Among all the gear you'll need to bring if you're planning to go downhill skiing this winter - skis, boots, poles, helmet, goggles - nothing may be more important than your wallet.
The average cost of a single-day, adult lift ticket at many of the big ski resorts in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine has slowly crept close to or past $70 - and that's the weekday and non-holiday rate. If you're planning to ski or snowboard on the Saturday of President's Day weekend or any other winter holiday, expect to pay more - in some cases $80 or more.
An Enterprise review of single-day lift ticket prices at ski areas in northern New York and New England this winter found the two state-run ski centers in the Adirondacks, Whiteface Mountain and Gore Mountain, are in the middle of the pack in comparison to similar-size facilities. Compared to Vermont's top ski hills, Whiteface and Gore are more pricey than Jay Peak, Smuggler's Notch and Bolton Valley, but are less costly than Stowe, Killington and Sugarbush.
A skier in January prepares for the super-steep drop of Lookout Below, one of the new trails that opened last year at the state-run Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington.
(Enterprise file photo — Richard Rosentreter)
At Whiteface, lift ticket rates for the winter of 2009-10 were recently posted on the ski center's Web site. An adult, one-day, holiday pass is $79 while the non-holiday rate is $74.
Those rates are unchanged from last winter, but some people still think they're way too expensive.
"I love Whiteface, but I think $79 is ridiculous," said Rob Vidile, who works at the Maui North ski shop in Plattsburgh. "That's way too high."
2009-10 LIFT TICKET RATES
(adult, one-day, mid-season, at selected ski centers)
Whiteface Mountain (Wilmington):
Gore Mountain (North Creek):
$64 (weekday, non-holiday)
$71 (weekend, non-holiday)
$34 (weekend, holiday)
Mount Pisgah (Saranac Lake):
$25 (weekend, holiday)
Big Tupper (Tupper Lake):
$82 (Saturday and holiday)
$89 (Saturday and holiday)
$82 (Saturday and holiday)
$59 (Saturday and Sunday)
Mad River Glen:
$69 (weekend, holiday)
$66 (weekday, non-holiday)
$74 (weekend, holiday)
Sunday River (2008-09):
Vidile said he can understand resorts in Vermont that have more amenities charging $79 for a ski pass.
"They offer a lot more, so maybe they can charge more for a lift ticket," he said. "But why should I pay $79 for a lift ticket at Whiteface?"
Lift ticket rates at Whiteface have increased from $49 for a non-holiday pass in the winter of 2001-2002 to $74 this coming winter. Holiday lift ticket rates have gone from $54 to $79 over the same period.
Whiteface conducts a competitive analysis each year before setting lift ticket rates, according to Marketing Manager Bridget Hinman. She said they look at resorts in Vermont, other ski areas in the East and the ski industry as a whole in North America.
"We're right in there with our competitors in Vermont," Hinman said. "We're not the highest; we're certainly not the lowest. We try to be right in the middle."
Hinman said Whiteface is holding lift ticket and season pass rates steady this year, in part because of the economy.
"We just couldn't go into the $80 range until we see if the economy turns around," she said. "We also have to keep our revenue in line with expenses. At the end of the day those are the prices we have to meet our responsibilities."
Like other ski areas and resorts, Whiteface offers a slate of specials, including $38 lift tickets on most Wednesdays and $35 passes on select Sundays. Hinman said those deals can be attractive to people who can't afford the mountain's normal prices.
"We have these opportunities, and we try to be sensitive to local folks," Hinman said. "It is sticker shock for some folks, but there are ways around it."
Brian Delaney, owner of High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid and an avid skier, said he thinks lift ticket prices at Whiteface are lower than a lot of other places.
"Stowe is really expensive, and the average out west is $90," he said. "We're watching our pennies, and I'm sympathetic to what people have to pay, but I love to ski. And you can get a season's pass or find discounts."
While lift ticket prices are holding steady at Whiteface this winter, rates for holiday passes have increased by a few dollars at Gore Mountain in North Creek, which is also run by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority.
An adult, weekday, non-holiday pass costs $64 while Saturday and Sunday lift tickets during non-holiday periods cost $71, the same as last season. But a holiday pass costs $74, which is $3 more than last winter.
Asked to explain the increase, Emily Stanton, Gore's marketing manager, said they've been working on several improvements including snowmaking upgrades, new trails and glades, renovations to Gore's base lodge and the new Ski Bowl Lodge.
"We always try to make sure that if there's any rate increase, it's accompanied by several new improvements for the guests to enjoy," Stanton said. "Despite a few-dollar increase, we make sure people are getting a better value at Gore than they were in the past."
Stanton said the rates for holiday periods have increased because Gore opens more lifts and terrain for the bigger holiday crowds and offers special events during holiday periods. She noted that Gore has several specials, packages and discount cards for those looking for a deal.
"If people do a little research into our frequent-skier products and ski-and-stay packages, you never have to pay full price at Gore," she said.
Asked how Gore's rates stack up with other ski areas, Gore Manager Mike Pratt said they're on par with central and southern Vermont. He acknowledged that skiing is an expensive sport but said it's worth the money.
"Everything is expensive in this day and age, and you have to make choices," Pratt said. "But for the quality of the experience to recreate in the outdoors and the quality of the product, skiing is a good value."
Darryl Karl of High Adventure Ski Shop in Latham, near Albany, says many of his customers travel to Gore each winter. While the cost of skiing can be an issue, he finds people are willing to cough up $70 or $80 if the conditions are good.
"When the snow is good, people do go," he said. "They're willing to pay as long as they know it's going to be a good experience."
Karl said he's watched lift ticket prices climb at both Gore and Whiteface, but he noted that both ski centers have spent millions of dollars on improvements and expansions in recent years.
Scott Brandi of Glens Falls, president of Ski Areas of New York, said it's expensive to run a ski center.
"It costs a lot of money to build chairlifts, put in snowmaking systems, pay insurance, personnel and energy costs," he said. "For anybody to think the ski area operators are sitting back and counting the piles of money, that couldn't be further from the truth. They're squeaking by."
Some say Whiteface and Gore shouldn't be charging New York residents, who contribute taxpayer dollars to the state-run ski areas, the same rates as out-of-state residents.
"It's state supported," Vidile said. "It shouldn't be as expensive. It should be a little discounted."
Asked if state residents should pay less to ski at Whiteface and Gore, ORDA officials say they don't want to undercut privately run ski areas.
"Rather than devalue our product or try to undercut a competitor, we offer a quality experience at a fair price," Pratt said. "It's a good value."
Brandi said owners of privately run ski areas don't want their state tax dollars used to take their business away.
"I've always admired Gore and Whiteface in that they price their product based upon what the market demands," he said. "They haven't given the product away."
Both Whiteface and Gore scheduled to open for the season on Friday, Nov. 27.
For those who can't afford the big resorts and ski centers, there are plenty of smaller and more affordable downhill ski areas to consider like Titus Mountain in Malone and Mt. Pisgah Ski Center in Saranac Lake. The Big Tupper Ski Area in Tupper Lake is scheduled to open for the first time in 10 years this winter, with one chairlift, due to the efforts of a group of volunteers. Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg is also opening this winter for the first time in four years.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.