Arizona Snowbowl Peak Day lift ticket is $309
Well, at least I won’t misunderstand them all. Eleven days after I predicted that any US ski resort would break the $300 mark for a one-day lift ticket has happened. And it happened in a place I never expected:
It happened because 5 million people live in metropolitan Phoenix and this is the only place for skiing. It came about because Elk Ridge, the nearby beginner’s hill owned by Snowbowl’s parent company Mountain Capital Partners (MCP), has been idle for years while local advocacy groups bicker and close a potential relief valve. It happened because MCP pumped tens of millions into the joint, built four new chairlifts in the last eight years, and operated a Rube Goldberg snowmaking system five miles and 10,000 feet up the mountains from Flagstaff. It happened because lift tickets have become a niche product reserved for the ignorant and unprepared. And that’s because in a country where Big Pharmaceuticals can raise the price of life-saving drugs by thousands of percentage points on a whim, we’ve all grown callous to ostentatious consumer price tags.
Three hundred and nine dollars for a day of skiing. More than two decades ago, when I was very drunk and the closing time was 2 a.m., I gave a reluctant 7-11 clerk $50 to walk out of the store with a case of Miller Lite (sorry craft beer bro) . I ran out of options and wanted more beer (we proceeded tossing several bottles across the parking lot). That was stupid and made no sense, but it happened.
People will do stupid things when they run out of options is my point here. Those who want to go skiing at the last minute currently have no options. And the ski industry is reacting a little recklessly by charging things like $309 a day of skiing. “You do realize this is a capitalist economy, right?” Yes, I do. Thanks for that Free Market Bro. I’m so glad someone invented social media to give you a global megaphone through which to betray your inhumane and simplistic worldview. Here are some factors that complicate this reasoning:
Arizona Snowbowl is on US Forest Service land, as are most ski resorts that sell lift tickets over $200. So it’s not, “Oh, here’s a strapping individualist who built this whole operation with a handsaw and a kegerator.” This is land that we all own collectively and that a private developer gets to improve for public use. Don’t the property owners have a say in pricing? The Forest Service has to approve everything else, from lift placement to snowmaking infrastructure to new construction and parking—why doesn’t the agency need to approve prices?
Every federal state ski area has a so-called comfort carrying capacity (CCC). This is a suggestion, but it should be a hard limit. People in the ski industry like to say, “Well, you don’t come to the airport to buy a plane ticket” to justify the insane prices of lift tickets. But a 737 holds 189 people. If a hundred extra people show up, don’t just charge them ten times that and leave them in the aisles.
It looks awful. Why does everyone hate US pharmaceutical companies? Because they charge a lot more than they should, while spouting excuses from the Jargonator 5000 about “innovation” and “customer choice.” Skiing does the same. If the goal is to make skiing elitist and out of reach for everyone, it works.
Arizona Snowbowl doesn’t have to do this. The ski resort can simply say it’s sold out after selling any number of lift tickets plus an estimated number of season pass holders that match its CCC. The funny thing is, I don’t even think $309 is the cap – tickets start at $19 and seem to go up in increments forever. I asked an MCP representative if Snowbowl had a cap on the number of lift tickets sold.
“No,” said announcer Kyle Sawatzke. “We believe in giving everyone the freedom to ski and giving everyone the opportunity to ski. Our prices are heavily discounted for those who buy online and in advance, and as more people buy on select dates, ticket prices will increase.”
Which I think means we could crank $309 if the mountain sells enough passes at that price. Sawatzke declined to specify whether anyone had actually purchased a $309 lift ticket.
I think the mountain could achieve this freedom in other ways. MCP offers an excellent multi-mountain product called the power pass. The most affordable version of this product is still available for $699 (it debuted for just $299 in the spring) and includes four days of use in Snowbowl, Purgatory, and Brian Head (along with unlimited or near unlimited access to MCPs others Mountains). The company has a big upsell opportunity here: “Sorry, the Snowbowl lift day passes are sold out for Saturday, but you can still ski with the purchase of a $699 Power Pass.”
While $309 lift tickets are bad looks for Snowbowl, which really should get all the positive attention as America’s most developed ski area of the 1920s, a deeper look at the mountain is worth taking Lift ticket prices reveals a more nuanced story. While lift tickets hit $309 again this Saturday, they’ll drop to $54 next Tuesday. You can book a lift ticket for every Saturday in April (Snowbowl stays open many years through May) for only $29. You can still get a free one – for free – Power Pass for children under 12 years old. This isn’t the Vail-Alterra model that said “Oh you didn’t buy a season pass six months ago, sucks being you – here’s a $259 lift ticket to ski on a Tuesday” at the ticket counter. It’s, like MCP itself, a bit quirky and different, an outlier. The next ticket prices for Snowbowl:
I still wish they would stop doing that price hike thing or whatever you want to describe it. A central theme of The storm is that you can ski a hell of a lot for not a lot if you use your wits and read this newsletter and stories like this really screw up my narrative. Friends and acquaintances who don’t ski often ask me: Where should I ski? My answer if you were to ask me that question right now is a version of “2024 after you buy your passes in two months”.
This newsletter focuses on the ski lift experience. However, as we all know, there is much more to skiing than lifts, terrain and passes. Sturmski Podcast Editor Patricia is more interested in the après and the whole lifestyle dimension of skiing than the actual skiing, and she’s documenting our off-piste adventures alongside skiing on a new Storm Instagram account: