For decades, Mount Bachelor has lured skiers to Central Oregon with the promise of consistent, fresh powder and some of the finest downhill skiing in the Pacific Northwest. But great skiing comes at a price.
In August, Mt. Bachelor ski area announced its lift rates and season pass pricing for the 2016-17 winter season. With a daily lift ticket costing $92, and a full-price adult season pass coming in at $1,129, Mt. Bachelor is the most expensive place to ski in Oregon by a significant margin.
Additionally, Mt. Bachelor is the second-most expensive resort owned by Powdr Corp.; the Utah-based firm purchased the ski area in 2001.
“We’re larger, we’re higher elevation, meaning we get more consistent snow,” said John McLeod, president and general manager of Mt. Bachelor. “We tend to have the highest price.”
While Bachelor is more expensive than other ski areas in Oregon and Washington, its lack of surrounding development or overnight accommodations makes it a relative bargain compared to luxury resorts in the heart of the Rocky Mountain range.
“It’s a different type of experience,” McLeod said. “It puts us in a very different position.”
In 2016 the resort raised its adult season-pass prices by $40, rather than by $20, as it had each of the previous three years. The increase pushed the early-season rate — for season passes purchased before Oct. 1 — over $900 for the first time since before the Great Recession. McLeod attributed the larger increases to additional infrastructure costs due to the installation of the new Cloudchaser lift, and the increase to Oregon’s minimum wage.
While Mt. Bachelor’s prices are higher than many, cost is an industrywide problem for ski areas. The National Ski Area Association each year surveys around 1,400 new skiers and snowboarders at 52 ski areas. According to the survey, the cost of the sport was the second-most cited reason why visitors might not ski again, behind travel distance.
“I think broadly the sport has gotten more expensive,” said Jeff Harbaugh, founder of Jeff Harbaugh & Associates, of Bellevue, Washington, which provides consulting for the action sports industry.
Rob Linde, director of business development for RRC Associates, a Boulder, Colorado, firm that produces the survey in conjunction with the ski area association, said that while respondents are likely to rate their experience highly, less than 20 percent of new skiers become lifelong fans of the sport. Cost, he said, could be a factor.
Worth the cost?
Mt. Bachelor has a number of advantages over other mountains in the Pacific Northwest that allow it to charge higher rates. John Gifford, president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association, said Bachelor gets more consistent snowfall than other mountains in the area, due to its higher elevation and the cooler climate found on the eastern edge of the Cascade Range. During lean winters, he said, that allows the ski area to draw visitors from farther afield.
Alana Hughson, president and CEO of Central Oregon Visitors Association, said consistent snowfall can help drive season pass totals well in advance of opening day, keeping the ski area’s revenue more stable.
“No question that Mt. Bachelor is a key anchor of our winter marketing,” Hughson said.
Proximity to Central Oregon’s cities and towns plays a factor as well, given that Bachelor is around a half-hour drive from Bend and Sunriver. Harbaugh said being close to a population center helps the ski area keep its daily lift ticket prices high.
Furthermore, Bend’s demographics help sustain Mt. Bachelor’s rates. In 2014, the Bend-Redmond Metropolitan Statistical Area, which comprises all of Deschutes County, had a per capita income of $41,675, the sixth-highest figure among Oregon’s 36 counties. According to a visitor survey conducted last winter by Visit Bend, the city’s tourism-promotion agency, the median annual household income of winter visitors to Bend was around $87,500.
“If their market will bear it, why shouldn’t they raise prices?” Harbaugh said.
However, Gifford said Mt. Bachelor qualifies as a day-use resort, compared to large luxury resorts in Colorado that feature high-end hotels and restaurants, which often charge higher rates. For example, an adult-plus season pass at Telluride Ski & Golf in southwestern Colorado costs $2,100, and a daily lift ticket, for which prices fluctuate based on date, ranges from $86 to $129, according to the resort’s website. A daily weekend lift ticket at Breckenridge in Colorado can cost more than $110.
However, some large resorts in Colorado also feature bundles that allow visitors to ski at a variety of different resorts for a relatively low price. For example, the Epic Pass, from Vail Resorts, provides unlimited skiing at more than 40 U.S. and European resorts for $849. Last year, Mt. Bachelor was added to the M.A.X. Pass, which allows passholders to ski at 39 mountains for five days each for $699.
Mt. Bachelor operates entirely on U.S. Forest Service land, which limits the amount of development in the area. Harbaugh said ski areas like Mt. Bachelor that lack many other amenities can’t raise costs as effectively on food or lodging, meaning that any increase has to come from increases to lift tickets and season passes.
As a result, Mt. Bachelor has to be a bit more creative in its season pass pricing. Rather than offering one flat rate for customers interested in buying a season pass, resorts like Mt. Bachelor offer lower prices for customers who buy season passes before a certain date. McLeod said a majority of Mt. Bachelor’s season ticket purchases came before Oct. 1, when the price was $929. Bachelor also offers lower prices for seniors, and tiered pricing for visitors under the age of 27.
Hughson said Mt. Bachelor’s relative lack of development can work to Central Oregon’s advantage from a marketing standpoint. Rather than compete with large luxury resorts, Hughson said, the visitors association markets Mt. Bachelor as a purer, less corporate ski experience.
“When you stand up on the Summit lift … and you can see not a shred of development, it’s very unique,” Hughson said.
Perhaps most importantly, Gifford said that, while the amenities are different, Mt. Bachelor offers skiing that’s on par with the best that the Rocky Mountains can offer.
“The snow surface is a little different,” Gifford said, “but it still skis just as well.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, firstname.lastname@example.org