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8 Tricks to a Cheap Ski Getaway
Experts share their top hacks for planning an affordable ski vacation.
Hit the slopes without blowing your budget.(Getty Images)
Powdery slopes, sleigh rides, ice skating, cups of hot cocoa around a crackling fire, après-ski cocktails – it's easy to see the allure of a ski getaway. But while finding a reason to hit the slopes isn't difficult, pulling off a cost-effective snowy retreat is another task altogether. Lift tickets, equipment rentals, flights and lodging costs can tally up to a steep final bill. But fret not: There are some clever tactics to keep your budget in check without compromising on a quality cold-weather getaway. If you're yearning to enjoy skiing, snowboarding and other wintry pastimes without bursting your budget, follow these expert-approved money-saving strategies.
If you want to plan a ski vacation during the peak season – mid-November to early April or January out West and January to mid-March along the East Coast – it's best to start early to secure the best rates, says Clara Sedlak, senior editor at travel site Jetsetter.com. While the annual predicted snowfall will determine peak visiting days, booking early is a safe bet, especially since most hotels offer the best ski packages, with perks like lift tickets, for bookings made by November, she says. You can also save by booking your lift tickets in advance rather than waiting until you arrive to secure your passes at the lift ticket window.
Avoid Peak Travel Times
For reduced rates and fewer crowds, visit during the less-popular weeks shouldering the holidays. The early season – Thanksgiving through mid-December – is a great time to score a deal, says Jeanenne Tornatore, senior travel editor at Orbitz.com.
Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, also suggests planning an off-peak trip before or after the popular season to snap up a deal. "Vail's ski season begins Nov. 24 this year, though rates don't begin to climb in earnest until Christmas week, making those first few weeks a bargain option," he explains. Sedlak also suggests skipping popular weeks like Christmas, New Year's and Presidents Day weekend, when lift ticket and accommodation prices tend to swell.
Skip Staying Slope-side and Consider All Options
Choosing off-the-mountain accommodations is an easy way to save. While being close to the mountain offers a higher convenience factor and added advantages, like lower transportation costs, for the best deals, your best bet is searching for lodging in a neighboring town, Saglie adds. That said, it's important to know which amenities are – and aren't – included at your hotel. While you'll pay more of a premium for locations close to the slopes, you may get perks such as free shuttle service, so make sure you factor amenities into your decision-making process, Tornatore says.
Avoid Renting Equipment on the Slopes
Picking up your ski gear on the mountain may offer added convenience, but you'll pay a high price tag. "The rental shop at the base of the mountain will have the better deals than the one by the ski lift," Saglie says. Even checking out sporting stores that are completely removed from the mountain and resort areas can be much cheaper, Tornatore says. And if you're an avid powder hound and you're planning to schlep your snowboard or ski gear with you, consult your airline's restrictions as ski equipment can easily tack on exorbitant extra charges for heavy and oversized luggage, Saglie says.
Bundle Your Lodging and Lift Tickets
To lure bargain-hunters to book early, many travel booking sites offer enticing promotions and packages. Sedlak highlights Liftopia.com, which showcases more than 200,000 passes and lift tickets across the globe, as a top choice for value-seekers looking to clinch the best lift ticket prices. And if you're planning to extend your stay to five days or longer, you can trim costs by investing in multi-day passes, Sedlak adds, pointing to the Vail Resorts Epic Pass (available for $849 for adults and $439 for children through Nov. 20) as a smart choice, with access to top resorts across California, Colorado and Utah.
Hotels also offer fantastic early-bird deals. The Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler features "Value Days" through Dec. 23, and again beginning April 1, until the ski season closes, Sedlak explains, pointing out "many hotels offer early-bird packages that include free lift tickets, discounted hotel rooms and other free perks." Tornatore also advises checking if you can package your airfare, hotel and car rental as a package, and she recommends utilizing hotel and booking site promo codes to get the best rates and snap up deals that include value-adds, such as complimentary breakfast and shuttle service.
Visit Bargain-Friendly Ski Towns
If you don't have your sights set on a particular ski town, consider skipping hot spots such as Beaver Creek and Aspen, Colorado, and heading to underappreciated mountain retreats to snag the best deals. Sedlak highlights Salt Lake City as an enticing option. "You don’t just save on pricey slope-side hotels – you also save on lift tickets and transportation," she says, pointing out that the city's prime location puts skiers and boarders within a 30-minute bus ride of top-notch resorts, such as Brighton, Snowbird and Alta. Even better, with a Ski City Super Pass, you can enjoy reduced-price lift tickets and complimentary transportation on the Utah Transit Authority’s Ski Bus connecting downtown Salt Lake City to Cottonwood Canyon, she adds.
Saglie also suggests checking out Vancouver, Canada, Taos, New Mexico and Lake Tahoe, California, for the best bargains. "With its prime lakefront location, The [Tahoe] Beach Retreat & Lodge is the perfect spot for a relaxing getaway," Saglie says, highlighting that Travelzoo is currently offering a promotion for $159 nightly stays for two-night bookings made through January.
Trim Costs Once You Arrive
Are you easily fatigued after a day shredding powder? If you know you're not going to spend all your time on the slopes, factor that into your trip planning. "If you know you tire easily from skiing or you’re the type that likes to spend more time with a cup of hot chocolate in the lodge, buy a morning or afternoon pass," Sedlak says. Oftentimes, afternoon tickets offer reduced pricing, translating to big saving for nonskiers, Tornatore says. Also make sure to eat before you hit the slopes. "I always have a huge breakfast before skiing (typically included in the hotel price) and just a snack for lunch to avoid spending too much on the mountain," Sedlak says.
Look for Special Promotions
Savvy boarders and skiers traveling with youngsters in tow can save big by searching for kids-ski-free promotions. This is particularly helpful if your companions are under 12, Sedlak says, pointing out that Keystone Resort in Colorado offers a promotion that enables kids to ski free with direct bookings that are a minimum of two-night stays. If you have some flexibility in your schedule, Saglie also suggests seeking promotions that offer discounts for extended stays. "Discounts often kick in after the third or fourth night, so staying a few extra days can give you savings," he says.
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