we also have ski patrols here. They go out every morning to check the snow, set off avalanches etc.
also, you don’t have to have a guide; that’s just my preference. I lost a friend many years ago in an avalanche in Tignes. Off piste but in an area we had all boarded before and ski school even took U114s there. So, I now err on the side of caution. In fact, I’ve only gone way off piste once since then.[/QUOTE]
 
#19
This thread reminds me a different thread from a while ago:

Austria vs Western USA - costs, surprising

Post #17 from @Cantabrigienne provided a very insightful and informative response. Learned a lot from that post.
I second the recommendation for this thread/post to help understand why costs are different in North America and Europe. The way that sking evolved in Europe is very different than the way it evolved in North America, and that's had consequences for the current economics of the sport. Also note that US and Canada are alike in terms of prices/price structures, so this is a North American thing not an American thing. Despite higher costs, I always meet tons of British people skiing in Canada. They could ski less expensively in the Alps but tell me that they prefer having fewer people around (I've even heard this at Whistler which I think is a very busy place), more orderly queues, more snow, etc.

One thing to note – you don't need to buy insurance here. There is no additional charge for ski patrol rescue/aid.
 

sibhusky

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#20
I'm also wondering about the impact of the number of skier visits. A lift probably costs in the same ballpark for Europe vs. here, assuming it's an identical lift. But I believe there are far more skiers to spread that across. Here at Whitefish we get 350,000 skier visits per year. Most of our visitors are NOT paying window rates because most of our skiers are still locals. So, I new lift costs more per person, I'm guessing, than at St. Anton, which gets between 1 and 2 million based on a 2017 report. So, granted St. Anton needs more lifts, but still each lift is spread across about five times the number of skiers. Which is why they almost never put in NEW lifts here, they buy old ones from other ski areas. And this is a "reasonably-priced" ski area with a window rate for the unwary of $83 a day. Most non-passholders are actually paying $50-60 per day. The one "benefit" of increasing visitors here is more lifts going in. All old, tho.
 

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