Original Article

By Moira McCarthy / Powder Shots

Saddleback Mountain posted some unbelievable skier visit totals for the world to see this week. Numbers are up an insane 23 percent over last season, including 55 percent this President’s Day weekend compared to last. The results are all the more impressive, considering last year’s season was a record-breaking one in the East.

This reinforces what I’ve been saying all along - that skiing, a passion sport, is recession proof. True, Saddleback is doing remarkable things under the leadership of CEO Warren Cook (who you may remember as the man who saved Sugarloaf way back when). The mountain is running spot on, and with $40 lift tickets, it’s somewhat easy to take on the wallet. But what they are doing most is simple: keeping up the spirit despite the economic climate.

The same can be said across the industry in New England. True, Mother Nature has been the top helper, but skiers are flocking to the mountains and getting away from the grim. I swear, I even notice less skiers and riders using Ipods while on the slopes this year. We truly feel the need to connect as a community.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still ways to save out there while refusing to let go of your true love. In fact, if you’re pulling up to a base area and paying full price on a lift ticket, you might just be crazy enough to give your savings over to a guy named Bernie Madoff to invest. Options for saving run the gamut and are simple for anyone to find and access. As spring skiing draws near, we offer our list of some great ways to save while still getting out there. Twenty-three percent? Heck, we can double that by mid-April.

Consider the following:

Liftopia.com. This site is dedicated to lift ticket, lesson, and ski-and-stay packages. The idea is, the further out you purchase your ticket, the more you save. Let’s say you want to go to Wildcat a week from Saturday. Log onto this site, buy your ticket now and you’ll save 55 percent. You don’t have to be a perfect planner either since day-before rates save as much as 38 percent at some resorts. It’s easy to use and economical too. It works for western trips as well, particularly if you are planning way ahead.

Log onto your resort Web site. Most mountains have deals and steals on their home pages. Take Cranmore. Its Web-only offering of three consecutive days of skiing for $135 slashes the window ticket prices. And even for one day, you pay just $55, or $85 for two adult skiers on a Sunday. Sunapee (N.H.) has on-line coupons you can print out and bring along, offering all kinds of different savings. Google your resort, check out its home page and see what you find. Confused? Call the ticket office. These places want to help you save. Then you can spend the savings on chowder. Or Apres. Or both.

Think next year now. As the weeks roll on, resorts will begin to offer season’s pass packages for next season. Many, like Mount Snow, will allow you to ski free for the rest of this season as soon as you purchase a pass for next season. So let’s do some math on that. Buy a Mount Snow pass for next year now ($849) and you save $200. Or pay $499 for the “Classic” pass that blacks out just Christmas week, MLK weekend and President’s Day weekend. If you then skied the remaining weekends in March and the first one in April, you’d rack up eight ski days. At $75 a day, that would be a $600 savings. In other words, you’d really only be paying $249 for next season. And for the “Classic” pass, they’d almost be paying you.

It just makes sense if you are a regular to get a season’s pass. Most resorts also offer trades at other resorts - like Sunapee with Okemo and Crested Butte, Colo. How much sense does this make? Last March when Cannon Mountain offered sales for this current season’s passes, it sold 100 percent more than any other year. We’re smart, we New England skiers. Check your favorite mountain now for these specials.

Local continues to deliver. The Wachusett season’s pass program sells big every year and for good reason. It’s close, the staff takes good care of its mountain, and it’s a heck of a deal. Some skiers who ski elsewhere still purchase a Wachusett pass for those days they want to zip out of town for some freshies on the fly. With a no-restriction pass for $499, and a slightly restricted pass for just $279, it’s easy to see how quickly it becomes worth your while.

The west wants you - bad. Western resorts are rolling out the deals this spring like never before. Consider Copper Mountain, Colo., where if you book a trip by March 14 for this season, you’ll get two-for-one performance rentals and not have to stress about airline bag charges. You’ll also get half off private lessons, as well as lodging starting at $55 a night. At Steamboat Springs, Colo., anyone staying for three nights between April 1 and 12 skis absolutely free. They want you. They really want you.