Friday, March 16, 2007

Essay Submission - What's a Day of Skiing Worth?

Do you think he's asking, 'Is this worth it?' - Whistler, CanadaLiving and working in Park City, Utah and watching the tens of thousands of people who come here to ski each season has me thinking. Are these people really getting their dollar's worth? Do they really care or is it more about the experience or getting away from the "Bob's" and TPS reports than it is about the money? Many of these people who come here are customers of ours. You may be one of them.

This week in Park City has seen temperatures in the upper 50's approaching the 60's. Trails are drying up, road bikers abound, shorts are appearing and there is no end in sight.

This week in Park City is also full swing as far as the ski areas are concerned with ski schools booked to the max, lodging at 90%+ occupancy levels, restaurants and shops at full capacity and the slopes will be packed. This brings me back to the beginning - if it were you coming to town, would it be worth it?

With that in mind here's a little essay that my friend Al wrote after visiting the U.S. from Europe for a ski trip last season. I'm posting it with his permission.

There's no doubt for me that skiing is worth it but I have a season pass and hike for turns more often that not. My question is - What's a day of skiing worth to you?


Nobody pretends that skiing is a cheap sport; some people even seem proud that they participate in a "rich man's sport" (although they mostly seem to be the types to tread on your skis in the lift line and flagrantly use their mobiles on the chair to bray at their brokers). But putting images of pitifully obnoxious people aside, the wildly differing sums I have paid for day lift passes this season - from €13.50 in St Pierre de Chartreuse to CAD$80 in Whistler - have got me wondering: just how much is a day's skiing worth? And why does the cost vary so much?

My days at St Pierre this winter had me grinning the whole time I was there and each time I have thought about them since. Reduced price tickets (due to certain lifts being closed), practically no-one on the mountain, fresh tracks all day and cheap and delicious lunches in the mountaintop restaurant were not only an excellent day's skiing and great value, but would have still been good value - easily "worth it" - at twice the price.

Jackson Hole, where the gutters run so deep with latte that the ladies must take care not to ruin their designer fur-effect cowboyIs this worth a $70 lift ticket? boots, appears to be one of the most outrageously expensive lift passes in the USA. For the princely sum of $70 a day (or very nearly $2000 for a season pass) you get access to a paltry 11 lifts and vertical that is considered pitifully small in Europe. On top of that the owners are pulling down the mountain's tram, the area's biggest (and in my opinion best) lift, supposedly because it costs too much to maintain. On a powder day I saw that you can have a LOT of fun on the mountain at Jackson and that it is "big" by American resort standards. But what are you getting for all those extra greenbacks that you don't get in St Pierre? Certainly the lifties who think they are air-traffic controllers ("I got room for one in car 98, one in car 98. Two please approach for car 99, two for 99...") are an amusing touch as are the boxes of tissues by each chair. Harder to laugh about are the long lift lines and crowded slopes I experienced there. So is the $70 worth it? Not to me.

On the other hand, friends have recently gone on heli-trips to Alaska and British Columbia where each run costs as much as a Jackson day pass. The packages they bought cost enough to pay for my entire last winter in the Alps, bar bill included. "Was it worth it?" I ask. "You bet!" they say. They all said they skied the best snow of their lives, were fantastically looked after and had an amazing time. Perhaps when you get to that level the cost becomes a trivial factor in the experience; I can't really say as I have never gone on that type of trip. Suffice to say, it is lucky none of them spent a week on a helicopter and only to ski breakable crust.

Whilst I wouldn't heli-ski for now (not on my account at least) and found the skiing at Jackson heinously over-priced, the conversations overheard on the lifts thereWhat would you pay for this ski experience? were indisputably priceless, one of the best being a rant about the plummeting price of cocaine in New York: "It's so cheap ANYONE can afford to take it now," the lawyer shouted. It was then that it dawned on me why they charge so much to ski there: because they can and people will still pay to go there. If the French were to charge the same money for the same skiing experience they would be laughed out of business faster than you can say "freedom fries"; in America there seem to be enough people (predominantly aging baby-boomers) willing to pay absurd sums for their lift passes that resorts get away with it.

The sad truth: the cost of the day's skiing, even more so in America, has nothing to do with any relative "worth", it is actually a question of how much resorts' operators can squeeze out of their consumers. The owners of Jackson Hole must laugh themselves to sleep every night. But after my next day at St Pierre just try wiping the smile off my face.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Al's "sad truth" is that "the cost of the day's skiing ... has nothing to do with any relative 'worth'." But this is plainly wrong: A day of skiing in the Alps is apparently worth far less than a day of skiing at Jackson. We know this because people are apparently willing to pay more for a day in Jackson. (Although, surely the day of skiing in the Alps should take into account transportation costs for Americans, and the opportunity costs of taking time off for travel, as well as other amenities.)

The point here is not that the cost has no basis in relative worth, but that it's entirely based in relative worth. Just because it's not worth it to Al, it's obviously worth it to others, who have made other choices (and who value their time or comfort more highly than he).

3/16/2007 12:54 PM

Blogger powstash said...

^ good comment ^

Thanks for chiming in. Relativity is, well, relative and thus differs tremendously between individuals. Even if when presented amoung a small niche of outdoor enthusiasts like skiers.

3/26/2007 1:22 PM


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