Vail Daily letter: Re-examine lift ticket prices
Reading Mr. Barbalace’s letter (Dec. 19 Vail Daily) about Vail’s $150 lift ticket to experience the thrills of skiing on its public lands was dismaying when one tries to define who the qualifying “public” is. Vail Associates operates on 12,226 acres of National Forest lands pursuant to a unified special use permit issued by the United States Forest Service. If we assume that these lands belong to the public, but managed by this governmental agency, we start to wonder if this “public” is only the affluent genre of society. A family of four from the Hamptons of New York would find ready access to Vail for its Christmas holiday — $600 per day for ski tickets alone would be nominal if you hail from that neighborhood. Perhaps we should redefine the term “public” to something more apropos, like “first-class public” to target VA’s market for this price rate.
Were that same family to come from more modest ways and means, say a town in the coal country of West Virginia or a small farm somewhere in Kansas, would these “public” lands be as accessible? Rates determine class, and class connotes “privilege.” Is the Vail experience becoming more aristocratic — is it for the privileged few? Shall we assign the term “second-class public” or “working class public” to the underprivileged segment of our society?
VA has spent millions of dollars developing Vail into one of the world’s premier ski resorts, and it should be entitled to a prosperous return on its investment in a free market. Ergo, it is entitled to exact from the skiing public what a free market would bear — this is capitalism, and I am all for it. But where the main asset on Vail’s balance sheet is its Forest Service permits to use public lands to generate its profits and stockholder benefits, does it really conduct business in a free marketplace? Would the second-class public have a voice in the matter to also enjoy the benefits of its asset (public lands), albeit, operated under the management of VA?
The unified special use permits that VA holds may be terminated by the Forest Service if the operator (VA) no longer serves the “public interest.” And if we define that interest as to apply solely to the “first class public,” are we reconstructing VA’s permits for the benefit of its stockholders and the privileged few? If we construe the term “public” to include within its definition “second-class citizens,” then we must consider the effect that ticket prices have on the “public” in general. Ergo, is $150 per ski pass in the “public” interest if we use the all-inclusive definition?
Perhaps the people’s representative (the Forest Service) should revisit its take on who the “public” really is in order to serve those interests. Perhaps VA should compare its rates to the likes of Cooper Hill and other modest ski venues in order to assimilate its shareholders back into the American “public.” Perhaps we can interject a real “touch of class” to this world-renowned ski resort by adjusting rates to reflect that ideal in a marketplace that is really not that free.