St. Anton is one of the five largest ski resorts in the world with more than 80 chairlifts and 300 km of groomed pistes. A day pass there during the peak season is 54.50 euro ($61.80). That is less than half the walk-up cost of a day pass at Snowbird ($125).
Smaller resorts in Austria are also inexpensive. Take a resort like Axamer Lizum near Innsbruck. More vertical than Alta, but perhaps a little less acreage (but not by a lot). A peak season day ticket is 39.50 euro ($44.80)! I'm not making this up. Here's a screen shot.
Can't ski all day? How about a half-day ticket for 33.00 euro or a 2-hour ticket for 24.00 euro. Note that you can buy the half-day ticket for morning or afternoon and the 2-hour ticket for any period you want.
OK you say, but the US has these amazing annual passes now like the Ikon and Epic. Yup, those are somewhat competitive. But let's say you only ski at Axamer Lizum. A preseason pass purchase by 31 October gets you an unlimited season's pass for 353 euro ($400). Want to ski a few other places, you can buy a Freizeit Ticket (my wife and I have them) good a a bunch of Tirolean resorts, with unlimited days at Stubai Glacier and Axamer Lizum and 3-days each at Ischgl and St. Anton, for 488 euro ($550). There is a catch here as you have to be a resident of Tirol, although they let my wife and I buy them after showing our visas and address after we arrived (slightly more expensive since it wasn't an early season purchase). The Freizeit Ticket is also good for riding lifts in the summer (great for hiking here) and for other recreational activities. I have used it to swim in the pool by campus twice a week since arriving, saving me about 14 euro a week.
Of course, not many people pay full price. Tourists get discount passes. People buy passes online. Etc. But this is a very large disparity. Think about the implications for a family of non-skiers or casual skiers and how much lower the financial bar is to get into the sport in Austria compared to the U.S. Or maybe your an avid skier. Going to a resort not included with your pass is not a biggie.
It is beyond my abilities as a scientist trained in the atmosphere to explain these differences. I don't know if it is a result of competition, public subsidies, greater summer revenue, or whatever. I do believe that affordable Alpine skiing is essential if the sport is to keep what is left of its heart and soul.
Along those lines, I mentioned the T-bar in Navis in an earlier post. It was just featured in a post on BlogTirol that is worth a read. See Der Bürgermeisterlift von Navis. There is an English version of this site, but I couldn't find the post on it, so use Google translator if you don't know German. Video below.