I'll let you in on skiing's dirty little secret. Get a bunch of people in the industry together, close the door, add a few cocktails and within 5 minutes someone will say, "If I didn't work in the sport, I couldn't afford to ski." Soon, everyone will be nodding their heads in agreement.
But put these same people on a panel for a public presentation or around a dinner table with non-skiers and they'll talk about the great value in today's lift ticket, the superior performance of modern skis and the convenience of high-speed lifts. For some reason, we're all willing to acknowledge the high cost of skiing to each other, but not to the public.
Then there's the industry apologists who always trot out the tired chestnut that skiing isn't really expensive. Just look at the lofty prices of greens fees, they smugly say. Skiing is a comparative bargain. Sure, a $56 Steamboat lift ticket is an old-fashioned fire sale compared to $330 greens fees at Pebble Beach, Calif. But all that proves is that families can't afford to play golf more than they can't afford to ski. Just try to hammer that concept into a "Go Skiing" advertising campaign this season.
I once heard ski insider Bob Beattie tell a roomful of equipment manufacturers that they were as responsible as the resorts for pushing away new skiers with high prices. Unless you're looking to amass points on the World Cup circuit, you don't need new skis every year. But you'll never hear the gear guys tell you that. They're too busy hyping $800 over-engineered boards that 90 percent of skiers don't know what to do with.
Run the numbers on taking a family of four on a ski vacation, and it's amazing that skier visits have only remained flat for the past 20 years and not dipped precipitously. With the high cost of food, lift tickets and gear, even an outing to the local hill is becoming more of a special occasion than a regular family activity. That's everyone's loss.
I'd love to see this MasterCard ad on television screens across America this winter:
Atomic Beta Race Titanium skis: $925.
Nordica GP World Cup Boots: $695.
A Deer Valley five-day, Christmas week lift ticket: $434.
The price of enjoying a family ski vacation...