The Way We Were: Inflation And The Cost Of Lift Tickets
The year was 1966. An adult midweek lift ticket cost $7 at Stowe or Killington. The next year we paid $35 for five days of midweek skiing and lessons.
In 1970 a busload of New Jersey teens paid $70 each for five days of lifts, lessons, lodging, and two meals at Whiteface. (Charter bus paid for through our Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Ski Club bake and candy bar sales.)
In 1972, our ski club trip to Austria cost $279 per person—airfare and transfers, seven days lodging, two meals included.
In 1974, the seven-day Aspen/Snowmass club trip (airfare, transfers, quad 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 now. And ski trips, well unless you are staying with friends, the food alone could cost more than that 1970 trip with four people per room.
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 Data.com shows that “Total inflation from January 1966 to January 2012 is 612.78 percent.”
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 cost $49.91 (in inflation-adjusted dollars).
So to answer the question, 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 during the 2011–12 season, you beat the $49.91 adjusted price!
Some examples of the latter: The Pico 4-play ($24.75/day) was a steal and Killington’s K-4 Play ($49.75/day) was a good deal, too! The early season pre-buy of Killington day tickets 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 when compared to the inflation-adjusted cost.
A local skier boasted that he had gotten what he considered great deals (2011– 12) with $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.
Yes, he was a happy-to-pay skier who felt he got tremendous value both from what the modern resorts offer in the way of snow and lifts and the variety from being able to ski more than one resort inexpensively.
With a season pass, skiing cheaper on an inflation-adjusted basis depends on how many days you ski. If that averages to less than $49.91 per day, you are indeed skiing for less now.
A senior who skied 19 times on the Early-Bird 2011–12 Pico Midweek Senior Pass averaged $8.68/day vs. my $20 for eight days worth of skiing there.
However, my eight days only consisted of three to four hours a day versus the seven to eight hours I skied per day in the 1960s.
Therein lies a major bonus—I actually got in more runs due to faster quads and no long lift lines! I could go home and work or do other things, which in today’s time-crunched world means I could fit my much needed exercise and recreation into my busy days.
The Many Millions Factor
Let’s suppose you paid full “window rate” for an adult day ticket in 2011– 12: $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 in inflation adjusted dollars than when 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, halfpipes, childcare/instruction options, nicer lodges, better food choices, and vastly expanded terrain.
In the last five years, more than $20 million was invested in capital improvements at Pico and Killington.
Lisa Swett observed, “Thanksgiving Friday of 1984 or 1985 I skied seven runs all day using the Killington double chair. Today, you can get seven runs on the Superstar chair in one-and-a-half hours.”
Bottom line: more skiing and the total experience is better.
Plus, given the extremely warm weather of 2011–12, it is doubtful you could have skied more than a few weeks or a month tops without today’s costly state- of-the-art snowmaking and grooming.
Lest you think I exaggerate, consider that in 1979–80 (worst winter with a Vermont skier-visits drop of 35 percent), the upper third of Okemo Mountain was skiable for only five days due to low natural snow—just 54 inches total that year. Okemo did operate on the lower two-thirds of the area for 120 days thanks to round-the-clock snowmaking (75 acres) on 80 of those days. But in 2011–12, with just 120 inches of natural snow, Okemo operated 122 days thanks to snowmaking (605 acres), which kept the upper mountain open from day one.
“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,’” commented Okemo VP and General Manager Bruce Schmidt.
Early Birds Can Ski Cheaper
Most ski areas now offer Early Bird (EB) rates if you purchase passes before a spring or summer deadline.
Here’s a look at Killington’s 2012–13 adult pass Early Bird options (purchase deadline April 26, 2012) 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), nine days.
Killington’s College Pass ($309, offer good to Aug. 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 seven times beats the inflation-adjusted rate.
Okemo’s Peak Pass ($1,119, unrestricted access to Okemo and Mount Sunapee) requires 23 days to beat the $7 ticket. The Midweek ($339, ages 7–69) requires seven days (and includes skiing at Stratton) while Super Seniors ($235, 70+) need five days.
Just as “the early bird gets the worm,” so, too, can dedicated EB-pass purchasers enjoy comparatively cheaper days on the slopes—to say nothing of the improved terrain and conditions and faster lifts for more-vertical-per-hour skiing.
Seniors and college students may luck out cost wise in today’s dollars, but kids 6 and under beat all with free skiing at many areas! As with college rates and many senior offerings, this perk wasn’t even available in 1966!
So before you complain about the high cost of skiing and riding, research the rates available to you at your favorite area(s) and don’t forget to go online to check out the steals and deals, and then compare what you are paying today to the ticket rates of that 1966 season when we had slow lifts, little if any snowmaking, and clothes and equipment that were nowhere near as high functioning compared to what is available today.
I leave it to you to fiddle further with trip rates and inflation, but one thing is for sure: We benefit from the exercise, fresh air, and mountain environment just as we did in the “good old days,” but with all the terrain extras and après-activities available to us today, the memories we’re making now just can’t be beat!
(Adapted from the March 28, 2012 edition of The Mountain Times.)
Photo: Pico, Vt.
This article appeared in Tips, Turns, and Tales, a book published by the Eastern Ski Writers Association (ESWA) in 2013 in honor of their 50th anniversary. The book celebrates skiing's history and milestones, along with fun memories from past and current members. The 330-page paperback (more than125 B/W photos) can be ordered by mailing a check (payable to ESWA) for $20 to: Pat Turner Kavanaugh, 935 Fernwood Ave., Plainfield, NJ 07062. Please include recipient's name and mailing address and allow 14 days for receipt of book.
Reprinted as part of SnoCountry.com’s “The Way We Were” series with permission from the authors and the Eastern Ski Writers Association.