Lift tickets, like lifts, go up and down
December 23, 2003
By Susan Wood
Tribune staff writer
Lake Tahoe ski resort ticket prices appear to be all over the map this season, with one North Shore area dropping its rate by $17 and South Shore’s largest going up by $4.
And over the holidays, many resorts are raising their rates more.
To see what drives the passion for the snow sports, one may only need to look at a gas station.
Many say: you gotta ski – just like you gotta drive.
Recommended Stories For You
As hinted months ago by its parent company’s chief executive officer, Heavenly Mountain Resort’s adult full-day lift ticket price went up to $62 – the highest at the lake. Last year, it was $58. Over the holidays, it will be hiked to $64.
“I didn’t even notice (the price). I just want to ski,” Rosalio Esparza said Tuesday, while coming out of the lift ticket line at Heavenly’s California Base Lodge.
Esparza was excited about skiing – especially with the superior coverage Mother Nature has dished out so far this year. Being from Mexico, his last run on the slopes was four years ago. This was his first time at Heavenly.
A regular skier every season, Laura Levi of Los Angeles has stayed the course of spending more than she wants to on her vacations.
“You’ve practically got to be a millionaire to ski lately. Vacations are expensive. But I think people will pay anyway, and (the resorts) know it,” she said.
Logan Hagaman of Flagstaff prepared to get 3-year-old Luke out on the slopes. Being under age 4, her son can ski for free at Heavenly. And like other resorts, there are multi-day discounts.
The father wasn’t surprised Heavenly’s adult lift ticket price went up because he skis in Colorado, where Vail Resorts’ full-day pass has now reached $73.
Aspen and Stratton Mountain in Vermont are close seconds, charging $72 a day.
Last year Vail charged $71. Bill Jensen, its chief operating officer, points to the resort’s prestigious top ranking in the nation and its reasons for being there as the motivating factor.
Vail cranked major capital improvements in Heavenly this year, including two new chairlifts. The Canyon Express quad helps alleviate the lift line at Sky Express, which whisks skiers to the summit. The Big Easy chairlift opens up new terrain to beginners at the gondola endpoint.
A trend that mushroomed at Colorado resorts, season pass sales have taken over for many riding enthusiasts seeking the bang-for-the-buck deal. With Heavenly’s $299 season pass that started last year, sales went through the roof as skiers discovered they could redeem the expense in fewer than six visits.
The trend brings out a different market of skier who may take to the slopes for a few hours, instead of feeling obligated to put in the full-day workout.
Katja Dahl, spokeswoman for Squaw Valley USA, believes there are several reasons people opt for season passes.
“It provides the convenience for people to come and go as they please,” she said.
Dahl added its season pass rate of $1,599 has delivered the best sales year ever, while its lift ticket price went up by $1 to $59 to mainly “cover operational expenses.”
Booth Creek Resorts has found its two north and south shore resorts deliver products that appeal to different markets.
Sierra-at-Tahoe’s ticket price dropped $4 to $49 for the regular ski season in response to a community service survey that told the South Shore resort management that guests were seeking a value, spokeswoman Nicole Belt said.
Despite a raise in the price over the holidays by $10, the drop in the regular rate seems to return to lift ticket prices set a few years ago.
In 2001-02, the adult lift ticket cost $50 – $2 higher than the previous year. It was $2 less the year before.
In the season pass war, Sierra’s key success has been the Double Whammy pass for $299 that shares the rights to ski with its sister resort, Northstar-at-Tahoe.
Like its neighbor, Squaw, Northstar’s lift ticket prices also went up by a buck to $58.
“It’s a different market. When we survey the guests there, their guests say they’re looking more at the mountain,” Belt said.
Alpine Meadows guests have been enjoying a significant drop in its adult lift ticket price to $39 this season, spokesman Brad Wilson said Tuesday. Last year, it was $56.
Like Heavenly, Homewood Mountain Resort has joined the ranks of ski resorts offering multi-day passes. Homewood’s discounts translate into $5 off the rate for every day purchased.
“Increasing our multi-day discounts was another way in which we could increase the value of a day at Homewood,” said Dave Achey, general manager.
Joining the upward trend, Kirkwood has nudged its lift ticket prices this year by a few bucks. Over the holidays, adult all-day lift tickets cost $61.