Smart Traveler: Carving Out Some Bargains

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, November 1994

Smart Traveler: Carving Out Some Bargains

How to get on top of ski-industry discounting
By Seth Masia

With lift tickets at major resorts running about $45 a day and lodging at least twice that, skiing is justifiably considered an expensive sport. But if you're schooled in the art of booking a ski trip, you can end up spending hundreds of dollars less than the rube next to you on the chairlift. Here's how.

Tour Operators
Rule Number One when planning a ski vacation: Never make reservations à la carte. Big savings come from economies of scale, which is why you'll find the best deals through a tour operator, who buys huge blocks of airline tickets and hotel rooms months in advance. Some three dozen operators do business in the United States, selling packages that will save you 10 to 40 percent off à la carte prices. Among the biggest and most experienced: Central Holidays (800-935-5000), Sportours (800-660-2754), and Ski Vacation Planners (800-822-6754). To Aspen, for example, Sportours offers round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, five nights' lodging, and four days of skiing for $788 per person. Central Holidays has packages starting at $753 per person to Jackson Hole, including airfare from Chicago, seven nights' lodging, and a six-day ski pass.

Don't overlook Canada and Europe, where the deals can be even better. Damon-Nelson Travel (800-782-4554) specializes in Canadian packages; a seven-night trip to Whistler/Blackcomb from Los Angeles in early December, for example, costs $937 per person, including airfare and a five-day lift pass. European packages often include meals, but not lift tickets (which are less expensive than those in the United States). A typical bargain through Austria Ski (800-333-5533) gets you a week in a four-star hotel in Innsbruck in January or March, airfare, and breakfast and dinner daily for $949 per person from New York ($1,099 from Los Angeles).

Ski Clubs
Another good way to save is to join a group. Ski clubs send their members out in packs of 25 or more, gaining volume discounts. Last season, one of the many New York-area clubs sent 31 skiers on a week in Chamonix for $1,060 each, and 30 to Tahoe for $942 each. The same club charges just $20 a night for bunks in its Vermont lodge and gets one-day tickets at Sugarbush, normally $42, for only $28. Every big city has clubs; they recruit by distributing travel guides through ski shops and health clubs.

Planning Strategies
When choosing a resort, remember that you're more likely to find a bargain when you're flying to a major hub (Salt Lake City, Denver) or regional jetport (Jackson Hole, Twin Falls) than when you're heading to a smaller market like Telluride or Aspen. As for lodging, you'll pay a lot more for ski-in, ski-out digs, but if you're not close to the lifts, make sure cheap, convenient transportation is available. Timing is everything: European ski areas have as many as eight pricing periods, and in the United States you'll generally find the cheapest rates before mid-December and in April.

Ski-Free Deals
Lodging isn't the only bargain during low season--some resorts give away lift tickets, so be sure to ask when making trip plans. At Crested Butte, lift tickets are free from November 28 through December 16. Telluride's ski-free deal is good for the early season and again in April if you book lodging through Telluride Resort Accommodations (303-728-3856). Park City Reservations (800-222-7275) gives you two three-day lift tickets when you stay at least four nights before December 16.

Locals' Discounts
Most resorts offer deals aimed at their year-round neighbors, but there's no reason traveling skiers shouldn't benefit, too. In California, Kirkwood offers an Avid Skier card--every fifth day is free. And if you're driv-ing to Heavenly Valley from the California side, you'll save $9 if you buy your lift ticket at the Safeway in Placerville. The ultimate locals' discount, of course, is to get a ski-area job that includes a free pass, and live in your van. Double-occupancy restrictions may apply.

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