Chris Kipfer: Ski companies benefit from monopolies
April 20, 2016
Paul Krugman’s explanation of how both the workers and the consumers have been hurt by our government’s policy of encouraging the development of monopolies on both the national and local scene certainly should resonate with American skiers.
Most of our ski companies profit from government-granted and protected monopolies on public lands. The lack of competition combined with corporate greed lead inevitably to higher prices.
The Catamount Ski Area, which we all so feared back in the early '70s, could have provided competition initially, but after Reagan and the movement of the Republican and Democratic parties to the right primarily to the benefit of corporate profits, my guess is that a conglomerate would have taken over both mountains.
In “socialist” Austria where competition reigns, the ski lift prices are lower than ours for much larger ski areas. Day passes are $50 to $60. A 10-day Arlberg is $400. The Arlberg hourly pass at $19 per hour is useful to those who have only a little time off.
Shopping for myself, I found an age-over-75 season pass for the entire Arlberg at $135. A season adult ski pass in Kitzbuhel is about $650 (Carrying capacity: 93.300 persons per hour, 11 cable cars, 28 chair lifts, seven drag lifts, eight conveyor belts, 112 kilometers of runs with artificial snow and many more without, 995 snow cannons and 31 snow groomers.
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The Salzburg Super Ski Card, which was $770 last season and includes Kitzbuhel, lets you use 138 cable cars, 261 chair lifts, 354 tows and practice lifts, 941 kilometers of blue runs, 1,327 kilometers of red runs, 274 kilometers of black runs, 1,951 kilometers of slopes with snowmaking coverage and 2,542 kilometers, or 1580 miles, of slopes in total.
You can get much cheaper deals restricting yourself to smaller resorts like Steamboat. Shopping for price can bring a family’s total lift costs down, and the competition brings all prices down.
By the way, this is done with decent pay for the employees.
Another problem is the leveraged buyouts and hedge fund shenanigans that siphon profit off the gullible bond market. I asked an accountant from the Ski Corp. as we rode up on the gondola one time what percentage of my lift ticket was debt service. He said, “sometimes more than 100 percent."
The only alternative to today’s crony capitalism is, unfortunately, the heavy regulation or public ownership that Bernie Sanders is offering, unless we can get back to capitalism working for the general good.
Were the city of Steamboat Springs to have operated the Ski Corp. as a public utility, it wouldn’t have been worse. Maybe after the next bankruptcy, we can get a liquidation, wipe out the debt and start over.
If you all skip the next season as I will, that might be more likely. Think how good the cross country and back country will be for mind and body.
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