Perhaps you've seen the hand-wringing news stories about the high price of a ski lift ticket this holiday period. It's a media obsession at the start of every season. OnTheSnow has countered virtually every year that if you walk up to the ticket window and buy a one-day holiday lift ticket at full price, your head is either buried in the snow or money is of no concern to you.
The first big hurdle was breaking the $50 line. That one caused plenty of angst. Then came $75. Resorts hovered at $49, then $74 as long as they could. Now, we have Vail charging $108 between Christmas and New Year's at the ticket window while rival Aspen/Snowmass sits at $99. Telluride is $89 and Steamboat $97. Whistler/Blackcomb in BC is CAD $94 (US $92). Prices drop virtually everywhere after the holidays.
Here's our advice if you haven't yet figured it out. Don't buy one-day tickets on the day you plan to ski or ride at the resort ticket office. It has always been a no-brainer for skiers and snowboarders. It's the same scenario that applies to buying airline tickets. The further out you buy them, the harder you search for deals, the more you can package it all up with lodging, the less you will pay.
You beat the Vail Resorts prices (at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Heavenly) by buying your lift tickets online seven days before the day(s) you plan to be on the mountains. No, they still won't be inexpensive, but you will shave a decent percentage off your credit card bill.
Never buy lift tickets by the day if you plan on skiing several days. Multi-day passes save considerably and some deals let you take a few days off, perhaps skiing four or five out of seven days.
Anyone who lives in the Colorado Front Range (Denver and environs) knows discount lift tickets are readily available for purchase at supermarket chains such as King Soopers during non-holiday periods. Californians find deals to Lake Tahoe resorts at Lucky supermarkets.
Lift ticket prices are indeed climbing at resorts across the country, especially during the holidays. Planning on skiing at Northstar-at-Tahoe (a recent acquisition of Vail Resorts)? You'll pay $92 at the ticket window for that single day right now. But, you can ski or ride for as little as $39 at more intimate Tahoe-Donner.
New England prices are up, but aren't yet approaching the need for a "C" note. Vermont's Okemo Mountain Resort checks in at $81 for the holidays, but drops to $76 for a 2-day pass. Classic Stowe Mountain Resort is $84, but you'll save 15 percent off already discounted multi-day (must be consecutive day) rates. Loon Mt., N.H., charges $76, but 2-day e-tickets are $122. Boyne Mountain in Michigan lists holiday single day price at $66.
Liftopia is an online service that offers discounts on ski lift tickets and other services, such as rentals and repairs. A check on Dec. 22, however, showed no lift tickets available at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, or Aspen/Snowmass, but there were several days during the week between Christmas and New Year's where tickets at Copper Mt. and Winter Park were still available for prices from 23 percent to 55 percent off, but they were very limited in quantity. There were plenty of other Liftopia-discounted tickets at resorts across the country as well.
Liftopia's Ron Schneidermann has some extra advice: Ski or ride on Christmas Day. "Anyone who's been out on the slopes knows that Christmas week is one of the busiest times of the year, but when it comes to skier visits on Christmas Day itself, it can be a very slow day." Liftopia has a special Christmas Day Sale with lift tickets at numerous resorts coast-to-coast at prices ranging up to 68 percent off list. See link below.
Skiing and snowboarding is no different than any other product or service driven by market demand. You can beat the system if you try.
More information: Liftopia Christmas Day Ticket Sale
(Note: Mountain News Corp., publisher of OnTheSnow.com, is a subsidiary of Vail Resorts, Inc. The OTS newsroom is operated independently and without influence.)