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Season Pass Pricing: One Number, Two Interesting Lessons

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Analyzing resort marketing is fairly easy when it comes to social media, SEO, and print ads. For the most part, the marketers behind the scene are wearing many tactics on their sleeve. The tricky part, however, comes when talking about price. How do you analyze price, how do you compare resorts with so many variables that lie deep in marketing plans and on income statements?

The last few days have seen a fair bit of brainstorming and reading for me, but in the end I decided to try to find a single number. A number that I was incredibly interested to see both on an individual level and a nationwide average. The number can be expressed in the form of a question. Simply put:

“How many days would I have to ski paying the full lift ticket price for it to have been more cost effective for me to buy a season pass?”

I’m going to call this number the “SBSP”, or “Shoulda Bought a Season Pass”.
Note: Before I jump into specifics, let me tell you that this is an analysis in progress. So far I have taken data from only 25 resorts across 9 states. I semi-randomly chose at least one large, small, and medium resort from each state to get the figures I used. I took the average lift ticket price between mid-week and weekend rates and compared them against a full “7 days a week” season pass.

Across those 25 resorts, the average SBSP was 12.86. In other words, if I skied only at that resort, unless I ski more than 12 times, I’m better off buying single day passes.

As you may have guessed, larger, destination resorts with lots of add-ons tend to have a higher SBSP. Resorts like Big Sky and Mammoth both have SBSPs above 17. On the flip side, smaller, mom-n-pop style ski areas have much lower numbers. Wolf Ridge, NC and Toggenburg, NY both have SBSPs below 8.5. Only one resort had a whole, non-decimal number (10) which was a little surprising as well.

Proximity of resorts and terrain featured also seems to play a role. In Ohio, Boston Mills / Brandywine and Snow Trails have different daily and season rates but have identical vertical drops and acreage. The SBSPs differ by only 0.04 for these two hills that are within an hour or so drive of one another.

I expected there to be trends among the states: mountains with big verticals and deep snow would vary from small mid-west resorts with a lift for every run. The only thing that seems to hold true is how each resort compares relatively to other resorts in the area. Bittersweet, MI and Great Divide, MT are almost identical on pricing and SBSPs but the similarities end when you compared Great Divide’s 1500 acres to Bittersweet’s 100.

I see two interesting results thus far.

  • First, that “ski areas” don’t seem to be able to charge as much for season passes as “mountain resorts” regardless of daily lift ticket prices.
  • Second, we can also begin to see that how big and fancy YOUR resort is doesn’t seem to be as important as how big and fancy your NEIGHBOR is when it comes to setting a price for season passes.

What I can see, albeit from a distance, are the resort’s add-ons that may influence pricing. I hope to combine number of lifts, trails, vertical, acres, hotels, off-snow activities, proximity to major cities, etc. to see which of these add-ons seem to carry the most value or if it just a matter of tapping into the value of a resort’s brand.

But like I said, I can only see so much when it comes pricing. Unknown are the percentages of revenue that season passes and tickets account for various resorts (if anyone is willing or able to share these numbers from their resort, I’d be extremely interested).

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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