How to Save Big on Your Winter Ski Trip

When you are planning a ski vacation this winter, you can save money if you know where to look for the best deals on lodging, car rental and winter activities. Our family takes a trip after the holidays while my sons are still out of school, and this year I discovered some new savings tricks that you may find helpful, too.

Skiing and snowboarding becomes more popular every year in the United States. Last year there were nearly 59 million visits to U.S. ski areas, a record number, which was a 3.5 percent increase over the year before, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Unfortunately, skiing can get very expensive if you do not plan ahead. The cost of airline tickets (if necessary), rental car, lodging, lift tickets, ski rental, lessons and food can add up quickly. However, you can control the cost of your ski trip if you can plan ahead.

Timing is everything. If you have flexibility in scheduling your vacation, opting to ski early or late in the season will cost far less than skiing during peak season. The highest demand times, such as the Christmas and New Years' holidays, will be the most expensive (and generally the coldest).

If the weather cooperates, many resorts out West open by Thanksgiving and stay open through April's spring break, which are the least expensive times to ski. You can visit a ski resort Web site to see what the lift ticket prices are by week to get an idea of when the best value weeks are. Ski areas are also less crowded during off-peak times, and that means you will spend less time waiting in lift lines and at restaurants.

Start by Finding a Lodging Deal

Visit the ski association's Web site for the state you plan to visit for special promotional information.

For example, by visiting the Colorado Ski Country USA Web site you can view a list of special lodging packages for several Colorado resorts in one place.

Check out online reservation Web sites for individually owned condominiums and houses.

Rates tend to be very competitive because owners manage their own properties rather than paying up to 40 percent in management fees. If you are booking your reservation at the last minute, individual owners may be open to negotiating a bargain price rather than missing out on rental income. Larger rental houses can also be economical if you divide a rental with another family. Houses or larger condos will also have larger kitchen and living areas, and possibly have amenities like a private hot tub. Start with www.vrbo.com/ or www.cyberrentals.com/. Enter the term "vacation rentals by owner" in a search engine to surface many more options.

Save on Lift Tickets

If you downhill ski or snowboard, you will need lift tickets (cross-country skiers save money here). The full price of an adult one-day lift ticket purchased at the resort ticket window at many ski resorts ranges from $77 to $85 per day during peak season, which is steeper than their slopes! By doing some advance planning, you should be able to get lift tickets at a discount. Plan ahead:

Visit the ski resort website for online ordering discounts. Well-known resorts like Breckenridge in Colorado charge $81 per adult ticket during peak season at the resort, but offer multi-day discounts when tickets are purchased online (bringing the cost down to $77 per day for four days).

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