I wrote a post around the same time last year on some options for getting cheap, free or frugal lift tickets. While much of what I wrote then remains true, some options have gone away and I’ve stumbled across some others, so here is an updated version for 2014. We love to ski here, but prices can rack up pretty quickly, particularly with the whole family skiing, so knowing your options for cheap tickets can make all the difference.
Liftopia.com remains the best source of discount tickets across the US and Canada. I consider Liftopia to be the Amazon of lift tickets – they have the biggest selection, and their prices are always highly competitive. It is well worth signing up for their emails as they do run some great short term sales. We just got back from spending Christmas in Whistler and thanks to a one day Black-Friday Liftopia sale we managed to get five day tickets for $375. Now hey that is still a lot of money, but is well below the $500+ regular rate.
Check REI Lift Tickets to see what deals they have. These are only available by going to stores close to the ski resorts they cover.
Shell Ski Free Program
The Shell Ski Free Program is a Buy One Get One program for a variety of smaller resorts in California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Michigan. It works by getting a voucher if you buy 10 gallons of gas at a participating gas station, that then gives you a Buy One Get One voucher at participating resorts. You have to pull the full rate on the paid ticket, so it’s a bit more like a Buy One Get One Half Off when you factor in the discounts you could get by buying through other sources like Liftopia, but still it’s a decent program.
5th and 6th Grader Passes
If you have children in 5th or 6th grade then a number of states offer awesome passes for deeply discounted/free lift tickets. I wrote about this last year and it remains a great option. The main program is the 5th grader program, but there are also options for 6th graders. Our kids are currently 4th and 6th grade – last year my son got 3 days skiing at each of Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort in Utah for a crazy $25. This year we will get him four days skiing at four different Utah resorts for $30. Next year our daughter will be ready for her 5th grade pass!
If you want to get in on one of these passes move quickly as the application deadline for many of them are fast approaching.
The various options include:
Utah 5th and 6th Grade Ski Passport – open to residents of all states
Colorado 5th and 6th Grade Ski Passport – excludes Vail resorts, open to residents of all states
Epic Pass 5th and 6th Grade Ski Passport – Vail’s Colorado resorts, Colorado residents only (already too late for this year)
Idaho 5th and 6th Grade Ski Passport – open to residents of all states
Vermont 5th Grade Ski Passport – open to residents of all states
There are a few other options at other states with smaller resorts, but these cover the “big” skiing states. The only glaring absence is California, and I did reach out to their local ski federation but they said they stopped their program a few years ago due to lack of participation. That seems a lost promotional opportunity to me. Utah’s excellent program has assured we will spend time and money in that state’s resort for four years back to back. That said I did find one little Bear Valley Mountain that is bucking the state path!
Alta Boarding Pass (Park City QuickPass No Longer Available)
Park City tourism has run a great promotion for years whereby you can get a free lift tickets at any of it’s resorts – including the high end Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons – by “trading in” a boarding pass for a flight from out of the state on the day of arrival. This year I was excited as I’d finally be able to use it, but sadly for the 2013/14 season this has been quietly dropped.
The only alternative is Alta Ski Area (note Alta is ski only, no uncouth snowboarders allowed :)) has a Boarding Pass program giving you discounted lift tickets within 24 hours of arrival, valid only Monday through Friday. So this is far more restrictive than the old PC deal, but still a good discount if the dates work for you. A discounted adult ticket is $52.50 and kids $32.50. The best prices on Liftopia are generally closer to $70 a day.
If you are going to use this make sure you follow the rules or you won’t get a free ticket:
- Register before you travel
- You will need a physical (paper) boarding pass
- Make sure you get a duplicate boarding pass in case you have to surrender yours boarding your flight
Mountain Collective Pass
It’s already too late to get this for this season, but keep an eye out for next year. I wrote about this one last year and the year before and have always seen this as a great value pass if you are able to visit at least a few of the included resorts. The pass works by giving you two days at each of the included resorts – which for 13/14 were Alta/Snowbird, Mammoth, Whistler/Blackcomb, Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. Then after those 2 days further days are 50% of window ticket prices, which means at least 25% off of Liftopia pricing. And there are no blackout dates! This is truly a fantastic deal. 13/14 passes were priced at $349 for adults, $229 for kids so I would say you only need to do four days before you are “in the money” (these are all largely big, high end, high price resorts). I’d highly recommend signing up for notification for next season’s pass.
Use Your Points
It is possible to use American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points to buy lift tickets. As I have written about in detail, there is some value to be had here, particularly if keeping cash costs down is very important.
Check out this page for a comprehensive summary of lift ticket discounts for military.
Mix it Up!
Don’t think you have to get all your tickets from one spot! Last year in Utah I was at the ticket office cashing in a Utah 5th Grader Passport coupon, some Amex Membership Rewards Certificates and Liftopia bookings all at once! (That was one confused cashier!) This year in Whistler I booked some through Amex and some through Liftopia. Look to optimize based on the size of your party, your ages and your available cash and points.
Skiing can definitely be an expensive pass-time, but using some of these tricks can make it a little more accessible to most families. And this is by no means a comprehensive list – look up other local options specific to wherever you are going. There are a good variety of means and ways to reduce the expensive cost of skiing.
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