Senior skier not thrilled by Powderhorn’s pass pricing

Mid-September snow layers the ski trails on Aspen Mountain as the state’s ski resorts begin to feel the exitement build for the 2011-2012 ski season. Record snows last winter led to the nation’s resorts recording 60.54 million skier visits, the second time ever the total was more than 60 million.

The recent story about season pass prices being lowered at Powderhorn Resort brought an enjoyable and well-conceived response from Henry Miller-Jones, who splits his residence between Grand Junction and Reston, Va.

Miller-Jones accurately pointed out that not all skiers are seeing a price break.

Skiers 70-74 this year are paying $329 for a season pass compared to $75 last year, a 400 percent jump.

The ski area is “sticking it to seniors,” Miller-Jones said. “For the older of us, 70-75, our price has gone up over four times the price of the same ticket last year (and all the years before).”

When I asked Powderhorn owner Andy Daly about the senior pricing, he said a recent change in the resort’s age categories created Miller-Jones’ dilemma.

“We changed the senior range to what is more traditional in the ski industry right now,” said Daly.

Last year, senior skiers at Powderhorn were separated at 60-69 years and 70-plus.

This year, the age grouping is 65-74 ($329, midweek is $259) and 75-plus ($75).

Last year, any skier 70 or over paid $75 for a season pass.

“There have been some changes in the categories but at the same time, if you look at the skier (days), the older skiers are counting for a lot more skier days than a lot of other average season pass skiers,” Daly said.

“In effect, what was happening was the older skiers were being subsidized by the younger skiers.”

While ski resorts everywhere have been raising the age limits and ticket prices for older skiers, there isn’t a standard age for a “senior” skier across the industry.

Telluride, for example, sets 65 as the minimum senior age and charges $599 for a season pass.

At Vail, you have to be 65 to qualify as a senior, while Aspen has both a premier senior (60-65, $1,500) and a premier silver at 70-plus for $400.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, the median age of skiers/snowboarders is increasing “due to gains in the proportion of visitors aged 45 and over.”

The ski areas association’s study indicated the proportion of visitors aged 55-64 has increased from 4.6 percent to 9.6 percent of the total while the proportion aged 65 and over has gone from 2.4 percent to 4.3 percent.

“Specifically, skier/snowboarder visits by participants aged 45 and over have surged from approximately 8.6 million visits in 1996/97 to 16.5 million visits in 2010/11 — a jump of 93 percent,” the NSAA study said.

That older group has been a “real boon” to an industry suffering from a dip in younger participation, said Troy Hawks of the NSAA.

Last year, there were a record 60.54 million skier visits nationwide, according to the latest Kottke End of Season report.

But all that isn’t going to appease Miller-Jones, who would like more flexibility in Powderhorn’s pricing increase and something tangible for his higher lift tickets.

He once suggested, to no avail, to previous Powderhorn owners that simply adding footrests on the chairlifts would increase both comfort and skier enjoyment.

“That way, most adults would not mind so much sitting and waiting with their tired legs dangling in the cold en route to the top while youngsters who no longer seem to learn how to ride a chair lift continually cause the lift to be stopped by indulgent lift operators when they fail to get on properly,” offered Miller-Jones.

“Mr. Daly? Want to consider it?” asked Miller-Jones, recovering from knee replacement surgery and expecting to ski after Christmas. “Hey, do it before next February, and I will pay $329 for my pass!”

Email Dave Buchanan at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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