The 2020-21 U.S. ski/snowboard season turned out to be the fifth best with 59 million skier visits according to the industry trade group National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). It was a strong recovery from the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. Much of the credit goes to robust sales of value-added season passes like Ikon, Epic and Indy Pass, flexible working schedules that allowed consumers to participate during the week and a desire to be outside during the stressful pandemic.
While those “affordable” season passes continue to attract a healthy audience, at the other end of the spectrum are lofty prices for lift tickets on “peak days”. The leader of the pack is Steamboat with a whopping $269 one day pass. The prices below reflect “peak days”.
It was not surprising when the industry’s product supplier association, SnowSports Industries America (SIA), announced recently that the increase in skier visits was largely due to those who skied more frequently (as opposed to adding more skiers and snowboarders). That audience tends to skew toward those who purchase season passes.
According to the SIA report, 28% of skier visits were by people who skied seven times or more last season compared to the previous winter’s 26.4%. Those who skied one time decreased from 41.4% to 35.8%. Snowboard frequency was relatively stable at 31.8% last season and 30.3 the previous year for those who participated seven times or more.
More dedicated skiers and riders are likely to be those who purchase season passes since you only have to pay once and you can go as many times as you want. Few beginners or lapsed skiers and riders are likely to shell out several hundred dollars for a season pass if their participation plans are uncertain or limited. The possible exception, especially for beginners, is the Indy Pass which now includes 80 resorts and is priced at $299 for adults and $125 for kids. The Indy Pass caters mostly to smaller resorts that still offer plenty of value and terrain for this just learning. The current pre-season price ends November 30.
Vail Resorts did make headlines this past summer by reducing the cost of its full Epic Pass from $979 at the beginning of the 2020-21 season to $783 for this coming season. That deal ended September 1 but another “discount deadline) is November 21. (Current price is $819). Most would still consider this a good deal when compared to the peak day prices now being charge at some destination resorts.
What does all of this mean for the industry at large? Those who know they will ski or ride often are catching a break while those who may only be able to participate on the more popular days may be getting priced right out of the market. Even non-peak day lift tickets are pricy compared to the passes and only a finite number of people are and willing to take advantage of a season pass deal. About three percent of the U.S. population participates in the sports.
Despite having a relatively healthy season, last winter was a doozy for ski/snowboard resorts coping with mask mandates and restrictions on riding lifts. It is too soon to know if resorts can operate like pre-covid days but a few resorts are open and it won’t be long until early season indicators start kicking in. On the business side, major worries are lack of staff and over crowded slopes.
November 14th 202