Update: This post was written for the 2012/2013 ski season. Check out this post for updated options for the 2013/2014 season!
We are now in the thick of ski season in the Northern hemisphere, in fact I am writing this post on board our Delta flight to Salt Lake City where we are heading for our annual week long ski trip. We love to ski, but a family ski trip is an expensive affair even when using miles and points to cut down on the costs. While it’s often not too difficult to find flights to the major cities and hotels at many ski resorts, there are a lot of other expenses involved, primarily paying for lift tickets. While going solo for a day or two might not seem too bad, going for a week with a family of four or more you can very conceivably end up well into four figures on lift tickets. So I thought I’d share some of the experiences I have had with booking lift tickets either cheaply or with points. This is by no means an exhaustive list and is very focused on North American resorts. My one tip on finding out more about specific resorts and ways to get cheaper tickets is to start with TripAdvisor forums for the local area. That will help connect you with experts who know the territory.
Liftopia is a large online discount lift ticket operator. In general terms the earlier you are prepared to book your tickets here the bigger the discount you can get, but in general they sell date-specific tickets that are non-flexible and non-refundable. Still there are some truly excellent deals to be had. For example this past Christmas we paid $395 for two adult and two child two day lift tickets at Tremblant. This was a 40% discount on the walk-up price and a great rate for peak season (the week between Christmas and New Year is the busiest time of the season at Tremblant)
In general I find the rates at Liftopia booked at least 6 weeks in advance are about as close as to the cheapest options you can find as long as you willing to fix in your date.
Various REI stores nationally sell lift tickets for local resorts. If you click on the link provided you can search by state and see what each store offers. Tickets need to be purchased in-store so you need to take into account getting to that location, but they do at least show how many of each ticket they have available. Discounts vary and don’t appear huge but are in the 5-20% off the walk-up price. But these are single day lift tickets and can be used any day in the season they are purchased, so much more flexible than Liftopia. You pay a premium to be able to use these as and when you want.
Various Costco stores also sell lift tickets. Look up Costco stores near where you want to ski and give them a call to find out what their prices are and you can often order them over the phone and have them delivered. By way of example we are en route to Canyons Resort and the Salt Lake City store in Utah is selling 5 day ticket packs for $339 according to this TripAdvisor thread. My understanding is these are also flexible single day tickets and at $67.50 per day are a big discount from the walk up rate of a whopping $105 per day.
And while I have not tested it, Costco does have a very generous returns policy, so you might get away with returning tickets if you don’t use them. Though I would also assume if you use part of a multi-day pack then you would not be able to return anything unused.
While for sure this one is very specific, it is such a great deal: if you have a same day out-of-state boarding pass, you can get a free lift ticket pass at either Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort or Canyons Resort. Be sure to register in advance of your visit and take the confirmation with you, and make sure you have a paper copy of your boarding pass in hand. In fact West coasters might be able to find fares cheap enough to justify a one day “ski-mileage-run”!
In most circumstances it’s unlikely anyone using this will get more than a half day of skiing in, but it’s a great way to kick off your ski vacation. And Deer Valley in particular is very stingy with discounts so it’s the only way to really try that place out without coughing up a good chunk of change.
Check Local Options, and Save Money on Rentals
Looking local is also critical if you plan to rent equipment. While my wife and I have our own equipment, we rent for the kids. Taking our current trip as an example, the rate for kids equipment for a week at Canyons Resort is around $18 per day. However by renting through a local sports shop – in this case Canyons Sports where you can get discount tickets too – we are paying just $12 a day. That’s an $84 saving over a week for two kids – that will cover us for a nice meal or two on the slopes instead! Renting away from the big resort stores is often going to be a better deal so if you have the transportation it is worth looking into.
Use Social Media to Keep up with Special Offers
I can’t think of any ski resort I have been to that does not have a Facebook page and/or a Twitter presence. Even the smallest resorts have embraced Social Media. And it’s a great way to keep up to date with short lived special offers, like the Sundance Specials we got from Park City and Canyons this past week.
So I recommend “Liking” all the resort on Facebook, and following them on Twitter so you can keep up with any deals they put out.
5th (and to an extent 6th) Graders Ski Free – Calling 10 and 11 Year Olds!
This is another one I have blogged about before and one we are taking advantage of on this trip. Most US states offer some kind of 5th grade ski program, and most of those programs have something that works for 6th graders too that is maybe only a little less generous. The only major exception I found is California – I reached out to the ski body there and they said they stopped the program due to lack of interest, which is a great shame.
Utah has a truly excellent program, and as I had said before it really made the difference for us in choosing to come here instead of our usual trek to Whistler (which has very cheap tickets, very cheap ski school and can also be done on points so a big favorite of ours). The pass we got for my son cost $25 for admin fee, and includes coupons for 3 single day tickets at pretty much every resort in Utah. This includes the priciest of all – Deer Valley. In addition each resort has added one random coupon for something at that resort. Some are a bit useless but there are some gems like a half price ski school day at Canyons. That alone is worth $90. On this trip the 5th grade pass is saving us around $250 for our $25 spend. The sixth grader pass only gives one free day at each resort, but that sure is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
Anyone who has young kids is going to have a 5th and 6th grader at some point, so keep this on your radar as your kids approach that age.
American Express Membership Reward Points
I have blogged earlier about using Amex points for lift tickets. While many people will argue it is better to use Amex points to convert to airlines for international premium travel, I think there are some great values to be had in the Amex ski ticket line up (and of course international premium travel is only useful if that is what you actually want to do – many families like my own with young children actually find domestic travel quite enjoyable!)
Putting money – or rather points – where my mouth is, I cashed in points for this trip and paid 40k for two sets of Canyons three day tickets and 42k for two sets of Park City Mountain Resort tickets. Using the best prices on Liftopia I’d have paid somewhere around $1k for these tickets so the redemption rate was “only” around $0.012 per point. But having got the tickets they are definitely more useful than Liftopia’s best priced tickets. First of all they are completely date flexible and in these two resort’s case do not have blackout dates (though do check – other than these two and Aspen/Snowmass, most resorts block out President’s day weekend and Christmas). Second they are “3 of 7” tickets (you can ski any 3 days of a consecutive 7 day period from when you first ski), and with Park City in particular the best Liftopia prices meant having to do 3 consecutive days. For me, I like the idea that having two “3 of 7” where I can choose each day which resort to ski at rather than having to pick ahead of time. So I think to get a real apples to oranges comparison, the redemption value was more in the $0.015 range. And all my Amex points are earned from either sign up bonuses or earning multipliers of 2x to 3x.
There are some other interesting gems in the Amex Membership Rewards portfolio. For example you can book a four night / three day lift ticket for two package at the Cliff Lodge in Snowbird, UT for 160k points. The “value” of this depends on when you stay, but with no blackout dates this could be a great redemption at Christmas or President’s Day weekend.
To find all the options go to Membership Rewards and just search for “SKI”
There are many ways to keep the cost of skiing down to reasonable levels, and you can even “ski for free” using points. Just be sure to take some time to research options where you are going.
You can subscribe to Miles Abound by email by signing up here. Keep up to date on ideas and experiences around miles and travel!