Around here, you often read about the "Aspenization of Sandpoint." Basically, it’s the fear that soon only the very rich will be able to afford to live in Sandpoint. Given the price of housing these days, it’s not an unwarranted fear. When wages don’t keep up with the cost of living, there’s going to be a problem.
Another nail in the Aspenization coffin is Schweitzer’s recent decision to basically abandon the local skier market by raising even weekday ski pass prices to the point that only the rich or retired can justify it. Unfortunately, Schweitzer seems to be treading down the same path they went down years ago, which eventually led to bankruptcy.
When we first moved here, I never met anyone who had a ski pass. As I recall, passes were more than $600 ten years ago. Ski attendance was way down and the mountain was in bad financial trouble. It went through endless legal wranglings, "receivership," and so forth, and eventually the mountain emerged from bankruptcy by being purchased by Harbor Properties.
After Harbor bought Schweitzer, clearly they realized that no one in Sandpoint was invested in the place anymore. They made what I regard as bold and brilliant moves to get people talking about Schweitzer and skiing again. They offered discounted passes and ski equipment rental packages. We took advantage of this offer because like a lot of people, our equipment was hopelessly out of date and we never skied because it was too expensive. After we bought the package, we learned to love skiing again, particularly on our new shaped skis. The cheap passes made it affordable and convenient. No standing in line to get tickets; just ski and go.
Since that point, pass prices have been creeping upward, but there still was a reasonably priced weekday pass, and many locals took advantage of it. Over the last few years I’ve met a lot of people who got weekday passes and took afternoons off from work to go ski. We did too.
However, now Schweitzer has come up with what is effectively an "every day except Saturday" pass. This move basically alienates the local market. At $400 a pop, you have to ski a lot to make it worth it. Realistically, Schweitzer is not Aspen. We don’t have Colorado’s snow. The northwest influence means that many times the snow and the conditions in general are unpleasant at best, and dangerous at worst.
For every perfect "bluebird" day on the hill, there are plenty of crummy ones where you’re skiing down the Great Collide in the fog with inconsiderate adolescent snowboarders about to kill you from every direction. As a result, many people choose their ski days carefully.
Ski pass sales are money in the bank. Even if there’s a winter with no snow, the resort has the money. Schweitzer may be making a big mistake in making them expensive again. It would be easy to come up with passes for locals in the $200 price point simply by offering a Tuesday-Thursday or a weekday afternoon-only pass.
Local word of mouth is important. When locals don’t buy ski passes, they don’t tell their well-heeled friends and family in Seattle or California to come out and visit for a ski vacation, "Sorry, we don’t ski anymore. Passes are too expensive and we have to save our pennies to pay our property taxes anyway."