How much does it cost to ski? While a simple question, the answer is basically “it depends”.
Historically (and oversimplified), it used to be somewhat easy to understand the answer to this question by looking at the window rate at any given ski area. That means, if I walk up to go skiing or snowboarding at X Resort, I will pay $Y when I arrive and pay at the ticket window. However, as ski resorts have transitioned to online advanced sales, measuring the cost of skiing or snowboarding by the cost at the ticket window would be the same as measuring the cost of flying by the price of an airline ticket purchased at the airport.
The cost of heading out on the snow these days can land anywhere on a spectrum of quite cheap to very expensive, and understanding how lift ticket pricing works can help you find the best value for your needs.
Balancing affordability with predictability
At Liftopia we work with ~250 ski areas, and have some really interesting data about what the true cost of skiing is. We do our best to help skiers and snowboarders understand how resorts are pricing so that they can do what all of us want: ski or ride more or give skiing and snowboarding a try. We also work hard to help resorts price their ski tickets in a way that balances affordability for the customer with predictability for the ski area – because at Liftopia we want this industry to thrive in the long term.
Liftopia has helped usher in a move towards dynamic pricing in the ski industry to help achieve this balance. As more ski areas adopt this practice, the question “How much does it cost to ski?” becomes more complex to answer, but I hope to distill the answers down a bit for you. For this discussion, I am going to focus on the cost of lift tickets (even though Season Passes are a great way to ski for less).
Traditionally, the cost of skiing came down to a single factor:
- Where you go skiing*
*Sometimes resorts had different rack rates for days of week or holidays.
In today’s world of dynamically priced ski tickets, there are two additional factors at play in determining how much it will cost to ski:
- When you go skiing
- When you buy your ticket
While the first factor above has always been a driving factor behind the cost of skiing, it is no longer the only driver of cost. Thanks to dynamic pricing, it’s now possible to offset the effect of skiing at a major destination ski resort, by buying your ticket in advance for a low demand day. The timing of your purchase and the decision of when to go skiing have become even more important in the past few years as resorts focus more on demand-based pricing (something that Liftopia helps resorts with).
To give you the two ends of the spectrum of cost you have:
Where you land on this spectrum is tied to the decisions you make about the components of the formula. Resorts have always been on a spectrum of cost; they have always worked to add value in up-sell products like rentals, and they often had different prices midweek vs. weekend. But the biggest difference in ski resort pricing today versus 10 years ago (when Liftopia first started) has to do with the “when you buy” piece of the formula.
Understanding how the timing of your purchase and the decision of when to ski can affect the price of skiing is important to help you make the most of this ski season, so let’s go through each factor on its own.
When you go
The basic idea behind demand based pricing stems from trying to price each day in accordance with its value. A sunny Saturday day with great snow conditions is inherently a more valuable experience than a Tuesday day at the end of March when the snow is thin.
Liftopia works with ski resorts to help resorts price as close as possible to the actual value of the day. In general, peak holiday days tend to be most expensive, off peak midweek days tend to be least expensive.
Below is a snapshot of the current price available (as of this writing) for a single day ticket in Vermont during Christmas Week versus Vermont during the 2nd week in January:
A few words about the products that you buy
Fine tuning the value you get out of your ski experiences (beyond when you go and when you buy), it is worth considering how many days you ski, and it is worth considering buying bundled products. In many cases a resort may be interested in encouraging you to buy a rental, lesson, or other premium product in advance – so look for bundles to further take advantage of buying in advance.
Next, a bit of focus on the When you buy component.
When you buy
Over the past 10 years, many ski areas have shifted a significant portion of their ski ticket sales online. This change is partly driven by customer expectations for web and mobile purchasing but also driven by a desire for predictability through selling tickets to customers in advance of their ski date. Most ski areas will reward customers with a savings for buying in advance. In general, the farther in advance you buy, the higher the savings will be. In a sense, ski areas are rewarding you for committing to skiing with them in advance. You can think of three months out as a huge commitment met with great savings. In contrast, when you buy at the Window, you’re only committing at the last moment, and therefore pay the highest price – just like you would expect to do if you bought an airline ticket at the counter at an airport.
For the 15/16 season, window rates across ski areas on Liftopia are up about 9% – whoa, that sounds pricey! But given the focus on “When I buy”, this year more than ever you will see that skiing has only become more expensive if you wait to buy at the window. If you purchase in advance for the right ski dates, you may even find it possible to ski more days for less than you paid last season. Paying a premium at the window kind of makes sense? No one buys their flights at the airport anymore, we all know that if we do we’ll pay a premium. We at Liftopia work closely with ski areas to help them optimize the lower prices they are able to give customers in exchange for their commitment, so that they can offer those prices in a way that is good for their business (giving them predictability in both cash flow and operations, knowing how many of you are going to show up on any given day).
With that, while window rates across the continent are up about 9%, the cost of buying in advance has not shifted meaningfully, and in some cases buying certain days in advance has become even more affordable – this is based on us helping resorts identify opportunity in their data on Liftopia to offer more savings to you when the data suggests they can do so without jeopardizing the long run success of their business.
To capture the value of buying in advance, we’ve put together a series of graphs depicting each day’s price under different scenarios ranging from buying far in advance to buying at the window. The first one shows this year’s window rates compared to the best price you could get if you bought in advance:
Next we can see how the prices rise if you wait to buy until one week before the trip date, the effect is most extreme for high demand days:
And here is a snapshot of the average expected rate for those same dates if you WAIT TO BUY until two days out.
And finally, here is a snapshot of the average expected rate for those same dates if you WAIT TO BUY until 6am the morning of:
You can see where it goes from here – with the highest prices being last minute, at the window rates. If you want to play with the data yourself – take a look here.
So in the end, this is now a very complex answer, but the point is that in many ways skiing is more affordable than ever. And if you are willing to be flexible with when you ski, where you ski, what you buy, and most importantly when you buy – you will be able to make good on what we all say we’ll do every season: ski more than we did last season.