The ski season will be opening up soon in the West, and with it there will be a new way to find and buy lift tickets.
A team of San Francisco-based entrepreneurs have just launched Liftopia, a marketplace for ski lift tickets that will bring airline-type dynamic pricing to ski resort operators--and also airline-style restricted fares to customers.
To the user, Liftopia will look like a market for lift tickets. You'll be able to compare prices at resorts in an area and buy discounted lift passes online. Liftopia will sell only advance tickets for specific days, but the discounts should be substantial. The company will report to all its resort customers where there is the most and the least demand for lift tickets, so that the resorts will be able to modify prices accordingly, adjusting rates for prime weekend times and lowballing prices midweek, all in an effort to maximize resort occupancy and spread out the load of visitors. As low-traffic days get closer, the smart resort operator will hopefully drop prices dramatically, in order to build traffic and make at least some money from the mountain. (Price-insensitive skiers may continue to opt for season passes at their favorite resorts.)
This idea has worked well in other industries. Airlines give passengers incentives to help manage yield by selling advanced, restricted fares for less than they charge for flexible tickets. Also, in many cities, OpenTable does a good job for both restaurants and their diners. Notably, it wasn't until OpenTable came along that diners could compare the reservation availability of multiple restaurants at a glance; Liftopia plans to bring that same level of transparency to skiers.
The number of participating resorts right now is quite small and geographically dispersed (one resort at Tahoe, two in Colorado, and so on). Since skiers won't be able to comparison-shop, Liftopia will not be the indispensable ski lift marketplace this season. But if the team does a good job of schmoozing the resort operators over the next few months, by next winter, it might be a very useful service indeed.