The Mountain Times

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Inflation and the cost of lift tickets: When was skiing cheaper?

The year was 1966. An adult midweek pass at Stowe or Killington was $7.

The next year we paid $35 for five days of skiing and lessons midweek.

In 1970, a busload of teens paid $70 each for five days of lifts, lessons, lodging, and two meals at Whiteface. (Charter bus paid for through ski club fundraising.)

In 1972, a trip to Austria cost $279 /person -plane, 7 days lodging, two meals included).

In 1974, the 7-day Aspen/Snowmass trip (plane and bus, lodging, skiing, breakfast) cost $279.

Some of us remember $21 tickets (early 1980s) or family season passes that cost less than one adult season pass today.

No question, we pay more dollars to ski/ride today.

But when you factor in inflation, do we really pay more for our lift tickets?

The inflation factor

To see what the $7 adult day ticket would cost today, a check with Inflation shows that "Total inflation from January 1966 to January 2012 is 612.78%."

   "The U.S. Inflation Rate Calculator gives the percentage of increase in prices over a period. Something that cost $1 in 1966" becomes $1 + ($1 x 6.1278) or  $7.13 today. To adjust that $7 adult ticket to take inflation into account, it is multiplied by $7.13 and today would be $49.91.

To answer the question above, it depends on where you are skiing and what you are paying and even to what year you are comparing the ticket. Sometimes it is less expensive or the same on an inflation-adjusted basis; other times, more expensive.

X factors and value

If you paid $7 for an adult day ticket in 1966 but you paid $25, $29, $39, or $49 per day this year, you beat the $49.91 adjusted price! The Pico 4-play ($24.75/day) was a steal and the K-4 Play ($49.75/day) was a good deal, too! The early season pre-buy of Killington day passes at $50 and early and late season rates - even frequent skier card options (depending on number of days used) and some internet deals came close on the adjusted rate.

A local skier boasted that he had gotten $29 Vermont resident rates at Pico midweek (non-peak) before he switched to the Pico 4-Play. He also purchased a Stratton 2X Card and paid $39/day at Stratton after his $69 Card purchase, which included a free day.

With a season pass, it depends on how many days you ski. If that averages to less than $49.91 per day, you are indeed skiing cheaper.

A senior who skied 19 times this year on the early bird 2011-12 Pico Midweek Senior Pass with protection plan, averaged $8.68 vs. my $20 for 8 days.

Jonathan Celauro, who works at the Basin Sports shop, says the best "bargain" is the full Pico Pass ($349). If you bought a 1982-83 Pico season pass ($365) its inflation adjusted value of $843.88 would substantiate that claim even with the decrease of two days operations.

Celauro averages 100+ days a year, noting most days consist of six runs or 7,000 vertical feet. He gets a Killington "blackout pass," observing that when he used to pay $679 early bird price, he considered that a bargain but his work-perk Merchant Pass ($379) is even better.

 Lisa Swett who works at Aspen East noted that the guys in the shop usually average 100 or more days on their blackout passes, but they ski half days as they also work. Customers who ski weekends and holidays tend to get the traditional full pass and some average 70-80 days. Many families with younger kids average 25 to 30 days ($41.96 to $35/day), which is still a deal, she noted.

Owen Murphy, who has worked at the Inn at Long Trail for 17 years, skied 200 days last year (2010-11) and notes that since 2003-04, he's never skied less than 152 days a season. He adds the special 'deal days' at other areas to his local ski days, noting all "put a smile on my face" although some "days" may be as little on an hour or two on the hill.

The many millions factor

But let's suppose you paid full "window rate" for an adult day ticket this season: $62 weekends/$65 peak periods/$49 midweek at Pico; $86/weekends/peak periods and $79/midweek at Killington; or $84/weekends/holidays and $77 midweek at Okemo.

You paid more (Okemo was $6 and Pico $6.50 in 1967) but look at what you received for your money: millions upon millions of dollars worth of fast modern lifts, snowmaking, grooming, terrain parks, superpipes, childcare services, nicer lodges with better food choices, and vastly expanded terrain. In the last five years, $20+ million was invested in capital improvements at Pico and Killington alone.

Lisa Swett noted that, "Thanksgiving Friday of 1984 or 1985 I skied 7 runs all day using the Killington Double Chair. Today, you can get 7 runs on the Superstar Chair in one-and-a-half hours," she noted.

Bottom line: more skiing and the total experience is better. 

Plus, given this year's extremely warm weather, it is doubtful we would have skied more than a few weeks or a month tops without snowmaking and grooming.

Lest you think I exaggerate, consider that in 1979-80 (worst winter with Vermont skier visits drop of 35%) the upper third of Okemo Mountain was skiable for only 5 days due to low natural snow - just 54 inches total that year. The area did operate on the lower two-thirds for 120 days thanks to round-the-clock snowmaking (75 acres) on 80 of those days. This year (120 inches natural snow) Okemo operated 123 days thanks to snowmaking (605 acres), which kept the upper mountain open from day one. While it is to be expected that the warmer and shorter 2012 season will mean skier visits dipped from recent record years, they will likely still come in several times over those of 1980.

"When we look back in the record books there will be an asterisk which will say, 'No help from Mother Nature, the Okemo team did it all on their own,'" said VP and General Manager Bruce Schmidt.

While complaining about day-ticket cost is common, consider what you receive for your inflation-adjusted outlays, and seek out the bargains!

Early Birds can ski cheaper

Here's a look at Killington's 2012-13 adult pass Early Bird (EB) options (purchase deadline April 26) and how many days are required to ski cheaper on an inflation-adjusted basis (to beat that $7 ticket).

The Unlimited ($1,049) passholder has to ski 22 days; The Blackout ($729) Passholder, 15 days; the Midweek Passholder ($429), 9 days.

Killington's College Pass ($309, offer good to August 30) is valid every day of the 2012-13 season at Killington and Pico for full-time undergraduate and graduate students. A student who skis just 7 times beats the inflation-adjusted rate.

Pico's 5-day season pass ($349, deadline April 26) requires 7 days to hit the $7 adjusted rate, and if you add the new $99 option to ski to one (non-peak) Tuesday or Wednesday per week at Killington (during Pico's season), 9 days are required. Seniors 65+ pay $249 so just 5 and 7 days (with option) are required to make this a cheaper option by comparison.

Okemo's Peak Pass ($1,119) gives unrestricted access to Okemo and Mount Sunapee, requires 23 days to beat the $7 ticket. The Midweek ($339, ages 7-69) requires 7 days while Super Seniors ($235, 70+) need just 5 days. These and other EB rates are good till April 30.

The new, no-exclusions Okemo Millennial Pass ($499 until April 30) benefits ages 19-29 (17 and 18 qualify with proof of college enrollment). If a Millennial passholder skis 10 days, the inflation-adjusted cost per day is equal to paying $7 in 1966.

Seniors and college students may luck out, but kids six and under beat all with free skiing! As with senior/college rates, that perk wasn't available in 1966!

Just as the early bird gets the worm, so too can skiers and riders today as they can enjoy comparatively cheaper costs per day on the slopes to say nothing of the improved terrain and conditions and faster lifts for more vertical per hour skiing.

Tagged: skiing, inflation, ski prices