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April 25, 2006

Economics of Being a Skier

Last week, I wrote about the Economics of the Ski Industry, and was commenting to a post at Highly Obsessed about the Housing Crisis at many resorts.

Just for sake of argument, let's assume that you are lucky enough to live within 6 hours of a resort. Figure that is LA or San Diego residents going to Mammoth or Brian Head or San Francisco residents going to Tahoe, Phoenix going to Sunrise, etc. You are just out of day trip distance, so you have to stay overnight. For two days (drive early and ski one, stay over night, ski day two, drive back that day), you spent $100-200 on gas, $150 on lift tickets, $50 on food, $100 on hotel room. That is $400-500 for a two day trip and if you are lucky you can get two or three buddies to split the cost of the gas and hotel. Even split 4 ways, the trip still costs around $300 and that is for two days.

Not including rentals or the cost of equipment, how does a young person afford the trip? You either have an awesome job, someone else paying the bill (mommy or daddy), or are involved in some kind of illegal activity. If you live at a resort and have a season pass, the cost comes down tons, but is still sick expensive.

Basically, our sport is filled with either hardcore guys who are willing to earn $7.50 an hour and work at the resort for their season pass, or rich folks. There is a third category of locals that have better paying jobs within driving distance and have season passes, but these tend to be older folks, not teens and twenties. I sometimes wonder where I fit in to that equation. I certainly am not rich, but found a niche where skiing at an off the beaten path resort and having season passes, as well as buying a low cost condo and fixing it up has made it affordable. But it is still expensive. I am probably the season pass local guy that has a real job, but since I bounce between Phoenix and Brian Head, I still spend the money on gas.

The sport is a sport of haves. There are no have-nots. There are some dudes that show up with 20 year old skis and wear their work coveralls, but now a pair of ski pants costs almost $100. I ebay my skis, bindings, and boots; shop end of season for jackets, pants, gloves, etc.; have a condo at the resort; and have season passes. I have about $3,000 in equipment, between my skis (2 sets), wife's, kids' (3 sets), and snowboards (2). Got another $2-3,000 in jackets, pants, gloves, etc. Own a condo ($1000 per month). And pay $1000 for the season passes for me, the wife, and the kids. The only thing making it afforable is ironically, the rising home and condo prices at the resort. My condo has gone up almost $50k in value in 6 months alone.

The Irony of things is the affordability of the sport for me is directly tied to the increasing property values of my condo. The higher prices go, the easier it is for me to justify continuing to own a condo at the resort and continuing to ski there. Even if I don't ski, I would end up like most of the other condo owners in our complex and have a place that I rent out and make money off the appreciation.

I do my best to make the sport affordable for friends and family by letting the use the condo for free and by arranging to carpool to the resort. By helping them find deals on equipment. But in the end, the sport is fast approaching being completely out of reach for most people. And were it not for my condo and season pass, I certainly could not afford to ski more than 5-10 days a year.

Posted by Justin at April 25, 2006 02:41 PM


You are right, it's not cheap to be a ski bum but skiing is one of those sports that people will structure their lives specifically so they can do more of it. I waited for years to get married so I could chase the big storms in Colorado in Utah. Once I got married I knew I'd have to live in a resort to keep up my skiing and pass it on to my kids. I worked a ton this season and still got in 49 days. Most of those days were just two hours or so long but most of them were also powder days during an epic winter here in Steamboat and many of them were with clients who insisted I get out to talk with them between runs.

You have also worked out a pretty good system to balance the demands of work and family while sharing priceless time on hte slopes with your son. I admire you for that.

Posted by: Steamboat Springs at April 25, 2006 05:15 PM

I want and treasure experiences. I was debating the merits of baseball with Wil over at 120 Days a while back and he mentioned his grandfather and the time that they spent going to ballgames together. I want my boys to remember the times we spent skiing. What car I drive will not mean much in 30 years, but my time with the boys will. My time at Suns games or on the slopes means more than making that extra little bit of cash or that overtime check.

And that is the challenge for many of my friends. The sport is something that they love, but not enough to ski 10 days and make a season pass a good investment. Not enough to take time off work. And most certainly not enough to make a living in a resort town and get a season pass by running a lift.

Posted by: Justin B at April 26, 2006 12:30 AM