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.
Other resorts offering "kids ski free" deals include (for kids 10 and under) Big Sky Resort, in Montana, and (for kids 17 and under) Cataloochee Ski Area, in North Carolina.
Get free kids' airfare. Don't live within driving distance of a ski area? Look for "kids fly free" deals that provide complimentary air tickets for kids when a family ski vacation is purchased. Steamboat Springs pioneered "kids fly free" deals, but last year, dozens of other resorts offered copycat promotions. Freebies often play a part in the well-priced vacation packages and lodging deals on Ski.com.
Get your grade-schooler a passport. Many states offer free or discounted skiing to students in a designated school grade. Typically, kids can apply online or through the mail and must provide proof of their current school grade. Each passport is good for up to three free lift tickets at each participating resort. Fourth- and fifth-graders can apply for the Pennsylvania 4th & 5th Grade Snowpass and New Hampshire "Earn Your Turns" and Snowsports Passports, while only fourth-graders are eligible for the New York 4th Grade Ski & Ride Passport. Fifth-graders can apply for the Vermont 5th Grade Passport, Ski Utah 5th Grade Ski & Snowboard Passport, and the Inland Northwest 5th Grade Ski or Ride Free Passport, which includes resorts in Washington and Idaho. For sixth-graders, there's the Ski Utah 6th Grade Snowpass. Colorado has both 5th and 6th grade passports.
Consult the deal watchdogs. Check Discount Lift Tickets, Liftopia, GetSkiTickets.com and SkiCoupons.com for ways to save on lift tickets at resorts around the country.
Save on equipment rental. Price out equipment rental on your resort's Web site in advance of your trip. Sometimes pre-booking online can shave up to 20 percent or more off the overall rental cost. Weigh your resort's rental prices against the discounts you find on SkiCoupons.com. At Vail/Beaver Creek, for example, SkiCoupons.com offers printable coupons for 30 percent off equipment rentals at local outfitters. Also, consider investing in your own helmets. Youth helmets can cost as little as $40 but frequently rent for up to $10 per day.
Follow the locals. Die-hard ski bums know that supermarkets and local ski shops in mountain resort areas sell lift tickets for up to $10 per day less than what you'd pay on-site. That's a savings of $40 per day for a family of four. Consider investing in the coupon-filled Entertainment Book for the area you'll be visiting. Inside the editions for Denver, Utah, and Vermont, for example, you'll find discounts on lift tickets, ski equipment rentals, dining, and many other amenities that travelers use. A skiing family could easily recoup the cost of the book in a single day.
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