Services bundle up, prices slip at ski areas

— -- With the stock market falling faster than snowflakes in a blizzard, ski resorts are dispensing with the usual sweet talk about champagne powder and high-speed lifts: This year, the come-ons are all about the deals.

Ski areas from Maine to California are touting "vacation bailouts" in a time when many skiers are more preoccupied with the plunging economy than with plunging down the slopes. But with the average price of a weekend lift ticket hitting $69 a day (and topping $90 at some), affordability is a relative term.

So resorts are getting creative in their pricing. Early-booking discounts, which typically end in mid-November, are being extended. Value-added incentives such as meal and spa credits, hotel nights and lift tickets are being offered with packages. Gas rebates and lower gear-rental rates are popular.

"We're seeing deals for the holidays, which is unheard of," says Dan Sherman of

The best values require early booking, he adds, but many resorts are extending those deadlines to Dec. 1 and even later.

While the plethora of discounts indicates the industry is worried, some believe that heavy snowfall will trump economic concerns. In 2007-08, skier visits hit record levels at 60.5 million, thanks to near-record snowfall.

"Any time there are good conditions, we've seen an increase in skier numbers," says Troy Hawks of the National Ski Areas Association.

New England resorts are banking on East Coast traffic, with some areas, such as New Hampshire's Waterville Valley, offering gas cards with some packages.

"We stand to gain from people who won't be going west," says Karl Stone of Ski New Hampshire.

Colorado Ski Country's 22 member resorts are "cautiously optimistic," says spokeswoman Jennifer Rudolph. But some, such as Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, have publicly acknowledged a tough season ahead. Vail Resorts in March came out with a $579 season pass good at its four Colorado resorts and at Heavenly in California. A similar pass went for about $1,800 last year. Deadline to purchase is Saturday.

A sampling of promotions:

Beaver Creek, Colo.:Holiday season luxe digs at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa for five nights includes four-day lift tickets from $1,760 to $2,538 per person, double (savings of $487-$825 per person). Valid Dec. 20-Jan. 3. 800-525-2052;

•Lake Placid, N.Y.:Accommodations at Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa with breakfast, lift tickets for Whiteface Mountain and $50 restaurant or spa credit starts at $290 a night for two (46% savings). Valid late November-March. 518-523-2544;

Park City, Utah:Get two free lift tickets at The Canyons Resort, plus a $25 gift card, for each night booked at three luxury resorts. Rates start at $175 per person, double. 888-226-9667;

Jackson Hole, Wyo.:Accommodations at Spring Creek Ranch, breakfast and two daily lift tickets for Jackson Hole Mountain or Grand Targhee resorts start at $87.50 per person, double, a night. Valid late November-April 1. 800-443-6139;