How to Carve Out Some Savings

Travel Guide, Winter 1995-1996

How to Carve Out Some Savings
By Ron C. Judd

Deep in the heart of every skier lurk two great fears: unsettlingly steep slopes and unreasonably steep ski-trip prices. To survive the first, sideslip. To avoid the second, consider a few time-tested vacation strategies.

Group up. This sounds obvious, but it's surprising how many skiers continue to trek out in twos, negating the major cost savings (not to mention social benefits) of booking ski vacations with four to eight friends. Small groups can land a sprawling condominium--bigger groups a private house-- for a fraction of the per-person cost of separate resort rooms. Even at such pricey areas as Whistler in British Columbia, a number of luxurious private homes can be rented at off-peak times for less than $50 per person per night, for a group of six or eight. How to find them? Send away for the Sunday paper nearest your chosen resort; many homeowners and management companies advertise in the travel or classified sections. Also, ask at your local ski shop about ski clubs; many take group trips at substantial savings, and some even have their own private lodging.

Use tour operators. If a traditional, two-people-in-a-resort vacation package is what you want, buy it preassembled. National ski-travel agencies round up large blocks of plane seats, rooms, and lift tickets at prices you'll never touch, no matter how long you work at it. You'll usually save 20 to 40 percent, especially on off-peak-season vacations. Acknowledged experts include Ski Vacation Planners (800-822-6754), Central Holidays (800-935-5000), and Aspen Ski Tours (800-872-7544). Stay flexible on dates and you can land weeklong off-peak packages to major resorts such as Vail for around $800 per person, including airfare, lodging, transportation, and lift tickets.

Timing is everything. Don't ski on or near a holiday. Ever. Remember that resort prices are about 25 percent less during "value seasons," which are generally the weeks between opening and the second week in December, sometimes a week or two in January, and the post-spring-break weeks between mid-March and closing. Most resorts offer inexpensive lodging before Christmas, and some, such as Colorado's Crested Butte (800-544-8448), even offer free lift tickets during off-peak periods.

Find local discount coupons. A few resorts sell these on the premises. Alpine Meadows at Lake Tahoe, for example, sells the "Alpine 10-Pak," a book of ten daily tickets for $318. It's sold only through November 15, but the coupons, a major break off the $45 daily price, are good all season. Many resorts distribute discount coupons to drive-ins, grocery stores, and gas stations. Snowbird in Utah sells discount lift tickets at Smith's Food and Drug Centers in Salt Lake Valley; in Colorado's Front Range, a $10 Gold-C booklet available at Safeway stores gives you discounts at various nearby ski resorts, including Steamboat.

Cling to the hubs. The trip to a resort at or near a major flight hub such as Denver or Salt Lake City will be dramatically less expensive than one requiring a shuttle flight or flights farther into the mountains. For example, thousands of western skiers take advantage of cheap Southwest Airlines fares to Salt Lake City (e.g., $108 round-trip from Seattle) to visit Snowbird, Alta, and Park City, or weeklong discount packages that cost less than $125 a day--including airfare, lodging, lift tickets, and rental car. By contrast, airfare alone for a two-flight destination can add several hundred dollars to your trip.

Filed To: Snow Sports
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