If you've lived in Bend for more than a year or two, you've probably had one of those days when you head up to Bachelor hoping for 6-8 inches of untracked powder only to find that the rain in town translates to rain on the mountain. And unless you're a season pass holder, you've either outright asked or wondered why you couldn't get a refund.
This year it's going to be a little different on our local ski hill according to Mt. Bachelor officials who announced their new pricing structure for next year. And while the mountain won't be giving out refunds, it has announced a radical and, from what we can tell, unprecedented, tiered pricing structure for daily lift tickets this coming season. This winter, guests will pay on a sliding scale depending on the weather and lift operations. On the worst of non-holidays, Bachelor will charge guests $49 to ski or ride. Average days will be $59 and optimal conditions with full lift operations will be $69.
The new pricing is designed to pair the cost of skiing with the conditions, which can be widely variable at Bachelor, said Alex Kaufman, marketing director.
"If it's ugly, it's going to be the cheap rate. If it's an average day, it's going to be the middle rate. If it's a bomber day, it's the high rate. We're trying to match the number to the experience," Kaufman said.
Other major changes in store for next year include a long-overdue pass multi-day pass that's available to locals.
The 12-day pass (holiday blackouts) will go for $399, putting the daily lift cost at roughly $33 - or a $26 savings.
Those who plan to ski less than 10 days, but still want to see some savings, will be able to buy a "Club Card" for $29 that is good for $49 tickets daily and $59 lifties on holidays. Also Bachelor is also allowing people to spread the cost of daily and 12-day passes out over several months with a summer payment that will be available today through Aug. 15.
While season pass rates will remain the same, the mountain is doing away with its free skiing for seniors program that gave no-cost daily lift tickets to skiers and riders over 70. This year, seniors will pay the youth rate for daily tickets or be able to purchase full-season passes for $249.
Kaufman said the mountain is prepared to take some heat for the switch, but was left with little choice given the growth of the senior skiing market. Last year, skiers over 70 accounted for roughly ten percent of Bachelor's total visits - up from just one or two percent half a decade ago when the free-ski program was instituted.
"People would prefer not to pay for skiing, we're aware of that," Kaufman said about the criticism he expects over the change.
But he said the growth in the over-70 demo made the program unsustainable.
"Bend is a mecca for a lot of these (active retirees) and it's great. But as it's grown to 10 percent of our business it's not fair to the rest of our guests...Everybody takes up a spot in the lift line, everybody takes up a spot in the ticket line and in the lodge."
Asked if guests could expect some changes in operational strategies based on the tiered pricing, Kaufman said he didn't think so.
He said the mountain will get as many lifts open on as many days as it can to maximize its revenue. He added that the staff planned to take a conservative approach when it came to labeling conditions as poor or average. Managers, he said, would try more often than not to error on the side of the guest.
"Our goal is to over-deliver on this as much as possible," Kaufman said. "We'd much rather price on the conservative side."
In terms of the actual decision, Kaufman said the staff has developed a basic scoring matrix for lift operations and weather. The total score will determine whether it's poor, average, or good day. The staff will try to make that determination by 3 p.m. for the next day based on the weather forecast, but will reserve the right to up or downgrade the rating based on the actual conditions the following day.
"We know we need to be transparent on how we come up with that," Kaufman said.