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.
For example, Colorado offers a free passport to qualifying fifth-graders, and a $59 passport to sixth-graders. Last year our fifth-grade son used his passport to get three free lift tickets during our family ski trip to Colorado, and we live in Atlanta. We only had to mail in a form we printed from the ski association Web site and mail a copy of his school report card to prove he was in the fifth grade. Passports may also include coupon books to save on other services such as lessons, rentals and discounted tickets for other family members. We were able to get "buy one, get one free" adult lift tickets and saved $25 on a lesson with coupons from the passport booklet. States that currently provide a version of the passport program include Maine, New Hampshire, Montana, Utah, Michigan, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado and the INSA (Inland Northwest) region. Find more details at www.usskiandridepassports.com.
Lift ticket and equipment rental coupons and discounts:
For the rest of the family, you can save by using coupons from the Entertainment Book for the largest city near the ski resort, which generally has coupons for lift tickets, lessons and/or ski rental. You can preview the coupons available for each city's book at Entertainment.com. It will include coupons for local restaurants or the local grocery store that can help you save on food expenses, as well.
You can also save by buying your lift tickets at a discount online from the ski resort's Web site. The Web site www.skicoupons.com has done a good job of consolidating coupons and online discounts available for lift tickets and ski rentals by destination.
If you are a Colorado skier, you can buy adult ski passes before the season starts at a dramatic discount for Copper Mountain or Winter Park. Go to www.fourpass.com to take advantage of prices available through Oct. 14.
If you plan to ski more than a few days a year, many ski areas sell deeply discounted season passes before the end of November. In some cases, discounted passes pay for themselves after just a few days of skiing as compared to paying full rate at the ticket window.
Look for special promotions on the ski area Web site. You may find discounted prices on certain days of the week, discounts for military, students or seniors, or multiday passes available at a discount. If you are skiing with a group (such as 15 or more), check to see whether group discounts are available.
Car rental: I always use a travel search engine to find the lowest car rental price for the airport I'm flying into, however, I generally end up booking my car rental reservation with either Entertainment.com or Priceline.com.
If you own an Entertainment Book, you can register it online at Entertainment.com and use its online car rental discounts. The advantage I've found with its discounts is that they are refundable, so if our plans change I do not lose any money. However, if I am sure I'll be traveling I try to book a car through Priceline.com's "Name Your Own Price" feature that lets you get rock-bottom, nonrefundable car rentals. I first check Entertainment's price and then bid a lower price on Priceline.com. If I don't get my lowball bid on Priceline.com, I stick with the refundable Entertainment.com reservation. And be flexible about car type — you may find that a minivan is easier to get and less expensive than a sport utility vehicle in ski country.
Airfare: The standard strategies of using a travel search engine to find the lowest airfare apply here. However, once you buy your tickets you may want to "tag" your purchase with a tool like Yapta, which tracks your flight's cost over time. If the price of your flight drops substantially, you may qualify for a refund or a credit, depending on your airline's policy. You can also use tools at Travelocity and Hotwire that will track flight costs for a particular city before you buy your tickets, alerting you when prices drop.
Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABCNEWS.com. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her Web site at www.couponmom.com.