Skiing ... cheap? Impossible, you say? Well, not if you know how to frugalize your ski vacation. There are many skiers who don't pay a penny more than necessary to support their skiing habit.
"My son and I like to go to Tahoe skiing, but we're not made of money, so we have to stretch the dollars," says Andrew Urbaczewski, an avid skier and professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
For example, Urbaczewski says he never pays full price for a ski-lift ticket and visits sites such as SlidingOnTheCheap.com and Liftopia.com for deals of 15 percent to 80 percent off. He also looks for lift-ticket coupon specials from sites such as SkiFreeDeals.com and from discount stores such as Costco.
Getting a great deal on lift tickets should be your No. 1 goal, but there are several other ways to indulge your inner ski bum without breaking the bank.
Here are six tips to ski on the cheap this winter.
1. Plan ahead
It's fun to head to the slopes when the mood strikes and the snow flies, but you'll pay a steep price for spontaneity. To save money, make sure you plan ahead.
"Many people wait until the snow starts falling to book. That's a mistake," says David Cronheim, general counsel and editor for Ultimate-Ski.com. By booking your lift tickets early -- before Labor Day -- you can save more than 20 percent, he says.
Booking early also will help you score cheaper airfare if you have to fly to ski, says Wayne Dunlap, travel TV host with his wife, Pat, on "Plan Your Escape" on the CW network and travel columnist with The Huffington Post.
In addition to checking travel booking sites that cover airlines, hotels and cars, be sure to look for airline fare deals directly on websites for domestic budget airlines. "Many people do not know that domestic budget airlines like Southwest Airlines do not participate with the major travel booking websites, so you may miss out on some good deals on flights," Dunlap says.
2. Go with a crowd
To save cash, travel in packs. "Traveling with a group can save you lots," says Marek Zareba, a team member at Crowdtilt.com, a crowdsourcing site for groups of friends to pool their money together for a specific purpose. "Groups of 20 or more enjoy huge discounts on lift tickets, lessons and rentals almost everywhere."
Urbaczewski says renting a big house and splitting the costs with a group of friends or family is much cheaper than renting separate hotel rooms or condos. He recommends visiting sites such as Vrbo.com or HomeAway.com to find individual homeowners who live near a ski resort. "(The homeowners) are often willing to negotiate, particularly the further in advance you inquire," he says.
Traveling with a group also can help you save on food costs, particularly if you rent a house with a fully equipped kitchen. "We have our meals planned out for the week while we are killing time on the plane and stop at the grocery store on the way (to the resort) from the airport," Urbaczewski says.
3. Stay at the right time in the right place
"Here's my best tip: Ski and stay midweek," says Marti Mayne, a spokeswoman for the Mt. Washington, N.H., Chamber of Commerce. "(That's when) you'll always find the best deals on the ski slopes."