The tanked economy is as nerve-racking as a novice on a double black diamond run. Skiers and snowboarders need to strategize like shoppers to get the most for their dollar: Buy in bulk, ski two-for-one days, print website coupons. With a little homework and some flexibility, money-saving values can be as sweet as corduroy.
Free lift tickets live: Drive a hybrid vehicle to Cranmore in North Conway, N.H., Jan. 24 or March 21 and the driver skis free. The Learning Center Quad lift is always free at Bretton Woods. Okemo in Ludlow, Vt., has free learn-to-ski and snowboard deals (age 7 and up) Dec. 1-19. New Hampshire's Mount Sunapee has a similar package for 8 and up from the South Peak Learning Area's opening day to Dec. 24. The same applies in Bridgton, Maine, at Shawnee Peak Dec. 20-21. Reservations required. (www.okemo.com, www.mountsunapee.com, www.shawneepeak.com)
Select areas drop ticket prices on special dates: Dress like Santa to ski free at Sunday River on Dec. 7 and get two free early-season tickets to return (preregister at www.sundayriver.com). The good old days are reflected at Cranmore on Jan. 9 ($3.30), Wildcat on Jan. 23 ($9), and Mad River Glen on Jan. 27 ($3.50). Wear green on St. Patrick's Day (March 17) and ski for $17 at Waterville Valley or Mad River Glen. It's a buck at Waterville Valley on April Fool's Day.
- $25 at Sugarloaf Nov. 22-23 with a donation of three cans of food.
- Youth Pay Their Age Day (ages 6-18) at Mount Snow Dec. 14.
- Two adults, two children ski Saturday nights at King Pine in East Madison, N.H., for $45.
- Gunstock in Gilford, N.H., has non-holiday Wednesday night $25 tickets and non-holiday Saturday night passes for $30 (includes tubing).
- Pats Peak's Pay One Price of $36 on Saturday nights starting Dec. 27 includes rentals, lesson tips, and more.
- Nashoba Valley in Westford features $30 adult tickets from 5-10 p.m.
- Crotched in Bennington, N.H., offers a non-holiday Monday through Friday 7- 9 p.m. pass for $19.
Surf the Web for deals: Umbrella sites such as www.skivermont.com, www.skinh.com, and www.skimaine.com all have valuable links. Sign up for an e-newsletter at your favorite resort for discounts. Berkshire-bound skiers can take advantage of e-coupons at Jiminy Peak in Hancock with discounted lift tickets on select dates beginning Dec. 19 ($23) and ending March 23 ($6). New England is included in the across-the-country ticket and lodging discounts at www.liftopia.com. Lift tickets can be more than half off based on demand, weather, and snow conditions.Grab an off-peak ski-and-stay package: Maine's Sunday River and Sugarloaf team up for an "Early Savings" program where guests booking before Dec. 15 save $50 on ski-and-stay packages of two nights or longer. Shawnee Peak produces a five-night ski-and-stay bundle in a 2,000-square-foot slopeside condo that sleeps up to nine people for $1,250 Sunday to Thursday with Friday departure. The stately Balsams in northern New Hampshire offers a "Ski Free Package" midweek from January through March at $89 per person (double occupancy) per night including lodging, breakfast, and lift tickets for downhill or cross country. Another grand hotel, the Mount Washington, unveiled a "Ski It to Believe It" deal with lodging, breakfast, and Bretton Woods skiing at $99 per person (double occupancy) per night through Dec. 24, Jan. 4-15, and March 15 until the slopes close. Vermont's family-oriented Smugglers' Notch throws in mountainside lodging, lift tickets, lessons, tubing, and more in its Club Smugglers' Advantage Program with prices starting at $115 for adults and $99 for ages 3-17 per person per night for five- to seven-night stays during certain weeks in December, January, March, and April.
Buy multiple days at your favorite mountain. Wachusett's "Three-Peat" Card costs $99 for three days anytime during the season. Stratton's Sunday Pass is $229, which breaks down to about $13.50 a day for 17 Sundays in the season. Mount Snow's $99 FANfare Card delivers on half-price, midweek, non-holiday tickets, 25 percent off non-holiday weekend tickets, and 10 percent off holiday rates.
Gas up and go. The Mobil SKI-3 discount program yields $10 certificates with every three fill-ups (minimum eight gallons each) to redeem for non-holiday Sunday-Friday lift tickets at Wachusett, Maine's Saddleback, Mad River Glen, Okemo, and Jay Peak in Vermont, New York's Windham, and New Hampshire's Waterville Valley and Mount Sunapee. The coupons can also be used for a $25 learn-to-ski or snowboard package.
Car pooling is back. Save green with:
- Car Pool (non-holiday) Wednesdays at Vermont's Magic Mountain and net $80 tickets for the load, while all season long vehicles arriving with at least three people midweek (non-holiday) receive $25 tickets per person.
- Shawnee Peak's Carload Dayz are Mondays. Show up before 11 a.m. and your carload skis till 9 p.m. for $75.
- A trip to the latest adventure-packed Warren Miller movie, "Children of Winter," gains a handful of free lift tickets, depending on the venue. Sunday River, Sugarloaf, Jiminy Peak, Smugglers' Notch, Stratton, Ski Sundown, and Waterville Valley participate. Upcoming shows include: Lebanon (N.H.) Opera House Nov. 19-20, Portland's Merrill Auditorium Nov. 21, Hartford's Bushnell-Mortensen Hall Nov. 22, Flynn Theatre in Burlington, Vt., Nov. 22-23, and Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre Dec. 2. The schedule is at www.warrenmiller.com.
Bring a buddy to New Hampshire for midweek non-holiday two-fer days. It's Wednesday at Mount Sunapee, Wildcat, and Bretton Woods. Two-fers continue at Cannon (Tuesday and Thursday), Crotched (Tuesday at $22 per person), The Balsams (Monday-Friday, a long trip but a steal at $16.50 per person), Cranmore (online only, Monday-Thursday), King Pine (Tuesday-Thursday), and Waterville Valley (Monday and Friday beginning Jan. 9).
There are still areas with lift tickets under $45. Nashoba Valley has $44 weekend tickets. Adult ticket options range from $18-$36 with new management at Canton's Blue Hills, and Ski Ward in Shrewsbury fluctuates between $15 and $40. Berkshire skiers have $20 lift tickets non-holiday Monday-Thursday at Ski Butternut and Catamount. Non-holiday Wednesdays at Vermont's Bolton Valley offer $39 tickets from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Mad River Glen is $39 midweek, non-holiday. Black Mountain in Jackson, N.H., has $39 adult weekend lift tickets and a $79 (2 adult, 2 junior) non-holiday, midweek ticket that goes to $99 weekends and holidays. If that's too expensive, it's time to take up cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the backyard.Marty Basch can be reached at email@example.com