Money-Saving Strategies for Ski Trips

Lift Tickets
Skis on rack in sunlight
The key to sanity: getting lift tickets before you arrive, lest you be forced to leave your skis and join the lines (Digital Vision/Getty)
Membership Has Its Privileges
Clubs—from colleges to church groups—schedule all manner of ski trips to big-name resorts each season, and they qualify for group rates on lodging and lift tickets. Some of the larger clubs, like The Over the Hill Gang International , offer members (ages 50 and older) deep discounts on lift tickets in the U.S. and Canada, and 40 percent discounts on lodging. The National Brotherhood of Skiers is an umbrella organization that works with dozens of local clubs across the U.S. to encourage the participation of African American skiers. Local clubs also offer solid benefits; in New England, many local ski clubs own (or arrange to rent) very low-cost lodging for their members.
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If you live close to a mountain, consider a season pass. Prices have dropped in many areas, with fewer blackout dates and more bonus features. Ski enough, and a season pass definitely cuts the cost of a daily or multi-day ticket, plus it encourages you to get out more. You're more likely to head up to the mountain in questionable conditions, knowing you can give it a try and head home if things deteriorate. You might just get in a couple of runs, or catch the best powder of the season. The trend of multi-resort season passes has also continued. For a flat fee, you can ski more than one resort in the same area. In Colorado, for example, there's the Epic Season Pass, with unlimited access to five Colorado ski areas—Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin, plus Heavenly near Lake Tahoe—for $599.

For those who can't take advantage of season passes, keep an eye out for multi-day passes that can save $10 or $20 per day when compared with one-day lift tickets. Also shop around for combination lift ticket/lesson deals. Many times, the least expensive lift tickets are part of Learn to Ski packages. At Oregon's Mt. Bachelor, beginners can ski for free on the Carrousel Lift all season, and for an extra $30, get a lesson and rental equipment. The resort also offers lesson/lift packages for more advanced skiers. For $199 you get five lessons (including rentals and lift tickets) plus a 12-day pass as a graduation present. The bottom line is that ski areas want to encourage participation—so they lower the entry cost to almost nothing, knowing that you'll soon become a regular customer. Other great deals include special promotional days, like Vermont's Mad River Glen Ski Area's Roll Back the Clock Day on January 29, when a ticket is $3.50 and the $14 Valentine's Day Kissing special.

Check individual ski-area websites for daily specials, but don't forget other sites that offer discounted tickets in advance. Sites like Liftopia.com, onthesnow.com, and skicoupon.com offer deals that you can't find anywhere else. Liftopia partners with more than 120 resorts in North America and sells discounted tickets as well as season and multi-day passes. Early-season tickets for Vermont's Jay Mountain were only $12, 85 percent off the published price, while season passes for Diamond Peak, near Lake Tahoe were 30 percent off. Prices fluctuate depending on conditions, day of the week, economic conditions, and expected available ticket inventory. You have to buy a ticket for a specific day or period, but if you are flexible about where and when you head to the mountains, you can save dough and not waste time standing in ticket lines. And also check out local discount ticket incentives offered at rental shops and drug stores. A quick web search could save you up to $5 per ticket.

If you live near a mountain, volunteer as a mountain guide and you'll score free lift tickets. In addition to needing lots of seasonal and part-time help, most resorts have an "ambassador" program where volunteers offer directions and advice to guests, and host visiting clubs. Or volunteer to help with events like the Special Olympics, youth and master's races, and snowboard comps. Most of the time, you get a free pass for the day you volunteer and another one to use at a later date.

And the trend to encourage family skiing continues each year. Many areas across the country offer free youth passes when parents buy their own tickets, and almost every ski area has a program to get grade-schoolers involved. Most areas let kids ski free under the age of six or seven. Some school districts include skiing and snowboarding as a part of their P.E. curriculum. Many resorts have started offering a free youth ticket with every adult ticket sold, or a multiple-day/lesson pass for kids at a greatly discounted rate.

Almost every state with skiing has a program designed to encourage students to ski or snowboard. Check with state ski association sites to determine what programs are available in your area (or vacation destination). The programs are usually tied to a specific grade or age group, but for the most part, kids don't need to be enrolled in a local school or even live in-state to qualify. For example, if you are planning on visiting New York, Idaho, or Colorado with children, you can apply for a program in advance. If the kids qualify, the passes are sent via mail and you can use them any time. In New York, fourth graders get three free lift coupons at participating resorts and deep discounts on lessons and gear rentals. In Idaho, fifth graders get three free days at each of the 15 ski areas that participate in the program. In Colorado, 21 resorts offer three free ski days for any fifth grader who applies—that's 63 free days! Passes for sixth graders are just $99 for four days at each of the resorts—that's 84 days! An even better deal can be found at Utah's Brighton Resort, where kids under ten ski or 'board free, every day. Search the web for "kids ski free" and a specific state.

Airline websites also offer great programs designed to get kids to the slopes. This season, many airlines, including Delta, United, and American, are offering packages to select ski areas. Generally, for specific dates, participating airlines let a child fly free for each adult fare. Resorts in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada all have kid's fly free programs.

Published: 11 Jan 2010 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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