Ski vacations are pricey by nature, yet even in a tough economy, there's a lot of good news for snow-loving families.
Savvy parents won't have to pay full price for this year's family ski trip. Instead, they can save big bucks by knowing when and where to score a deal. Here are 10 ways to get more snow for less dough:
Book now. Every year, by the first day of October, fantastic early-bird ski deals start popping up all over. The catch is that you have to snap them up before the season gets underway. These act-quick opportunities will be a dime a dozen in the coming weeks, but they'll dry up by Thanksgiving. Here are some of the best we've seen so far this year:
Planning ahead pays off big at Copper Mountain, a family-friendly resort in the Colorado Rockies (see our review). Book two nights and at least one adult three-day lift ticket before Nov. 30 and your third night is free, plus you get a free kid's lift ticket for each adult ticket purchased. If you can book by Oct. 31, Copper will sweeten the pot with up to $25 a day in resort credit.
Book a four-night stay at Steamboat Springs by Nov. 25 and get 20 percent off lodging and lift tickets.
Book before Oct. 15 at Mont Tremblant, voted the No. 1 ski resort in eastern North America by SKI magazine readers, and you can save up to 35 percent on a three-night stay, plus get three days of skiing for just $135.
Aim off-peak. Timing is everything. Depending on where you ski, the season can last anywhere from four to six months. Many resorts out West are open by mid-November and remain open through April. In general, prices at ski resorts are highest when there is a greater chance of snow (read: coldest months) and also during school breaks.
Otherwise, resort rates can fluctuate wildly throughout the season. To wit: At Smugglers' Notch, voted the No. 1 resort for family programs by SKI magazine readers (see our review), prices during SuperSaver Value Weeks are a full 50 percent lower than over the New Year or President's Week. Opting to ski before December or after mid-March can almost always save you a bundle.
Tip: If your travel dates fall on the fringes of ski season, it's wise to choose a resort with a reputation for good snow-making capabilities, in case Mother Nature doesn't oblige with a layer of the white stuff.
Go midweek. Lodging and lift tickets are both more expensive on weekends, so a Monday-to-Thursday ski break can cost half of what a Thursday-to-Sunday getaway does at the same resort. But saving money is just the beginning of the good news. Midweek typically means fewer crowds, shorter lift lines, and smaller group sizes during lessons.
Be a tourist. All the big ski destination states have dedicated tourism associations which exist to promote their own resorts and ski areas. Their Web sites can be good money-saving resources. For example, you'll find hot deals at Colorado Ski Country USA, Ski Utah and Ski Oregon, resort packages at Ski Vermont, and discounts on lift tickets at Ski New Hampshire.
Get free kids' lift tickets. Nothing is more family-friendly than a resort that lets kids ski free. Buy an adult ski lift ticket for five or more days at Steamboat Springs, in the Colorado Rockies, and you'll get a free 12-and-under child's lift ticket for the same number of days.