Park City • As she ordered another shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky from the bartender, Ryannon Padilla talked about budgeting.
Padilla knew a few months ago she would drive from her home in Albuquerque, N.M., to snowboard in Utah for two days. She began saving. There were no lodging expenses because she stayed with friends in Park City. She still had to pay for meals and entertainment, and the trip’s big item: lift tickets. Padilla planned to buy two day passes for about $200 each.
“That’s rent in New Mexico,” the 26-year-old Padilla said at a lodge inside Park City Resort.
The median, typical adult lift ticket costs $95 in Utah, according to an analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune. That’s the same price as resorts charge in Colorado, the Beehive State’s chief ski rival. It can cost even more to ski or snowboard on a holiday weekend. Deer Valley Resort will charge $209 on six days leading to New Year’s Eve.
“It’s not really a family sport anymore, is it?” Pat Kohler said as she was sliding her skis into the back of an SUV after a day of skiing at Deer Valley.
Kohler lives in Heber and grew up in Connecticut. The 77-year-old remembers teaching her children to ski when lift tickets cost $15.
If she were raising kids now? “We’d do cross country skiing a lot more,” she said.
Kohler has bypassed day passes in favor of paying about $1,200 for a season pass at Deer Valley that also lets her ski a few days at other select resorts.
Simon Hudson, a University of South Carolina professor who studies the ski industry, said resorts have set prices to encourage skiers and snowboarders to buy season passes. That’s partly because, Hudson said, many resorts now own more of the lodging and dining options available to skiers than they used to, creating a different incentive to keep skiers coming back.
Hudson also points to consolidation of the ski industry. Vail Resorts, for example, owns 37 ski resorts worldwide, including Park City Resort and adjacent Canyons Village. Down the road are two resorts owned by a Vail competitor, Alterra Mountain Co. It operates Deer Valley and Solitude Mountain Resort.
The consolidation has led to the creation of the multiresort passes and given birth to what Hudson calls “storm chasers.” They are people who live within driving distance of multiple resorts and can travel to the best snow.
“It is safe to conclude,” Hudson wrote in an email, “that many resort marketers feel they have no choice but to follow the Vail Resorts’ model and partner up with other resorts in reasonably priced season pass collectives.”
The multiresort season passes — with names like “Epic” for the Vail Resorts and its partners, and “Ikon” for Alterra and its associates — usually come with steep discounts if purchased months before ski season. That insulates the resorts from seasons with low snow totals.
“The hike in day ticket prices is deterring visitors from leaving ticket purchases to the last minute,” Hudson wrote, “even if they leave actual resort choice and accommodations to later.”
Like a quad chairlift ascending a mountain, the increase in lift ticket prices has been slow but steady. An adult day ticket at Solitude, for example, cost $68 in the 2009-2010 season and could be purchased for $53 at some Salt Lake City ski shops. This season, a Solitude lift ticket runs $115 at the window.
Emily Summers, a spokeswoman for Deer Valley, said in an email that the $209 rate there is for days the resort traditionally sells out — Dec. 26-31.
“Pricing is set based on research comparison of industry pricing and like resorts,” Summers wrote, “as well as our forecasted capacity over certain dates. We still limit our daily lift ticket sales and historically sell out during holiday periods, therefore resulting in a higher rate.”
If you don’t want to pay three figures for one day on the slopes, you don’t have to. Some resorts lessen the prices during the workweek. You can find coupons online and some ski shops still sell tickets cheaper than you’ll pay at the windows. There can be discounts for seniors and children. Some resorts even let kids ski free.
Or you can leave the Wasatch Front. The resorts in rural Utah tend to be cheaper. An adult lift ticket at Eagle Point Resort, 18 miles east of Beaver, costs $39.
It’s $40 at one Utah’s newest ski areas — Cherry Peak Resort, 4 miles east of Richmond and about 7 miles south of the Idaho line.
Robert and Debbie Bingham, of Oakley, bought five-day passes at Deer Valley at a price they said works out to about $90 a day. Although the Binghams are senior citizens, no discount was available.
“I’d pay $120 max,” Robert Bingham said, “and I’d have to think about it.”
“Deer Valley is pricing the younger kids, the college kids out of their market,” Debbie Bingham said.
Lots of skiers and snowboarders are still visiting Utah. Jim Powell, vice president of marketing for the Park City Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that the local hotels his office samples show bookings are up 1% over the same time last season.
Padilla came in under budget on the $200 per day she planned to spend on lift tickets. She arrived at Deer Valley to discover it doesn’t allow snowboarding. She instead went to Park City Resort, where the typical price is $179.
If lift ticket prices keep climbing, Padilla said, she’ll stay in New Mexico — “or I’ll invest in a [multiresort] pass.”