Ski areas raising age for ‘senior’ discounts

This photo taken at the Wildcat Ski Area in New Hampshire is from the early 1960s. Many of those who skied during those days are still on the slopes.

Don’t be surprised if you’re standing at a ski ticket window when an older skier tells the cashier:  “Don’t forget my senior discount.”

No this isn’t a coffee shop or a WalMart, but a ski area where seniors expect to see a few dollars knocked off the price of their lift ticket.

But things are changing at ski resorts that are seeing an increasing number of senior skiers, especially during midweek days. There was a time not too long ago that if you were still skiing at age 70, resorts would give you a free lift ticket.

While there are still ski areas that offer freebies for seniors, some like the Catamount ski area in New York/Massachusetts, increased the age to 80.

A handful of areas in Vermont including Mad River Glen, Ascutney and Smuggler’s Notch give freebies to those 70 and older, but some limit their discounts to only midweek, non-holiday times.

Part of the reason has to do with numbers; there’s just too many senior skiers out there with the percentage rising every season. And, while ski areas are reluctant to admit it, there are many senior skiers who are often well off, financially, then most of the people on the slopes. Nonetheless, ski areas want them to return (hopefully, with grandkids) and entice them with discounts that will keep them sliding into their golden years.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, the percentage of people ages 55 to 64 on the slopes has more than doubled to 9.2 percent since the 1997-98 season. And the number of skiers 65 and older has been rising as well.

Senior skiers often get some of the best prices for season passes, especially midweek.

At the front of the line is Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall that is offering a $99 midweek season pass to those 65 and other. On Friday, the price of the pass goes up … slightly … to $105.

That’s still half price of what Mohawk charges for an adult mid-week pass.

Up the road at Butternut in Great Barrington, Mass., seniors have to wait until they are 70 to buy a season pass for only $100 that’s good weekends and holidays.

Often senior discounts amount to the same price as a young adult ticket, a discount between $10 and $15.

I wonder … with the millions of baby boomers still skiing or snowboarding nearing retirement … how long this will last.

Already we’re starting to see a new definition of what a senior citizen is. Stratton in Vermont, for example, calls you a senior if you’re between 65 and 69. But if you’re 70 or older, they call you a “super senior,” which entitles you to a bigger discount. Adults pay $149 for a two-day pass, seniors are charged $128 and “super seniors” pay only $105.

At Okemo in Vermont, senior discounts for season passes start kicking at age 70. In fact, most of its season passes are for “all ages” between 7-69. Its “Super Senior” midweek pass goes for $269 ( $100 lower than what others pay).

Stowe in northern Vermont is sticking with age 65 to qualify for a discount. The savings are considerable for a season pass: $755 for seniors, $1,503 for other adults. This season, a one-day ticket at Stowe will cost $84  (on Saturday’s it’s $89). Seniors, however, pay $73 and $77.

So, if you’re old enough, how do you find senior discounts?

The web site is the quickest way get an overview. On the site U.S. ski resorts are organized in tables by age. Keep in mind, that some of this info is from last season, so check back in late December for updates. Ski resorts are still in the process of firming up their single ticket prices.

Keep in mind that deadlines are looming at most ski areas for season passes that could rise by a few hundred bucks if you wait just before the season begins. Now’s the time to do a little math and see if a season pass works for you in your specific age group.

By far, the best deals out there are for college students who can ski or ride for less than $300 a season.

Too good to be true? Maybe because ski areas make up the difference from the college students’ bar tabs.

Jim Shay