Get Your Ski Season off to a Great Start

My husband and I each grew up in states that are popular ski destinations. So when we had a family, we wanted to continue our families' tradition of regular ski vacations. However, we quickly learned that skiing is very expensive when you are the parents paying for it!

Rather than give the sport up, I made it a project to find every possible trick to reduce the cost of skiing. I am happy to report that there are actually many ways to cut the cost of skiing, particularly if you take advantage of special offers and discounts available before the season begins. Therefore, now is the time to look for deals on skiing that you plan to do later this winter. Some of the best ski bargains expire Oct. 14!

Depending on how far you need to travel to reach your ski destination, your ski vacation costs will most likely include airfare, lodging, car rental, lift tickets, ski rental, lessons, helmets, ski clothing, restaurant meals and/or groceries. I'll share our best savings strategies for each of these areas.

Consider early or late season skiing: The week after Christmas and the first week of the year tend to be the busiest weeks because kids are out of school. Prices for lodging and lift tickets will be at their peak of the season, and these premium weeks may be considered "black out" dates for any discount coupons available. You also will face bigger crowds and longer lift lines. However, if you ski at a resort with a long season, you may find real bargains by skiing at Thanksgiving or later in the year during spring break. During these times the lift tickets are less expensive, there are no crowds, and if you use lift ticket coupons you'll be outside of black out dates. You will also pay less if you ski during the week rather than during a weekend. And if you are a fair-weather skier like me, you'll appreciate the warmer temperatures in April.

Ski association Web sites for lodging deals: If you know the state you plan to ski in, find its ski association Web site and sign up for its e-mail newsletter. Look for links to travel package information that may provide deals that include airfare, car rental, lodging, lift tickets or more. If you book as early as October, you can take advantage of early bird discounts available at top resorts. Many ski association Web sites provide information about promotional events or special days of the year that offer discounted ski tickets, such as an annual food drive day. A good starting point to find package deals and resort information across the country is www.ski.com.

Larger, more popular ski areas generally have higher prices. Search out the lesser-known ski areas in the same vicinity and compare their prices and conditions.

Free ski passes for students: The best deal going is the passport program, which is a free lift-ticket program many states provide to encourage students to start skiing early. The passport program provides a few free lift tickets to several resorts within one state, available at no cost or for a nominal service fee to fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders, depending on the state. In most cases, students do not have to be residents of the state to get a passport.

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