HITTING THE SKI SLOPES
this winter? Don't let an avalanche of vacation expenses freeze up your finances.
With lift tickets averaging $80 a day, a four-day ski package can easily cost $900 a person or more (including hotel and ski passes), says Mark Uhlfelder, senior vice president of Ski.com, a national ski tour operator. But with a little planning and research, you can easily cut your bill by 50%. Here's how:
"The hotel rates and lift tickets are all deeply discounted because there are fewer people on the runs," says Barbara Messing, a spokeswoman for Hotwire.com, a travel booking site offering ski packages. At Vail, for example, you'll get a 30% discount on lift tickets and room rates at area lodgings Sunday through Thursday.
Look for Last-Minute Housing Deals
Condos, timeshares and rentals-by-owner are all viable options. At Owner Direct Vacation Rentals, folks booking at the last minute get a 30% discount.
Seek a Less-Than-Stellar Location
You can often find "amazingly inexpensive" fares by staying a half-hour or so from the slopes, says Messing. "You can drive to different slopes and ski different areas and save a lot of money," she says.
Patrick Crawford, editor-at-large for Freeskier Magazine, a magazine for avid skiers, offers up Salt Lake City as a good example: The hotels offers lots of good deals, and you're within easy driving distance to four ski resorts that offer some of the best skiing in the U.S., he says. For example, the 4-star Little America Hotel currently offers rooms for as little as $85 a night. Stay closer to the lifts and you could easily pay 50% more, he says.
Hunt for Special Promotions
Ski.com has a "Specials" section with constantly updated package deals and last-minute travel bargains.
One current deal is a Ski Free, Stay Free special at Lion Square Lodge in Vail, Colo. You'll get five nights in a two-bedroom suite, four all-day lift tickets and round-trip shuttle service from the airport for a total of $4,208 ($1,052 per person, assuming four-person occupancy). Regularly, a similar room would cost you $3,600, plus $1,200 for the four adult four-day lift tickets and $288 for round-trip shuttle service to the Vail/Eagle Airport. With this deal, you'll save $880 the equivalent of slightly more than one night's stay, or nearly three adult four-day lift tickets.
Take a look at the airlines as well, which often offer promotions combining flights and ski tickets, says Arabella Bowen, editorial director for ShermansTravel.com, a travel advice Web site. United Airlines is currently offering special rates (starting at $99 round trip) from the west coast to Vail. Plus, when you book by Feb. 7, you'll get a free lift ticket. And if you're heading to the slopes in Canada, United, Alaska Airlines and Harmony Airlines are running a joint promotion where kids ages 2 through 12 fly free.
Buy Your Lift Tickets Before Your Trip
You'll pay about 20% less by buying them online in advance, rather than at the resort ticket window, says Uhlfelder.
Embrace Spring Skiing
Avoid peak times, particularly those that coincide with school holidays, says Hotwire's Messing. That's when prices are steepest and the slopes are most crowded.
Your best bet for bargains is to book your vacation during the beginning and end of the ski season, says David Lytle, editorial director for Frommers.com, an online travel guide. "There's less guarantee of snow," he concedes. But then again, anyone who has experienced those perfect spring skiing days on the slopes knows that end-of-season skiing can have its own rewards. Still, to minimize your risk, do some research before booking. Find out how the snowfall has been so far this year as well as in years past, and know when the slope typically shuts down.
Not surprisingly, prices drop dramatically as temperatures rise. At the Ridge Tahoe, which is a 3-star hotel and spa adjacent to Heavenly Ski Resort, a two-night package (accommodations, lift tickets and breakfast) is $229 per person during the winter. Starting March 24, the rate for the same package is $179.
- Peak months: late December, February, March.
- Peak holidays: Christmas, the weekends of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday (Jan. 14-16) and Presidents' Day (Feb. 18-20).
- Bargain times: The first three weeks of January, the period between Thanksgiving and Dec. 18 and the shoulder season (November and late March).