Skiing Affordably

You may not be able to cut the lift line, but you should be able to cut the costs of getting up the mountain with these seven handy tips

By Brad Tuttle, Tuesday, May 10, 2005, 12:00 AM

Lift tickets are an eye-bulging aspect of fun in the snow. Top resorts regularly require riders and skiers to drop $60 or more a day for the use of its slopes, and that's before adding in the costs of food, gear, accommodations, and Apres ski fun. There are various ways around the full-price lift ticket. Here are a few.

Ski weekdays, not weekends

The snow is the same, the slopes are much less crowded, plus you're saving money. There is really no down side to skiing on weekdays, if you can get the time off of work. It's the simplest way to save money: just hit the slopes during a weekday, non-holiday period, and prices will be 20 to 50 percent off in many cases (though a few stingy resorts charge full price no matter what). Hotel rooms are usually less expensive too. Look out for midweek hotel-lift ticket packages, when your chances are biggest for paying the least.

Senior, child and student

Always, always, always ask for them before purchasing. Sometimes these discounts are not advertised, but almost every resort offers lift ticket savings for seniors, children, and students. You'll often pay 50 percent or less than the regular adult-priced pass (and sometimes totally free for kids and seniors). Many mountains extend the discounts to lessons and rentals too.

Ski part (not all) of the mountain

Many resorts offer special ski passes for those only interested in riding a limited number of chairlifts. These offers are usually aimed at beginner skiers, who are more likely to stick at the bottom of the mountain and ride one or two chairlifts all day. Alta, in Utah, for example, charges $25 for a lift ticket good on three beginner chairlifts (while all-access passes cost $47). Check out whether a ski mountain offers such savings before paying full price, beginners especially.

Ski part (not all) of the day

Half-day ski passes are yet another of the annoying aspects of winter sports. They're called "half-day" but they sure as heck ain't half-price. Typically, half-day passes cost maybe 20 percent less than a full-day pass ($60 for full-day, $50 for half-day is fairly normal). Still, four hours of skiing is more than enough for some folks. So rather than ski from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., why not buy the half-day pass, save the $10, and hit the slopes from noon to 4 p.m.? Try to figure out how much skiing is enough for your legs to handle. Few skiers really get a full day's worth of skiing, especially if they're up at the mountain several days in a row. Swallow your pride and save a few bucks. Also, inquire if a resort has hourly or per-run rates, or special half-day tickets. Some resorts will charge by the hour or by the run these days. Others (particularly those that attract a big weekend crowd) will offer bigger half-day discounts for skiing on Sunday afternoons (when most visitors are trying to get home).

Ski cards.discount programs

These are primarily of interest only to those who ski at one resort regularly. Over the past few years, many resorts began programs that are essentially frequent skier discounts. Instead of offering the sole option of a season pass (which is worthwhile only for the select few who can ski dozens of days a year), resorts are now offering passes that are worth it if used only a handful of times.

Here's how many of the passes work. You pay a certain amount up front for an ID card (say $50 or $75), and then each time you ski you pay a discounted rate (often as much as 50 percent off the standard lift rate). The card is set up to charge a credit card immediately, so this eliminates the need to wait in line to get a lift pass each day. Many times, if you ski at the resort five times or so, the card pays for itself and then some. Often when you buy such cards, they come with further savings if you bring other skiers along with you.

The downsides of these cards? No variety. Since you have the discount card, you wind up always skiing at the same resort. Also, if you're going to wind up skiing only a few times, it may be cheaper to pay as you go.

Alternately, some mountains offer passes that can be used at a handful of resorts (usually if they're owned by the same parent company). These passes are especially popular in Colorado, and are well-worth investigating if you plan on skiing more than a few times in the same region. Each ski resort's Web site will tell you all the details of its frequent skier programs, if it offers any. For example, a pass good for unlimited days at Colorado's Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin, and 10 days at Vail and Beaver Creek, costs $349 at snow.com/.

Scout out the local scene

Oftentimes, newspapers in proximity to ski resorts post coupons and special offers. These are aimed at getting locals out to the resorts, but anyone (including tourists from out of state) can take advantage of them. So, newspapers in Denver are where to look for specials in Breckenridge, Vail, or Winter Park; newspapers in Salt Lake are where to find savings in Park City or Snowbird, and newspapers in Burlington, Vermont, are where ads for Stowe, Sugarbush, or Smuggler's Notch are likely to pop up.

The best chances for finding these coupons and offers are in a paper's Travel sections (usually on Sunday, but some have Wednesday editions too). Can't find these papers in your town? Newsstands in big cities and huge bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders usually have a wide selection of newspapers from around the country. Libraries are often stocked with newspapers from all over as well.

Gas stations, ski shops, and supermarkets are also sources of discounted lift tickets. Once you're in the vicinity of a ski mountain, ask around to see if tickets can be bought outside the resort to save money.

Look into a ski package

Almost every resort offers a number of lift-and-lodging packages. At the beginning and end of ski seasons, these packages are the best bargains on snow. It is not unusual to find a early winter or late spring ski package with accommodations and lift passes at a per-night price that in mid-February would have barely paid for a single-day's lift ticket. So check each resort's Web site (do a google search if you don't have Web addresses) for the latest promotional packages-especially in fall and spring.

Several discount travel operators sell ski packages that combine a lift ticket with lodging, car rental, airfare, or all of the above. Packages are oftentimes (but not always) an easy way to save money. Shopping around is necessary to figure out which way is most budget-friendly.

Reputable ski packages

A few packagers that tend to have decent prices:

  • Leisure Link International (888/801-8808, leisurelinkintl.com/)
  • Lynx Vacations (877/284-7544, lynxvacations.com/)
  • Moguls Mountain Travel (800/6-MOGULS, skimoguls.com/)
  • Resort Quest (877/588-5800, resortquest.com/)
  • Rocky Mountain Tours (800/525-SKIS, skithewest.com/)
  • Southwest Airlines Vacations (800/243-8372, swavacations.com/)
  • Ski Europe (800/333-5533, ski-europe.com/)
  • Adventures on Skis (800/628-9655, advonskis.com/)
  • Value Holidays (800/558-6850, valhol.com/)
  • Holidaze Ski Tours (800/526-2827, holidaze.com/)
  • Central Holidays (800/935-5000, centralholidays.com/)
  • Go-Today Travel (800/227-3235, go-today.com/)