Skiing comfort

The term "comfortable piste capacity" is used in ski resort planning and in skier flow analyses. This number indicates how many snow sports enthusiasts can be on the slopes at the same time without the feeling of overcrowding. The absolute number of skiers per hectare depends on the inclination, width, but also on the part of the world for which such observations are made - Koreans and Japanese are less sensitive to a lack of space. All empirical studies carried out on this topic (e.g. by the University of Innsbruck) ultimately come to the conclusion that the fewer other skiers there are, the more comfortable a ski run is perceived.

Skiing comfort could therefore be operationalised in a manageable way by relating the number of snow sports enthusiasts in a ski area to the area available to them for skiing (the weighted skiable area, how this is determined, we explain here). Although data on the number of simultaneous guests on peak days is far from being available for all ski resorts, the transport capacity of the lifts provides a suitable substitute. The guests of a ski resort can only ski downwards as much as they are transported upwards. A lift with a capacity of 2,400 people per hour simply allows twice the number of guests to ski a certain number of pistes as a lift with a capacity of 1,200 people.

The Trois Vallées have the highest transport capacity of all ski areas in the world with 107 million vertical transport metres per hour (VTM/h). During an eight-hour ski day, around 200,000 snow sports enthusiasts can be transported uphill by 4,000 vertical meters each and then ski down the same elevation difference as well. The groomed runs of the Trois Vallées cover an area of 1,832 hectares. The transport capacity per hectare is therefore a good 57,000 vertical transport metres per hour.

If this hectare is a 250 meter long and 40 meter wide slope with 60 meters of vertical drop, then this results in 950 skiers passing this section per hour (57,000 vertical transport meters / 60 vertical meters). This means that there are 24 skiers per metre of slope width (950 skiers / 40 metres width). This is exactly the figure indicated by the Vienna University of Technology as the maximum capacity of a slope with a suitable inclination for inexperienced skiers; better skiers would also be able to cope with higher concentrations.

More skiable area per installed vertical transport meter costs money when operating a ski resort. After all, the capacity of a lift and thus also the number of transportable persons (and chargeable rides) does not increase if instead of one, as many as six or ten runs are marked, groomed, secured, controlled and possibly even covered with technical snow. If the lift attracts additional guests because of the numerous runs, the waiting times will increase - which may increase the ticket sales, but will certainly not make guests happier.

The only thing left is an increase in the ticket price. According to the philosophy: more space on the piste means more comfort means more quality - after all, a five-star hotel is worth paying more than a three-star hotel. In Sun Peaks, the day pass including taxes costs about 73 euros. In Schladming, which has the same length of runs, it is only 53.50 euros in the 2018/19 season during the peak season.

The largest ski area in Styria, however, has more than 72,000 vertical transport metres per hour and hectare, or 16.7 hectares of skiable area for every million vertical transport metres, compared with 105 hectares in Sun Peaks. This is more than six times as much and simply means that the pistes in Schladming are six times as crowded during peak periods - there should be a difference in comfort.
And what does that actually mean? That it is possible to express the amount of freedom offered by the slopes in any ski area and whether ski area A offers more comfort than ski area B using a single figure. The unit of measurement is the skiable area per vertical transport meter.

In addition to the available space, the condition of the surface under the skis determines the comfort of the ski-run. Therefore, a further criterion for the valuation of skiing comfort is the proportion of the groomed area in relation to the total skiable area. In many alpine ski resorts, this is 100 percent, but in some North American ski resorts it is less than 40 percent.

The following table shows some examples of the results for skiing comfort.


Ski area Country Skiing comfort
(Scale 1-10)
Kronplatz Italy 4.4
Trois Vallées France 4.5
Saalbach Austria 4.6
Laax Switzerland 4.9
Whistler Blackcomb Canada 4.5
Vail USA 5.2
Snowmass USA 6.3
Sun Peaks Canada 9.0