Cheaper Ski Lift Tickets Now Come With a Rain Check

Photographer by Andre Schoenherr/Getty Images

For nine years, San Francisco-based Liftopia has pushed its pricing algorithms on the relatively old-fashioned ski industry. It can, it says, identify the ideal ticket prices on days when many skiers aren’t willing to pay the standard, steep rate. (The general pitch: It makes more sense for a mountain to sell 10 lift tickets for $73 than nine for $80).
The problem with buying tickets in advance, however, is being stuck skiing in freezing rain or some other unforeseen and unpleasant condition. This year, Liftopia is adding a new wrinkle to its menu of online ticket options: flexibility. Skiers will still find a full slate of discounted lift tickets, but now—for a bit more money—they can use the ticket on a different day. ”If we’re doing our job right, weather shouldn’t matter,” explains the company’s chief executive officer, Evan Reece.
Here’s an example. Late yesterday, Liftopia was selling a Feb. 3 “value” lift ticket at Killington, Vt., for $59, far less than the resort’s standard $84 midweek rate. For an additional $5, at $64, one can make this a “Value Plus” ticket that can be transferred once at no charge, provided the skier pays any price difference Liftopia’s pricing engine spits out. For $69, Liftopia sells the “Flexible” ticket, which has the same conditions but can be changed as many times as one wants.

Source: Liftopia

Liftopia hopes this will push ambivalent skiers off the fence. In the U.S., skiing volume has been relatively static for the past decade and hasn’t fully recovered from an anemic snow year in 2012.

If keep-your-options-open pricing works, it will help resorts not only boost revenue but shift some of that revenue to slightly earlier in the season, a bonus in a business that still largely rides on weather. Last year, the average Liftopia customer bought a ticket just nine days before using it, according to Reece.

On sales calls, Reece likes to point out how much technology resorts put into high-speed lifts and making artificial snow. Why wouldn’t they want to do something equally cutting-edge with their pricing? “It’s not a fast-moving industry, but it’s light-years ahead of where it was when we started,” Reece says.

This season Liftopia will sell tickets linked to some 250 resorts, including Aspen, Mount Snow, and Squaw Valley. Nearly half those mountains will pay Liftopia to take over their websites and manage prices for tickets they sell directly. As a private, venture-backed company, Liftopia won’t reveal financial details; Reece says that at some resorts, $7 out of $10 dollars flow through its platform.

Meanwhile, Liftopia’s pricing engine is getting better-tuned by the season. The more people browse and buy, the smarter the company’s algorithms. Reece hopes Liftopia will cultivate a new crop of skiers—those who have been put off, thus, far by steep prices and snooty marketing.