Tom Clyde: Super-fit super seniors
December 5, 2014
With Deer Valley opening this weekend, ski season is fully underway. We’ve got everything but snow. There isn’t a whole lot open, but what there is has been reasonably good snow. Not iced up in the mornings, and not too soft by noon when I call it a day. The weather, though, is a bit of a concern. Fifty degrees in December is no way to run a ski resort.
I’ve been out several times. There was a fair amount of apprehension about how things would be at PCMR this year. The only difference I’ve noticed so far was that during the first week, when Canyons wasn’t open, PCMR was much busier than usual. People with passes that used to work only at Canyons were skiing Park City. Suddenly they have an extra week of skiing added to their passes, and they might as well ski.
There are minor differences in the pass-scanning process. The automatic gates are gone, and instead, you get zapped with a Vailien ray gun each time you get on one of the base lifts. But it can read the pass through your clothes, so you don’t need to pull it out of a pocket or unzip a coat to show it.
There was fully appropriate grumbling that season passes didn’t get mailed out in time for opening day, and it looked as if all 400,000 Epic Pass buyers were standing in line at the ticket office on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. That kind of glitch in getting the old PCMR computer system to talk to the new Vail system should be a one-time problem. Forgetting to mail the passes out in time for the opening day deadline—well that’s more than a little ironic when you think about how we got where we are.
But things are up and running, and it’s good to be skiing again.
The only complaint I’ve heard, and I’ve heard it a lot, is that the "Super Senior" pass will kick the bucket this year. I am a long way from being in the "Super Senior" category, so it really doesn’t affect me. But it seems like almost every chair I get on, there is some extremely fit old codger griping that he used to be able to buy a "Super Senior" pass for $269, and (next year) will have to buy the Epic Locals pass for $579, or whatever it will cost then.
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There’s no getting around it, that’s a big increase. You do the math because it’s late at night and I can’t. Apparently the view is that because they are 75 or older, they probably aren’t skiing as much as a whippersnapper of 70. And if they are using less snow, they should get a discount. And they should get a discount anyway because they are old.
This is not a community full of people living a cat-food-based retirement. They may be on a fixed income, but chances are that it’s fixed at a pretty comfortable level. If they are buying Little Friskies, they really have a cat in the house. So our super-healthy Super Seniors aren’t, for the most part, in need of a discount because their Social Security checks barely cover their country club dues.
When you live in a ski town, the economics of the season pass get kind of strange. The most reliable figures I’ve been able to come up with (and I really did some research on this) are that the average season pass gets used between 10 and 15 times a year. When you think about it, if you live in San Diego, skiing 15 times a year is a real commitment. It involves a lot of travel and a lot of expense. And a lot of time.
The season pass holder in Houston doesn’t slip out for a couple of hours’ skiing first thing in the morning before making an appearance at work. You don’t get more than about 15 days without living near the base of the lift. But our Super Seniors are almost certainly getting out more than 15 days a year. That’s why they live here. From the resorts’ standpoint, they are super consumers, driving their average revenue per day way below the average for all season pass holders. People like me, who will get 100 days, really mess things up. My cost per day of skiing is less than the cost of lunch, which I usually eat at home unless I’m at Deer Valley. It’s a screaming deal.
So I’m not terribly sympathetic to my Super Senior friends. I will consider myself very lucky if, at age 80, my most pressing concern is the price of my ski pass. Paying retail sure beats pushing up daisies.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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