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Ski resorts increase daily lift ticket prices to push season passes

The 2022-2023 ski season at Deer Valley Resort.
Eric Schramm
Deer Valley Resort
The 2022-2023 ski season at Deer Valley Resort.

Resorts including Park City Mountain and Deer Valley are charging higher prices for walk-up daily lift tickets this winter. It’s an effort to get more people to buy season passes.

On peak days this winter, Park City Mountain will be charging $299 for a one-day lift ticket. A peak day ticket at Deer Valley will cost $289.

Stuart Winchester is the founder of The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast, and spends his time interviewing ski resort managers and breaking down the industry’s pass products.

He said the high daily rates are an effort from Vail Resorts and Alterra to sell more passes.

“They want that revenue in advance to make their business more predictable,” Winchester said. “They have come to understand that, watching other industries like the theme park industry, that they can charge a premium for people who walk up at the last minute. And if you look at the infrastructure in Park City and Deer Valley and the number of high-speed lifts they have and the number of groomers they run and the amount of staff it takes, it’s actually not that hard to imagine how you get the $300 for a lift ticket.”

Vail Resorts, owner of Park City Mountain, created the pass product model in 2008 with the inception of the Epic Pass. A decade later, Deer Valley owner Alterra announced its competing product, the Ikon Pass. Both passes offer access to more than 40 resorts throughout the world. At current prices, an Epic Pass is going for $949, with the Ikon Pass over $1,200.

Winchester said the push towards season passes has proven successful for the companies. The National Ski Areas Association reported pass holders made up half of all visits to U.S. ski areas during the 2022-23 season. Season passes have accounted for a greater share of visits than day tickets for four winters in a row.

Ironically, Winchester said the mega pass model has helped independent resorts.

“If you look at Jackson Hole’s recent sale and the fact that they stayed independent, a big part of the reason they were able to stay independent is because they have a steady stream of money from the Ikon Pass,” he said. “The Ikon Pass, which sort of brought them into this big mass market mega pass - a lot of the locals didn’t like that - but in truth long-term the Ikon Pass probably shielded Jackson from being bought by Alterra or Vail.” 

He said that case may be similar for other independent mountains, like Snowbasin, Telluride, and Taos. Smaller resorts are also seeing a boost in traffic from people who don’t want to deal with corporate mountains.

“I just got off the phone with Andrew Gast, who’s the general manager of Mount Ashland in Oregon, which is a small nonprofit in the southern part of that state," Winchester said Thursday. "And he said he has people coming - a good percentage of his tickets from places like Tahoe - where they can easily go to places like Palisades Tahoe and Heavenly, because that experience has gotten out of control. So they’ve had three record years in a row at Mountain Ashland, and that echoes what I’m seeing from independent ski area operators all across the country. They're having a really, really strong run because people are seeking out an alternative to the mega pass environment and they really like the smaller places.”

For people visiting Utah short-term, Winchester recommended the Epic Day Pass and the Mountain Collective Pass, which offers two days of access to Alta, Snowbird, Snowbasin, and a variety of other mountains including Jackson Hole, Aspen Snowmass, and Big Sky.