Three-tiered ticket prices aimed at tourists, mountains say Locals and Vancouverites encouraged to plan ahead for cheap skiing By Andy Stonehouse Whistler/Blackcomb’s pricing planners say lift ticket costs will continue to reflect what the market can bare — or what tourists will be willing to shell out, especially during the high season on the local hills. Last week’s announcement of this season’s prices for day tickets, season passes and a variety of other incentive programs was the most visible public acknowledgement of Whistler/Blackcomb’s new three-tiered pricing system. David Perry, vice president of marketing for the ski company, said the new plan merely makes public what has been a reality amongst tour operators for years: different people are going to pay different prices for their ski experience, and tourists will end up paying the most. Starting this season, day tickets purchased at the base of the mountains will cost adult skiers $57 plus GST. That price will go up another two dollars a day from Dec. 26 to Jan. 3 and between Feb. 13 and March 21. Perry said the premium price point will also extend to visitors buying multi-day tickets. He said the fluctuating ticket price concept is a familiar occurrence at most American ski resorts, and said Whistler/Blackcomb has no qualms about the policy. "The new higher price is aimed at the destination skier who hasn’t pre-purchased tickets, or the spontaneous decision maker who is less concerned about the price point," Perry said. "Our strategy is to provide discount opportunities to those in the region, and make destination people pay the regular rate. We feel comfortable with that." Perry compares the policy to the strategies employed in Vail, where the range of price fluctuation is almost as extreme as changing ticket prices offered by airlines at different times of the year. He said that ski hills should take a cue from the airline industry, who seem more successful in selling consumers the idea of fluid prices for the same flights. "The ski industry in general has been terrible in communicating prices. The news always lists the highest prices charged for the highest season. But take a page from what the airlines do... the same Vancouver to Toronto ticket you can purchase in advance for $500 will cost you $2,200 if you walk up and buy it before the flight. It needs to be reinforced that you need to plan ahead if you want a cheaper price." This year’s new Whistler/Blackcomb high-season prices continue the seasonal pricing structure offered to tour operators in the past, with value season pricing and regular season pricing available. Perry said it’s also been regular policy to further reduce day ticket prices during the early part of the season or later in the year, depending on snow conditions and the number of lifts open. "Pricing is a complex exercise, and there’s no set formula, but we try to be scientific about it. You’ve got to factor in inflation, demand, value for the facilities and affordability for the key audience." And based on comments received directly from customers over the last few years, Perry said the gradually climbing ticket prices don’t appear to be keeping the skiers and snowboarders away. "We get very few complaints. During the season, you may get comments from someone from nearby that the price seems high, especially if the weather is bad. But the destination tourist comments are exactly the opposite. Eastern Canadian skiers also don’t seem to mind the prices, so there’s clearly a geographic split in reaction." As always, Perry encourages locals to take advantage of the mountains’ half-dozen or so different discount programs, all of which will trim a significant amount off a single day ticket. Season pass sales for the 1998-99 season begin on Aug. 30.