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Vail Resorts to limit number of day lift tickets during 2022-23 season

Cap is meant to prevent overcrowding and maintain a quality experience for skiers
Long lines Dec. 28 at Vail's Chair 5. (Scott Willoughby/Special to The Colorado Sun file)

Vail Resorts will limit the number of high-dollar, walk-up daily lift tickets sold every day of the coming ski season.

The cap does not apply to season pass holders, skiers taking lessons or employees. The cap, a company statement said, is about “our guests’ experience at our resorts.”

Walk-up day tickets – which cost more than $225 at the company’s largest resorts last winter – will be capped daily after online limits are reached. The largest ski resort operator in North America limited walk-up sales on 23 days during three holiday periods in the 2021-22 season.

Vail Resorts does not expect to sell out often, company spokeswoman Lindsay Hogan said.

“This is a lever that will let us manage the experience on the most popular days without having to change the experience for our pass holders,” Hogan said.

The company on Monday announced plans to open Keystone in mid-October, followed by Breckenridge and Vail on Nov. 11 and Beaver Creek and Crested Butte on Nov. 23.

Last winter, Vail Resorts closed ticket sales at least once at each of its four resorts along Interstate 70 – Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail. The company sold a record 2.1 million season passes and advanced lift tickets for 2021-22 after cutting prices for the passes by 20%. That’s an increase of more than 700,000 tickets and passes over the 2020-21 ski season.

The company reported $373 million in income in February, March and April this year, about $100 million more than the same quarter in 2021. That marked the best three months in the company’s history. Colorado’s 28 ski areas logged more than 14 million visits for the 2021-22 ski season, setting a record.

Vail Resorts retained last season’s discount for 2022-23 season passes. The company has a long-term goal of having 75% of its lift ticket revenue come from skiers buying tickets and passes long before the lifts start spinning. That business strategy removes the fickle flow of revenue based on snowfall, with skiers flocking when the snow piles deep.

Ticket window at Vail ski area on Nov. 17 in Vail. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun file)

Vail Resorts is plowing a record amount of investment into its ski areas for 2022-23, with $300 million in capital projects that include 18 new chairlifts. (That investment is down from announcements last fall and earlier this year that it was planning $320 million in improvements, including 19 new chairlifts. The decrease comes after the Forest Service shut down construction of a new lift at Keystone after the company dug a road and disturbed alpine terrain beyond its permitted construction area.)

The company also is directing $175 million toward pay increases for employees, employment perks and training programs, which includes bumping starting pay at all its resorts to $20 an hour.

The number of destination skiers – vacationers who travel overnight to ski – buying Epic Passes has nearly doubled in the last two seasons. And despite reports of overwhelming crowds last season – which were troublesome because of a shortage of workers – Vail Resorts said most of its growth in visitation came on weekdays and off-peak periods. Visitation to the company’s 37 North American ski areas in 2021-22 grew by 8% on weekdays and non-holidays compared with the previous season. Weekends and holiday visits declined 3% in 2021-22 compared with 2020-21.

Vail Resorts in June said its North American ski areas averaged only one day during the 2021-22 season where visitation exceeded 95% of historic peaks. Only six of its 37 resorts had more than one day last season where visitation exceeded that 95% threshold.

The company credited this dispersed visitation to the increase in pass sales with ski-anytime pass holders spreading their ski days across the calendar.

Vail Resorts also reported in June that pass sales for the 2022-23 season were pacing 9% ahead of pass sales at the same point last year.

The Vail Valley has been 95% full during holidays for more than 30 years, said Chris Romer, head of the Vail Valley Partnership.

“Our peak volume has not changed,” Romer said. “What’s changed is more people here on a year-round basis. We have seen an uptick in midweek traffic and off-peak traffic.”

Romer said ski town marketers have been pushing for that kind of growth in non-holiday and midweek visitation for 25 years. Then when it finally comes, it coincides with a labor shortage and employees missing work with COVID-19, which left ski areas short-handed and unable to open new terrain to accommodate crowds.

“I’m glad to see them taking proactive steps on how to manage peak-time travel,” Romer said. “This being a free market initiative that a private entity is taking without needing pressure from the federal government or a town or the state, is innovative. I think this will be a remarkable case study.”

The towns of Breckenridge and Vail collect a 4.5% sales tax on lift tickets, which includes revenue from season pass sales. Last year, the town of Vail collected a high of $5.5 million in lift ticket taxes from Vail Resorts, up from $4.1 million in the pandemic-shortened 2020 and $5.3 million in 2019. The town of Breckenridge collected a record $4.2 million in 2021, up from $3.3 million in 2020 and $3.6 million in 2019.

Both Vail and Breckenridge ski areas regularly rank among the most visited ski areas in the country, with visitation above 1.6 million. The company does not break out visitation to individual resorts.

Limits on lift tickets “are based on a lot of things,” Hogan said. The calculations are different for each resort and are based on available terrain, historical visitation numbers, current season visitation modeling and more, she said.

“It all comes down to prioritizing the on-mountain experience for our guests,” Hogan said.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.

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