Only suckers buy their lift tickets when they arrive at the mountain. Smart skiers plan ahead. Here are fresh tactics for finding ski deals at every turn.
Most ski resorts gouge the walk-up customer. Walk up to the ticket window in Aspen, for example, and you'll pay $87 for a one-day pass. Buy a multiday pass on the spot, and you'll shave a little off the daily rate. But plan ahead and you'll knock a significant chunk off expenses. For early-season skiing (through December 7), for example, a four-day pass purchased one week in advance costs $220, or an average of $55 a day (aspensnowmass.com).
So don't get gouged. Follow these strategies for saving money on lift tickets.
Buy in bulk
Go to resort websites to scout the possibility of purchasing several days' worth of lift passes at a discount. Here's a recent example: Loveland Ski Area, about 55 miles west of Denver, normally charges $42 to $54 for daily passes, but 4-Paks—four lift tickets that can be used on any day of the season, by anyone—cost just $109. That's roughly half as much as tickets purchased individually. The catch: You have to order them by November 23 (skiloveland.com). South of Lake Tahoe, California's Kirkwood sells two-day passes online for $99, compared with $69 to $72 a day for walk-up buyers (kirkwood.com). At Idaho's Brundage Mountain Resort, Select Cards cover two to five days of lift tickets and can save you $10 to $45 a day (brundage.com). Note that these passes and cards can only be purchased online or by phone.
Take the express way
To build customer loyalty, many resorts have been pushing express passes and frequent-skier cards. Customers pay an up-front fee to receive a discount on each day of skiing and the privilege to head straight to the lifts, skipping the lines. For example, Vermont's Stratton Mountain charges $79 for its X2 Express Card; with it, a midweek day of skiing costs $39 (compared with the walk-up price of $69), and a weekend day of skiing is $58 (normally $78). In addition, X2 cardholders receive their first midweek ski day for free. So it is probably worth the expense if you visit Stratton for just a few days (stratton.com). Other resorts with worthwhile frequent skier cards include Big Sky Resort in Montana ($125 for $20 discounts daily and 14 free days in early and late season, bigskyresort.com), New Mexico's Taos Ski Valley ($35 for $12 off daily passes and every seventh day free, skitaos.org), and New York's Whiteface Mountain ($79, with the first day free; $12 to $16 off other days; valid also at Gore Mountain, whiteface.com).
Pay by the turn
Most skiers' legs are only up for a couple hours of skiing, so why pay for more? Check out resorts that charge by the run or in short blocks of time. Single rides up the lift are available for $10 each at Utah's Brighton (brightonresort.com), while Oregon's Mount Bachelor sells 10 rides that can be used anytime over two seasons for $70 (mtbachelor.com). Ski Norquay, in Banff, Alberta, offers passes for as little as $30 for two hours (banffnorquay.com). Similarly, beginning skiers might steer clear of a pass that covers the entire mountain and focus on a few easy green runs. Limit yourself to the area served by a beginner lift, and your day of skiing will cost as little as $5 at Montana's Bridger Bowl (bridgerbowl.com), $10 at Wyoming's Jackson Hole (jacksonhole.com), or $19 at Utah's Snowbird (snowbird.com).
Watch out for high costs for kids
Different resorts charge different rates for children. At some mountains, only kids under age 5 ski free, while at others the cutoff is 10. Still other resorts have several layers of rates, meaning a pass for an 8-year-old may cost less than one for a 13-year-old, and both are cheaper than an adult ticket. You may fare better if you take advantage of family promotions. Nevada's Mount Rose, a 1,200-acre resort just 25 minutes from Reno, has a $124 family package available every day of the season, which bundles two adult and two child lift tickets for a savings of $34 (mtrose.com). On 10 Family Fridays at Vermont's Bromley Mountain, adults pay $25 each, and up to three kids pay $12 apiece (bromley.com).
Look for goofball promotions
To bring folks to the mountains during slow times (such as midweek dates), resorts bust out tons of goofball promotions. Colorado's Wolf Creek, an unheralded spot that claims to receive more snow than any other resort in the state, offers $27 lift tickets for Local Appreciation Days and events such as the Super Bowl (wolfcreekski.com). Sugarloaf, in Maine, allows locals with in-state IDs to ski for $26 on most Wednesdays (sugarloaf.com). California's Mammoth Mountain, where the normal price is $79, charges $55 for Midweek Madness passes bought online for Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in January (mammothmountain.com). Mount Rose's promos include buy one, get one free tickets on Two for Tuesdays, as well as Ladies' Day Thursdays, when women pay just $19. Bromley is another resort big on quirky deals, with Mom's Day Off (mothers show a photo of their kids and pay $15 on Friday, February 8) and two-for-one lift tickets for couples on Valentine's Day, a kiss on the lips at the ticket window is required as proof of couplehood. Loveland, as the name suggests, also gets into Valentine's Day with two-for-one lift tickets for couples getting married or renewing their vows on the mountain. Preregistration is required.
Be wary of the middleman
Some resorts discount tickets via ski shops or supermarkets, while others work with specialty online vendors. Ski 'N See's nine Salt Lake City-area ski shops, for example, sell lift tickets that are a few bucks cheaper than walk-up rates at eight nearby resorts (skinsee.com). Third-party website offers are hit-or-miss, though. Liftopia.com yields some fantastic deals—New Hampshire's Gunstock Mountain for $9, Utah's Snowbird for $40—but because tickets are often valid only on specific dates, and refunds and changes are generally not allowed, reading the fine print is essential. (Note, too, that prices change daily.) Snowbomb.com, which focuses on Lake Tahoe, sells cards that provide a discount on lift tickets. Skicoupons.com also has discount cards for lift passes. Before booking with any of these middlemen, though, it's smart to compare their prices with what's being offered from the source. Sometimes what looks like a deal isn't one.
Nab a deal with a multi-resort pass
While most passes are exclusive to a single resort, a few give package discounts—or even free days—to several mountains. With a Colorado Gems Card in hand, skiers get $8 to $15 off lift tickets for the cardholder and two friends at eight Colorado resorts, including Arapahoe Basin, Loveland, and Monarch Mountain. A-list resorts like Vail and Aspen aren't included, but you can't beat the price: It's free (coloradoski.com). Also in Colorado, the $49 G-Pass comes with two free days at Durango Mountain Resort and one free day apiece at Monarch and Arapahoe Basin. The catch is that the pass must be activated at Silverton Mountain. A remote backcountry-style resort that caters to expert skiers—with limited lifts and services—Silverton allows unguided skiing in early and late season for $49 ($39 with the G-Pass) or guided skiing starting at $99 (silvertonmountain.com; download G-Pass registration form here).
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