When cold weather hits, a trip to the mountains can be the perfect way to make the most of the season and avoid the wintertime blues. But with an array of expenses – gear, lodging and lift tickets, just to name a few – a few days on the slopes can quickly add up. Luckily, a weekend ski trip is still within reach for budget-minded travelers. U.S. News asked travel experts and ski resort representatives to spill their secrets on executing an affordable getaway on the slopes. Here are top ways to plan the ultimate weekend ski trip without breaking the bank. \r\n\r\n \r\nDo Your Homework and Plan AheadIf you've skied before, chances are you'll be tempted to wait until a winter storm rolls through and drops fresh powder before booking your time on the slopes. But planning ahead is crucial for cutting costs. According to Tucker Vest Burton, Aspen Skiing Company's public relations manager, the sooner you can book, the better."Always book in advance, at least seven days out," Burton says. "For example, if you purchase lift tickets in advance, you can save up to $70 [in Aspen]," she adds. Such savings (which can be as high as 50 percent) are possible whether you book through a third-party website like Liftopia or GetSkiTickets.com or directly through the ski resort's website, so long as you book early. Lodging, transportation and other necessities can also be cheaper when you make your reservations ahead of time.Still hoping to book a last-minute trip? Resorts often offer great savings when cancellations occur, so keep an eye out for limited-time discounts if you're hoping to go on an impromptu ski getaway. \r\nGo on an Off-Peak WeekendWeekends that fall during holidays and school breaks are notoriously more expensive times to plan a ski trip. To avoid higher rates, don't plan your trip during the weekends following Christmas, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day. March weekends also tend to be pricier due to an influx of spring break travelers.So when is the best time to go skiing? For the best rates, go during a less popular weekend, typically during the first and last few weeks of ski season. If you're a novice skier, consider going at the start of ski season in November. And if you're an advanced skier, try booking your trip in early April when the season is starting to wind down but there's still plenty of powder. Additionally, non-holiday weekends in January are an excellent time to ski, according to Megan Collins, Crested Butte Mountain Resort's marketing communications manager, thanks to discounted rates on lodging. \r\nBook a BundleOnce you've decided to commit to a weekend ski trip, multiple factors – like lodging and day-to-day expenses – should be taken into account. However, paying for equipment, lift tickets, accommodations, food and airfare can quickly add up. For the most savings, consider booking a package deal."Hotels offer better rates if it's packaged with another product," says Erik Austin, the vice president of marketing and sales at Whistler Blackcomb. For example, many resorts offer everything from the inclusion of lift tickets and breakfast to discounted airfare (sometimes up to $100 in savings) in their bundles."The bundling concept is always a pretty unique way of … saving money versus … piecing things together yourself," says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo. "A lot of these packages are great ways of getting a more comprehensive experience," he adds. Just remember to choose a bundle that includes items you were already planning to buy. Paying for unwanted experiences and perks will prevent you from maximizing your savings. \r\nRent Equipment Off-SiteWhen it comes to renting ski and snowboard equipment, convenience always costs a premium. To avoid paying higher equipment rental fees, opt for a sports store or rental shop that's located off the mountain."The ski rental shops at the base of the mountain are always going to be a better bet than the ones that are right outside the lift," Saglie says. Since most visitors want to walk the shortest distance possible with their ski equipment, rental shops located on the mountain can charge more for their gear. To avoid higher prices, look for ski rental spots at the base of the mountain or in a nearby city that's within close proximity to the mountain.Additionally, many ski rental shops – including Aloha Ski & Snowboard Rental in Park City, Utah, and The Ski Barn and SnowCreek Mountain Sports in Snowshoe, West Virginia will offer 10 percent to 25 percent discounts for booking gear in advance, so shop around online before your trip.On the other hand, if you're an avid skier who is driving to the mountain, buying your own equipment may be your best bet. Some stores like GearTrade and The House Outlet offer significant discounts on new and gently used equipment. However, if you're flying, keep in mind that overweight baggage fees – which can add up to hundreds of dollars – can make buying used equipment the least cost-effective option. \r\nConsider a Lesser-Known ResortAlthough ski destinations like Whistler, British Columbia, Aspen, Colorado, Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Park City are well known for their impeccable slopes and serene settings, you can save some coin by booking your weekend ski trip at a lesser-known resort. Bridger Bowl in Bozeman, Montana, for example, offers adult lift tickets for just $54 a day (compared to more popular regional resorts which can charge more than $100 per day per lift ticket). And East Coast skiers should consider visiting Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, Vermont, which offers daily lift tickets starting at $79, saving skiers roughly $10 per day per ticket compared to more popular resorts in the area.Other affordable options include Wildcat Mountain in Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire, Taos Ski Valley in Taos, New Mexico and Mount Bachelor in Bend, Oregon.