Why Is It Cheaper to Ski in Europe Than in the US?

Gregg Frantz | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Deer Valley, UT / Photo Credit: Mountain Living

I remember growing up in the 80s and 90s, hearing about how much more expensive it was to ski in Europe than in the United States. It has always been in my mind since then that a European Ski trip would cost a lot of money, and I would probably be better off just staying in the U.S. to ski. That may have been the case back in the 80s and 90s; however, it is not true anymore, and the cost differential between the U.S. and Europe is not even close. The cost to ski in the U.S. has become so expensive it is almost cheaper for someone to ski in Europe while also adding the cost of their flight, lodging, and food, and it STILL being cheaper than skiing in the United States.

It makes someone sit back and think, how is that possible? How did this happen? Let’s look at some of the numbers and factors and figure it out.

When determining why Europe is so much cheaper to ski in than the U.S., the main difference is the cost of a daily lift ticket. It is genuinely shocking if you take some of the most expensive places to ski in the U.S. and Europe, like Vail, CO, and Zermatt, Switzerland, and compare their lift ticket prices.

Vail is known to be on the more expensive end of daily-lift-ticket prices throughout the United States and costs a person around $250 for a one-day-lift ticket. That is not affordable for the average family with children who just hit the slopes 2-3 times a season. Vail Resorts offers its Epic Pass, which allows guests to ski at any of their 41 resorts worldwide for $909. The Epic Pass helps a person who may be an avid skier and tends to hit the mountains 10+ times a season. Purchasing the Epic Pass and skiing at least nine times a year brings the daily lift ticket cost to around $100, comparable to other resorts nationwide.

Zermatt, Switzerland / Photo Credit: The Hotel Guru

Zermatt, Switzerland, is known throughout Europe as being beautiful with the iconic Matterhorn in the background and is also known for being the most expensive place to ski in all of Europe. One would think that a ski town like Zermatt, with all its history, culture, and amenities, would cost a person a lot of money to ski at. However, it was surprising that the daily lift ticket price was around $99. This is hard to contemplate, with Zermatt being located in the skiing mecca of the Swiss Alps. So, why is the cost of a single-day-lift ticket so inexpensive to a U.S. ski resort that is relatively comparable in size and amenities?

The simple answer comes down to Business 101, with supply and demand always being a huge factor when determining cost. The United States has a population of about 332 million and over 470 ski resorts, with Europe having a population of about 749 million, but it has a colossal number of 4,000 ski resorts. Those numbers equate to Europe having over twice the U.S.’s people but also having eight times the number of ski resorts. The countries of Switzerland and France, which are known for their skiing, have over 600 ski resorts combined.

There is also the fact that U.S. ski resorts are primarily owned by a few large companies, while in Europe, there are some companies that own a few resorts; however, there are still plenty of independently-owned resorts. Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Company own a large section of ski resorts in the U.S., most of which are in top-tier ski resorts throughout the country. This allows Vail and Alterra to have an oligopoly: “a state of limited competition, in which a small number of producers or sellers shares a market.”  It also enables Vail and Alterra to dictate the prices for daily-lift tickets for skiers and snowboarders at their resorts. Vail and Alterra’s ultimate goal is to increase the costs of daily lift tickets and drive skiers to purchase their season pass options, allowing them guaranteed income throughout the ski season.

Unlike the United States, Europe has more of a mix of corporate and independently-owned ski resorts. Four thousand ski resorts are spread out throughout Europe, allowing skiers many different choices to pick from. This will enable prices for daily-lift tickets to be more balanced throughout the European ski industry than in the United States, where a few conglomerates own them. This goes back to supply and demand, and Europe has many more ski resorts than the United States, which keeps the prices lower.

While the lift ticket prices in the United States are much higher than in Europe, food and lodging costs are comparable. TripAdvisor says the average price for accommodation at a ski resort on weekends in the U.S. or Europe is $131-176 a night. The cost of food at a U.S. or European ski resort is similar, with Europe being a little more expensive. However, the Europeans beat the Americans with their selection and quality of food. U.S. ski resorts are more geared for guests to go off the slopes, grab something to eat, and then hit the slopes again. , European resorts also feature more independently-owned restaurants than in the U.S., which gives guests the experience of eating at scratch kitchens and even Michelin Star restaurants. In Europe, eating is more about enjoyment and experience than in America, where we eat because we are hungry.

Wherever you choose to ski, the United States and Europe have unique places to check out, and most skiers will not likely complain about skiing in the Rockies or the Alps. It is essential to plan your trips ahead of time with your lift tickets, lodging, and travel arrangements because you can find the best prices available. However, since the most important part of the trip is the skiing aspect, it is also smart to book these trips within a month or so to ensure you have the best skiing conditions possible.

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10 thoughts on “Why Is It Cheaper to Ski in Europe Than in the US?

  1. How many resorts do the owners of Vail own? There is your answer…Wall Street culture of monopoly and extortion! Then we will cry when NO ONE SKIES!

  2. reason? Private Equity. The US Federal Reserve Prints Trillion of Dollars for a select few to BUY, DRAIN, Destroy…business. Think Bed, Bath, Beyond…Toy-r-US. US money men don’t CARE WHAT THEY DESTROY. They aren’t investors…they are rapists!

  3. Charles DeGaul mandated affordable winter sports for the French, so they could get out of big cities a bit during the winter. I went a few times some years back and paid well under $50 for lodging, same for a lift ticket, per day. Fancy restaurants, and beer in pubs, were the only expensive features.

  4. When I was living in Colorado, it was much cheaper, over the course of the winter, than it is now in Switzerland, because the concept of season passes, especially multi-resort passes like the Epic/Ikon passes, don’t really exist, or are exceptionally expensive.

    So for people who take ski vacations, the US is more expensive, but for locals who ski throughout the season, Europe is not definitely less costly.

  5. I know for a fact that it’s because of the American lawsuit culture. The cost of insurance for resorts there is passed down to the customers. I live in Verbier Switzerland, best freeride resort in the world. It covers 4 connected valleys for only $70 a day.

  6. Forest service was deregulated in the Reagan era, before that the forest service had a big say in lift ticket prices, after deregulation no so much.

  7. There’s a key factor missing here: The way the forest service leases land to US ski resorts allows them to have a monopoly over all of the on mountain services. In the alps however, everything is individually owned (decoupled). The lifts are owned and operated by a lift company (usually the town), the on mountain restaurants are individually owned by each restaurant, each ski school is individually owned and there are usually multiple per town, thus these places must compete on price and quality. In the US all of these pieces are under the control of a single company which gets to set the price and stick it to the consumer, regardless of quality. That’s why we’re paying $30 for a McDonald’s hamburger at Vail whereas in Europe you can get a fresh Italian lunch for half the price.

  8. The reason is some Americans are greedy people, they judge their self worth on how much money they have. We watched as flatlanders from Chicago bought ASC and began the debate, ‘if a round of golf at my Chicago country club is $150, why isn’t skiing tickets the same price?’ I heard these very conversations. But snowbrains doesn’t like to hear the truth so probably delete me. Oh well.

  9. I take ONE big vacation a year to ski with a large group of friends (over 40 people). Our last 4 trips and our trip for 2024 have ALL be outside of USA. skiing here has become cost prohibitive. It’s a shame! And it’s shameful!

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