Ski on the Cheap
How to hack lift tickets, travel, lodging.
The ticket-window price at major ski resorts this season will be well north of $100, especially during peak times like Christmas and Presidents Day weekend. That’s not to mention the $7 pints of beer, $12 burgers and that $10 can of peanuts you can’t resist grabbing from the minibar at 1 a.m. after bar hopping through quaint, snowy streets. But it is possible to cut some costs.
The best deals are always going to be season passes or multi-resort pass deals like the Mountain Collective and the Epic Pass. But if you can’t commit to that much resort riding, you should still buy your day-tickets now.
“Buying your tickets in advance is just as important to cost savings as is skiing at off-peak times,” says Evan Reece, CEO of Liftopia, an online broker of lift tickets similar to airline ticket aggregators like Kayak.com and Skyscanner.com. “The earlier you purchase, the cheaper it will be.” While you can buy slightly discounted advance tickets on the web sites of major resorts like Vail and Jackson Hole, it’s a good idea to check out Liftopia first. They sell tickets for as much as 85 percent off face value for days when demand is projected to be low (think the Tuesday after President’s Day weekend) at 250 resorts worldwide.
The problem with advanced tickets, however, is weather. Say its 20 below, or there’s freezing rain glazing the chairlifts, and you rightly decide to stay in the hot tub all day instead of skiing. You’ll have to eat the cost of the ticket. Or at least you would have in previous years. This season, however, Liftopia is adding flexibility to their model with two new tiers of pricing that allow purchasers to change their lift ticket to a different day without an additional fee. The “Value Plus” ticket will cost a bit more and allow a single date change. The “Flexible” option allows unlimited changes, though in both cases the buyer is responsible for the difference in cost if there is one.
For example, on October 9, Liftopia was selling a January 6 value lift ticket to Jay Peak, Vermont for $38, which is 47 percent off the walk-up price of $72. For $44.79, you can get the Value Plus option and transfer the ticket for only the price difference at the time. The Flexible ticket cost $49.79, but can be postponed or advanced as many times as necessary.
Here are a few other ways to save money on ever-more expensive resort riding.
The ski industry has long bundled lift tickets with lodging for ski-and-stay type deals. A great place to peruse them is on Ski.com, which despite the .com in the name is more of an old-fashioned travel agent that works to bundle such deals with airline tickets. Peruse their deals page to check out the latest offerings. Plus, they frequently run cool contests for free skiing like this one at Banff and Lake Louise.
Another option is to check out hotels or vacation rentals in communities nearby resort towns, which are usually less expensive. Don’t want to rent a car? Buses run between Carbondale, Colorado, and Aspen every 30 minutes in the winter and will cost you just $6. Hourly shuttles bring people to Vail from as far as 40 miles down valley in Eagle for just $4. You can also catch a bus to Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, or Brighton from Salt Lake City every 40 minutes (when avalanche conditions allow) for just $4.50.
As with all air travel, timing matters. According to Kayak.com, the least expensive time to fly to Tahoe via Reno, Stowe via Burlington, or Park City via Salt Lake is in February, when you can save 20 percent on airline fares over peak December prices.
Want to ski in March? Fly to Whistler or Jackson Hole, when fares are an average of 18 percent lower than in December. Of course, flights to Denver, from which daily shuttles to Steamboat, Vail and Breckenridge leave, will save you 19 percent over flights into Aspen, Telluride or Vail itself.
Discounts for Beginners
Most resorts offer good deals for beginner skiers in order to recruit new enthusiasts to a flat-lined sport. They usually include free rentals and a free lesson with the price of a lift ticket, though most people don’t know to ask for it ahead of time. The industry clusters deals in January, which they’ve dubbed Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. Check out Learntoskiandsnowboard.org for a list of deals like Vail’s three-day deal for $340, which includes a lesson and rentals, just $135 over the cost of the listed single-day beginner lesson ($205).
A few of the resorts below are known for their beginner programs that cater to locals. Vermont’s Sugarbush has a First Timer To Lifetimer program wherein riders of any age who complete a $225, three-lesson package will receive a free unlimited season pass (a $1600 face value) for the remainder of the season.
At Mount Bachelor: you get five lessons and lift tickets for $199, and once completed, a “graduation gift” of a free 12-day pass for the rest of the season for adults or a full pass for anyone under 18. The next season, you can buy a full season pass for half off. Once participants complete the 3-class Pass program of three lessons at Loveland Pass in Colorado, they’re rewarded with a full season pass. Starting at $310.
The best skiing usually happens in March once snow has accumulated to cover bare spots, or to soften up icy conditions. Ironically, by then most resorts are quiet as vacationers look to beachy vacations. A few western resorts known for late closing seasons offer some amazing late-season pass deals to generate interest dring that slow time. Last year, A-Basin finally closed on June 1, but riders began using their $179 spring pass on March 21, good for 72 days of skiing. Similarly, in early March last year Mount Hood Meadows offered a $139, Rest-of-the-Season Pass, good through April and on a few weekends in May. Snowbird, which sometimes stays open into June on the weekends, last year put its season pass on sale for $499 on March 1, and dropped it to $329 on April 1.