The Snow Gauge

Running the rule over the ski & snowboard industry since 1995

$US189 for a day’s lift pass: would you?

Posted by on Jan 5, 2017 in Australia, United States | 2 comments


When my sister and her family decided to spend two months travelling around the US in December/January, including a month’s skiing, my advice was simple: Get an Epic Pass for everyone.

For $US850 per adult even into late November it was a no brainer and she devised a trip taking in Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Park City, Northstar, Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar. The pass would then be valid for Perisher in Australia for the 2017 Winter.

Even so she was still aghast when she bowled up to Vail this week and saw the walk-up price for a day pass: $189 or $260 Australian dollars. Ouch.

The Vail Resort Group’s strategy has been genius or to the complete detriment of the casual skier or snowboarder – depending on who you talk to or what you read.

CEO Rob Katz makes no apologies for the approach – in a weather dependent past time he says it gives the company financial stability (last season’s Epic Pass sales reportedly brought in $US263 million) and pre-season sales account for 40 per cent of the company’s lift ticket revenue.

He also quite reasonably says it makes the core product cheaper for families (if you’re prepared to buy the season pass that is) while engendering loyalty to the Vail brand. Read more about Rob Katz and the Vail experience in this excellent article

But that $US189 day pass? It still has to hurt those non-Vailevers and it is worth considering the opposite side of the coin.

Epic pass

Not here for a haircut. Shaun White endorsed the earlier versions of the Epic Pass

I’ve alluded to this interesting take by Powder Magazine before which floated the other side of the argument – that casual skiers and snowboarders were getting priced out.

One stat that certainly stood out in the article came from the National Ski Areas Association in the US citing that the number of skier visits that came from households with an income of $US100,000 and above had increased by 12 percent from five years prior to 2013, to 54 percent. But skier visits from households making less than $US100,000 dropped by 12 percent, to 46 percent. The median age of skiers also rose from 34 to 38.

It was only back in 2008 that the Australian Alpine Club was bemoaning that Australia had the most expensive lift passes in the world, Perisher ($98) and Thredbo ($97) both eclipsing Vail ($92) in the day pass stakes.

How things have changed. Eight years on with the current exchange day passes at the two Australian resorts are less than half the price of those at Vail.

Now that Perisher is owned by the Vail Resort group could the day pass cost escalate like it has in Vail and to a lesser extent the group’s other major resorts such as Breckenridge and Heavenly (Note: the Vail Group has kept prices for passes in their smaller resorts on the US east coast under $60) ?

Probably not.

In Australia the market is different. In what is effectively a duopoly in the state of NSW between Perisher and Thredbo, the former would be hard pressed to get away with a significant price hike.

But it was also interesting to note how late Perisher left it to announce their day pass rate in 2016, literally right up to the cusp of the season before anything was mentioned. Were they considering sliding a price hike through perhaps?

Like Natalie Imbruglia I do find myself a little torn.

I’m kind of horrified by the thought anywhere in the world of a $A260 day pass but the reality is I wouldn’t pay it. The reality is also the Epic Pass also represents excellent value and even more so if bought early in Australia where it is possible to enjoy a week’s skiing at Perisher and a week in the US for little more than $A50 a day.

Perhaps the solution is for a competitor to offer unlimited riding across various resorts and maintain a sensibly priced day pass. But as no-other North American conglomerate owns multiple resorts like Vail, that simply isn’t going to happen anytime soon.



  1. how many people actually buy single day tickets ? It sounds like the hotel rack rates that no one ever pays, but the hotels discount from.

    Look at Copper Mt. A day pass there is US$146, but buy lift passes as part of a package through an Australian wholesaler & a family ticket costs as little as US$20/day, which is for 1 adult & up to 4 kids. Not each but total & the really big benefits are, you get a SECRET PASS, which allows you to use a ski school type line, where there’s never a Q & also you can get on 15 mins before the public opening time, ie. 2 or more runs before the public are allowed on.

    Vails strategy, either has not been well thought out(as will lead to even longer lift lines), or as some are predicting, will lead to 2 types of lift pass. An A pass, which could work like a secret pass above & a B pass, where you wait & wait & wait in line forever. Vail already has long lift Q’s. They have light boards telling you where the shortest Q’s are, but by the time, you get there, everyone else has also.

    Suggest that an A type pass, might cost a lot more. At Copper, it US$30/day extra to get a secret pass, if you don’t have one included in your package. Vail might charge US$50/day or more to upgrade.

    I think I’ll stick to Copper Mt. The skiing is better anyway & much cheaper & have better things to do than stand around all day in lift Q’s with a bunch of figjammers.

  2. no figjammers at Copper Mt either. Vail is full of them.

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