I've thought about this for years.
I've been skiing since I was three years old- I'm, now in my 30's. I grew up in a solidly middle class family with 4 kids.
My family though skiing was terribly expensive in the early 1980's and 1990s. After all, a single day ticket window price for Aspen was $30! We scraped, and managed to go skiing between 10 and 15 times a year, and had a ball.
I remember in the early 1990's, Monarch, a Southern Colorado local mountain (with awesome snow) aggressively advertised their local lift ticket at $18 a day, every day. There were always plenty of coupons and other discounts.
Really, up until the mid 1990's, you could almost always get relatively cheap day lift tickets, through grocery stores, coupon books, and many other promotions. Supermarket discount tickets were typically 1/3 or so off ticket window prices.
I knew nobody growing up with a season pass. The very concept to me seemed amazing, and they were quite pricey.
Then, for some reason that I still can't fathom, despite the glaring anti-competition and anti-trust issues, in the mid 1990's, Vail was allowed to buy Keystone and Breck, with the only limitation being that they had to split off Arapahoe Basin (which was also owned by the same company that owned Key and Breck).
The first season after this, the coupons were gone, the discount supermarket tickets were gone, and the window prices were up. And they go up every year, far faster than inflation. For the "I ski 3 times a year" skier, it is by far more expensive to ski than it has been at any other point in my life and it marches on, every year.
A few years afte rthe Vail buyout, to combat Vail owning 65% of Denver skier visits, other resorts start offering very, very cheap season passes, and the season pass war was on.
Now, every year, season passes fight it out at very competitive rates to score the Denver traffic, while the profit is made on the backs of the destination skier.
if you own a pass and ski 50 days a year (and lets face it, the way the pricing model works, if you ski 50 days a year, you almost certainly have a pass, and thus ski the lions share of those days at the place you bought the pass), it is cheaper than it has ever been to ski. I'm already at an effective $10 daily lift ticket, with 2 1/2 months left in the season.
So, season passes are great for us, the established skier. We can thank the gods that we don't have to get gouged at the ticket window.
BUT WHAT HAPPENS TO NEW PEOPLE LEARNING THE SPORT?
In Colorado, the cheapest ticket window lift tickets runs right about $55. Add in the ski rental for another $20. Add in gas, lunch, and the bits and pieces of clothing one needs to round out their ski ensemble, and even going budget, you are easily looking at $150 per person for that first day.
For a family of 4, $500 ish for one day.
And remember, many/most people don't really have fun their first day of skiing. You may have moments of fun, but most of that first day is spent awkwardly fumbling with long things on your feet that don't really do what you want them to do. For most people, even those that turn into addicts, it normally takes several visits to get to the point where it is unmitigated fun.
Who can afford to invest that kind of money?
I don't think enough people can afford it, and I think demographics back me up. As far as I know, since the mid 1990's, the average age of a skier has been steadily increasing, and the number of new people joining the sport are decreasing. Skier visits are increasing, but that is likely the effect of cheap season passes.
I am in my early 30's, and already have a blown up knee (not from skiing). I probably have ten years left (I hope) before the knee becomes too bad to ski. Much as we would like to, we can't do this forever.
The current ticket pricing is a huge barrier to entry. is their a ski "bubble" on the horizon when there simply aren't enough skiers left to support the industry?