Silhouette of Ski Lift at Dusk File photo. Photo Credit: j2chav (iStock).

File photo. Photo Credit: j2chav (iStock).

With single-day tickets at some American resorts priced at $200 or more, the recent economic downturn may have some people reconsidering trips to the mountains this winter. After all, on top of being an expensive hobby, skiing is also a hobby where the experience is far from guaranteed – weather could be bad, lines could be long, terrain could be closed, etcetera. Sure, a season pass helps to alleviate some of financial burden, but only for those who plan on visiting the mountains enough for the season pass price to make sense. Even then, passholders are still subject to outside factors that impact their ski day experience.

What's one possible solution? Offering a 'pay-per-lift ride' option.

Imagine a world like this – you arrive at the mountain on day one of the season with your credit card linked to your season pass. Instead of paying for the pass itself, you've spent nothing at this point.

Throughout the day, you ride the lifts you want to ride as your pass keeps track of your activity. At the end of the day, you get charged per lift ride – not the static price of a lift ticket. Perhaps the price per each specific lift varies. Maybe riding a massive gondola costs 'two rides' while a trip up the bunny hill costs one. Either way, the system would have resort guests paying a price that directly correlates with mountain resources they actually use compared to a system where the casual user subsidizes the cost for the heavy user.

For example, let's say you visit your favorite ski resort and take two lift rides at a cost of $15 each for two great runs, but then you bump into some friends that you'd like to have lunch with. Instead of worrying about getting back to the slopes to maximize the hefty price of a pre-purchased lift ticket, you could be more flexible without it costing you. Maybe you hit another run later in the day or maybe not – either way, you're not wasting value. Or maybe a calm morning turns into a wind-scraped afternoon and you'd rather call the day short – again, at no loss of value to you.

Not only would a system like this give more power to the consumer, it would also put more pressure on resorts to improve the skiing experience in order to get people to keep taking laps. What about the heavy users that are most passionate about sport? Maybe there's an 'unlimited laps' pass or the full season pass option also remains available.

Granted, there's one big caveat – resorts probably wouldn't be too excited about this approach.

After all, why give people a cheaper option when it's already possible to charge a big price and still have big lines? Plus, given the massive cost of running a resort, it's likely these companies rely on many guests purchasing high-price tickets and passes without using them to their full potential. This could be compared to how gym use statistics impact the business model in that industry – only about 18 percent of people with a gym membership visit the gym frequently with the greater share of non-frequent users covering a majority of gym costs.

Perhaps an economic crunch could lower skier demand and maybe that results in resorts getting creative with their pricing in order to bring people back to the hill. Perhaps one option might be a 'pay-per-lift ride' system. 

We'll have to wait and see.

A couple notes from the author: First, this is a brief write-up about this topic and all angles aren't addressed in this piece. It's meant to stimulate conversation about the idea, nothing more, nothing less. Second, maybe there are resorts that already use this approach – I've tried tracking one down, but haven't found any. If this approach exists, it must not be too widespread. The most similar system that comes to mind would be how some resorts offer pay-per-ride cat skiing or heli-skiing. I've also heard of resorts offering mountain bikers a pay-per-lift ride deal during less crowded summer months. If you know of a resort that uses this approach for skiers already, shoot us an email. We'd love to look into it. I can be reached at spencer@outtherecolorado.com. Several readers have reached out with past examples of similar programs being used, including an example from Japan and a 10-punch lift pass that could be purchased at Alta – both examples coming from the 70s, as well as a few examples from East Coast resorts in the 90s.

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(2) comments

Jackie Treehorn

This will only happen if the resorts are forced into it due to large drop in guests or a large player like Vail adopts it.

82nd Airborne

Living on a fixed income, that's about the only way they'd get me to pay!

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