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November 03, 2007

Ann Arbor News has a Different Take on Affordable Skiing

Jim Carty has a great take on affordable skiing at the Ann Arbor News:

You could, incidentally, get four tickets to a Tiger game, with four cokes and four hot dogs for $40 this year ... just like you can get a Colorado Pass for around $400, or less than the cost of five single-day lift tickets to Vail.

If you adjust for inflation, I'd guarantee that four-for-$40 baseball deal is either as cheap, or cheaper, than you would have paid for a similar combination in 1960.

But unlike our apocryphal baseball purist, Ms. McClure ignores the fact that in many ways, skiing has never been more financially accessible.Season passes are, at most resorts, at an all-time low. Air fares and equipment are historically cheap and car ownership is at an all-time high. It's easier for a kid in Detroit to drive to Mount Brighton or fly to Vail than it was in 1960 or 1990.

The issue isn't really price, though, it's that ski areas and the people who run them do nothing to court urban, or even young, skiers because the big money is in attracting couples who have a combined family income of $250,000 or more and talking them into either paying $500 a night for a room, buying a $50,000 timeshare or fractional, or - if they have the bucks - spending $500,000 or more on a studio slopeside condo.

Is that elitist? I'm not sure. To me, elitism is when you actively limit access to a select few. It's still possible to ski just about anyplace outside of The Yellowstone Club for a pretty reasonable price ... if you plan ahead, buy used equipment and pack a lunch.

I'm going to do some more thinking on this one and update with a few more links later in the week, so check back then.

Agree. He hits a few points I have made for the last two years. First, Season Pass deals are all over. Second, the ski areas aren't doing enough to market to Urban Areas and middle class folks. And third, their biggest concern is keeping the wealthy folks that drop the big money happy and they don't want swamped with too much traffic or lower end customers.

I spend a lot of time highlighting pass deals (Colorado Pass, Big Sky Frequent Ski), lower cost resorts (Wolf Creek, Brian Head), and how to buy gear at the end of the season and on e-Bay. Skiing is accessible if you do all of these things, but you still gotta do pretty well financially to ski even then. But if you do these things it moves the financial threshold from $250,000 per year family income to around $100,000 per year. Still quite a hefty income category.

Just do the math. Family of four. Gotta have coats, ski pants, gloves, goggles, helmets (hopefully), thermals. I know my gear costs around $500 per person and you cannot buy this stuff used. I buy stuff at sales and am always looking for end of season deals, but a good jacket is still $125-150 and a pair of ski pants is at least $50. Gloves are $25 for a good pair. A set of good thermals is $30-40 for a cheap pair. Helmet is $50-75. Goggles are at least $40. And all this is low end to middle quality gear. We are pushing $500 for just the clothes. Let's assume that you own instead of rent. E-bay boots and skis and bindings and poles are going to run another $400 for anything even servicible. Let's call it $750 for per person for a family of four.

Then you have lift tickets. For a week, even getting a pass deal, let's say that you get a Colorado Pass for $400 per person. $1,600 bucks for four. Then you gotta stay somewhere. If you stay in a hotel in the next town, it may run $75 a night, but you have to rent a car. That is cheaper than a condo. Let's assume a week's car rental for a 2WD Camry is $200. Then the hotel is $500 for a week. Stop at Costco from the airport and get your food for a week instead of eating on mountain. We won't count that. Just the $150 you spend on an occasional energy drink, Mountain Dew, burger, slice of pizza, etc., in the lodge. Total of lift tickets and hotel is $2,500. You fly Southwest and get a steal from wherever into Denver. $100 a ticket. That is another $500 after airport taxes (and because I like round numbers). $3,000.

You have $3,000 for equipment (one time, but another $500 a year for replacement stuff that gets worn out or for gear the kids outgrow). Add in $3,000 for food, lodging, car rental, and airfare. We are at $6,000 for a week of skiing (all inclusive).

Now, do the projections. For a family of four at the top 10% of all income earners in the US threshold which is around $120,000 GROSS INCOME (again round numbers), that works out to spending 5% of your total gross income to take your family for a week of skiing, cutting every corner and lowballing it all the way. The only way you can do it consistently is to live in Reno, Seattle, Denver, or Salt Lake City, or any of the other smaller mountain communities where there are few if any jobs that pay $120,000 a year. If you live close, you can avoid most of the travel charges and use your Colorado Pass a lot more.

You cannot make affordable skiing affordable to most folks. If you are cheap like me, you can take your family skiing on $120,000 a year. Otherwise it is day trips to the local resort in Wisconsin or Michigan. You are not getting the Colorado Pass type deals.

I still think that the Sierra Club and rich folks don't want the resorts overcrowded.

Posted by Justin at November 3, 2007 12:36 PM