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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Snow Bowl, Rikert Slash Prices for Students

Staff at the Middlebury Snow Bowl and Rikert Nordic Center just made skiing twice as affordable for students. 

Administrators at both ski sites decided in late February to cut pass prices in half, according to an email sent to students on March 2. Under the new pricing plan, a season pass at the Snow Bowl now costs $97, down from $210, and season passes at Rikert go for $60 (previously $120). Prices for day passes were reduced as well, down to $20 from $50 at the Snow Bowl and $8.50 from $17 at Rikert. Per the terms of the Bowl’s annual March sale, those who purchase season passes between now and the end of the month will be able to use them for next year’s full ski season.

The reduced-price passes are available exclusively to Middlebury College students, a demographic staff hope to draw to the ski areas in greater numbers than have visited in recent years. 

“If we have the same revenue with twice the amount of people on campus excited about what we’re doing, that’s a great thing,” said Mike Hussey, director at Rikert and the Snow Bowl. “That’s worth it for me to reduce the price to a more reasonable level.”

The price cuts have been already yielded positive results. Last year, Snow Bowl staff sold 40  season passes during its March sale, according to Hussey. They need to sell 90 March sale season passes this year for the price cut plan to be financially lucrative. As of March 11, they had already sold 70. 

The decision to cut prices sprang from years of declining pass sales at the Bowl and a desire to reinvigorate student participation in the exclusively college-owned and operated ski area, one of only two of its kind in the northeastern U.S. alongside the Dartmouth Skiway. Season pass sales at the Bowl have plummeted steadily over the past decade-and-a-half, Hussey said. During the 2004-2005 ski season the Bowl sold 800 season passes; by the 2017-2018 year, that number had declined to 400.

That drop in sales over that period coincided with pricing trends at Sugarbush Resort, according to Hussey. For the past few years a season pass at Sugarbush went for the same price — around $210 — as passes at the Bowl. It made sense, Hussey realized, that Middlebury College students were spending their money on passes at the larger ski area. 

But pass prices shouldn’t stand in the way of students skiing at their college’s mountain, administrators agreed. 

Mike Hussey on the job at Rikert.

“Students at Middlebury shouldn’t feel like they would get a better deal financially skiing somewhere else than at their own mountain,” said Ski Patrol director Sean Gryzb. “We want to populate the bowl with as many students as we can, and that’s worth the price reduction.” 

Rather than setting the new Snow Bowl pass price at an even $100, Hussey, Gryzb and other administrators settled on $97 as a way to recognize next year’s winter carnival, which will be the 97th of its kind hosted at the Snow Bowl. 

“That’ll tie in a little pride, hopefully,” Hussey said. “Winter carnival is one of these incredibly unique events that a lot of ski areas don’t have the way Middlebury does, and we want to recognize it.” 

Philip Klinck ‘20, a member of the Bowl’s student ski patrol, conducted a survey along with fellow ski patroller Sam Scatchard ‘20 that asked students about barriers keeping them from skiing at the Bowl. The survey asked students to name their ideal Snow Bowl pass price, and the median response fell around $100, Klinck said. He and Scatchard presented the results of their survey to Hussey and Gryzb several days after the new price plan had been decided upon, confirming the upside of the new $97 price. 

“Skiing is a sport with incredibly high barriers to entry,” Klinck wrote in an email to The Campus. “Ticket pricing makes up only a small portion of what keeps the majority of Middlebury students off the slopes, but it this change is definitely a step in the right direction and is in line with Middlebury’s larger commitment to making all aspects of campus accessible to all students.”

Other initiatives to make the Bowl more affordable include a scholarship program the Bowl launched this January to help subsidize costs for students learning to ski.

Ultimately, Gryzb and Hussey hope that students will take full advantage of the ski sites they have access to during their time at Middlebury. The Bowl’s staff is eager to attract students, skiers and non-skiers alike. 

“We’re open and willing to work with all kinds of events and activities and recreation for year-round use of the Snow Bowl,” Gryzb said. “If students are interested in having specific events here, they should reach out to us directly and give us ideas. We actively want to attract and retain student patronage up here. Lay it on us.” 

Hussey is saddened, he said, when he meets seniors visiting the Snow Bowl for the first time. Though he doesn’t expect every Middlebury student to leave the college a serious skier, he hope that all students at least learn to ski in the space that belongs to them. 

“This is a mountain for the kids,” he said of the Snow Bowl. “This is a unique space, the college owns it, and we want to help students take full advantage of it.”