Skiing is expensive, and it’s not going to get any cheaper—at least at the ticket window, where peak-season rates at the nation’s most prominent resorts now hover around $100 a day.
The most obvious way to avoid shelling out a C note for a day of play in the white stuff is by buying a season pass. But if you’re an infrequent skier or missed the pass deadline (most resorts cut off sales in November), there still are deals to be had.
Snow-sports resorts, taking their clues from airlines and hotels, now sell discounted lift tickets online and price them according to projected demand. Many also enlist third-party re-sellers to up the numbers. But there’s a catch: just as with shopping for airfares, consumers have to be flexible with dates, buy in advance and take their chances with weather to get the best deals. Here are seven ways to save this season.
1. Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month: Just in time to introduce your kid (or yourself) to a lifelong winter passion comes January, branded by the snow-sports industry as Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. Last year, 153,000 newbies nationwide took advantage of free or deeply discounted lessons and rentals offered through the promotion. Search by state or zip code to find out what’s offered at a resort near you.
Already a snow-sports enthusiast? Take the Bring A Friend Challenge by helping to enroll at least one newcomer in a beginner lesson taught by a professional instructor. Because, as the slogan says, “Humans were never meant to hibernate.”
2. Kids ski free programs: To encourage kids to take up skiing and riding, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, the Northwest Rockies, Pennsylvania, Maine, New York, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire and Vail’s Colorado resorts sponsor “passport programs” that let kids of various ages (typically third-, fourth-, fifth- or sixth-graders) ski or snowboard for free. You don’t have to be a state resident to sign your child up, although you do have to register well in advance and pay an administrative fee.
3. Shop the re-sellers: Re-sellers like Liftopia, GetSkiTickets and Snowbomb are to skiers what Expedia is to travelers. Both offer advance-purchase, date-specific tickets, lessons and rentals. Liftopia has the broader reach, offering discounts at hundreds of resorts worldwide. GetSkiTickets offers “steep and deep” discounts at about 50 U.S. and Canadian resorts. So how good are the deals? In peak season or during periods of optimal conditions, you’ll save at least 10 percent over ticket-window prices. Ski midweek, early or late in the season or when conditions are marginal, and save up to 70 percent.
4. Check Costco, ski shops and other retailers: Individual Costco stores, grocery stores, independent ski shops and sporting-goods retailers REI, Sports Basement, Sports Authority and others offer discounted lift tickets to resorts in the areas they serve. Check your local stores or call ahead to determine availability before visiting an outlet in the region you’re visiting. Costco offers a few deals online. For a good roundup of deals at resorts nationwide, use the search field at OnTheSnow.com.
5. Buy online from the resort: Not all resorts work with re-sellers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t offer ways to save. Some resorts offer ticket three- or four-packs after the cut-off date for regular season passes. Others, such as industry giant Vail Resorts, offer tiered pricing that varies according to dates and conditions. On an early- or late-season day when not all lifts and runs are open, prices can be 30 percent or more lower than on a holiday weekend. The catch: You have to purchase in advance. In Colorado, Vail’s “best-price” window is seven days out, while at Lake Tahoe resorts, it’s three days.
6. Ski with a pass-holder friend: Many season passes these days come loaded with “buddy pass” add-ons that let a friend access the mountain at a deep discount. Holders of a Squaw-Alpine pass (Lake Tahoe), for example, can purchase eight companion tickets for as little as $50 each midweek.
7. Brown-bag it. It’s hard to exit a ski-area cafeteria for less than $15 per person, and for families, that can be a deal-killer. A loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a few extras can feed a crowd for the price of a locker rental. As a bonus, you’ll have a place to stash your stuff if you need to shed layers in the afternoon.