Original Post

The New York Times: How to Find Lift Tickets for Less

December 07, 2011

If you are waiting until the last minute to buy lift tickets, you are probably missing out on major savings.

Taking a page from the airlines, ski resorts are lowering prices for traditionally sluggish travel dates, charging more for the most popular travel periods and offering discounts to those who book online in advance. It’s a major change for the ski industry. Until recently, most skiers had little choice but to buy their lift tickets only after they had arrived at their location.

While the new pricing options mean more opportunities for deal seekers, knowing when and where to buy is getting more complicated.

“For the exact same ticket you might see three different price points,” said Ron Schneidermann, a founder of Liftopia, an online provider of lift tickets, lessons and gear rentals at discounted rates. The trick, he said, “is knowing what’s out there.”

Here are seven tips to ensure you get the best bargains.

START WITH THE SPECIALISTS Sites like Liftopia.com and Lifttickets.com offer discounted rates from 15 to 80 percent off, depending on the ski resort and time of year. In some cases, the deals are even better than what the resort offers. For example, the price of a single-day adult lift ticket for Jan. 12 at Mont Tremblant Ski Resort in Quebec was $58.99 on Liftopia compared with about $73 ($75 Canadian) on the resort’s Web site.

Other tickets are bundled with dining credits or other perks for added value. Many resorts that do not have their own online lift ticket option sell tickets through Liftopia and other sites for less. A recent search on Lifttickets.com turned up single-day passes for Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont for $53.50 on December weekends, about 20 percent off the normal $66 ticket window price.

The trade-off for such savings? The tickets with the deepest discounts are nontransferable and typically require full payment when booking, so there’s no canceling at the last minute if it rains instead of snows. (For a couple of dollars more, Lifttickets.com offers limited V.I.P. vouchers, which allow you to pay at the resort or cancel at the last minute.)

CHECK THE RESORT Some resorts guarantee that you will get the best price on their own Web sites if you buy in advance. Vail Resorts, which owns and operates four large ski areas in Colorado as well as Northstar California in North Lake Tahoe and Heavenly on the California and Nevada border, offers a “lowest price guarantee” on lift tickets purchased seven days in advance at snow.com/lifttickets, which typically shaves 9 to 11 percent off one-day ticket prices, and more on multiday passes.

And many resorts have their own promotions. Park City’s Quick Start program allows travelers to trade their airline boarding passes for same-day lift tickets at Canyons Resort, Park City Mountain Resort or Deer Valley Resort so that they can ski free of charge the day they land, with the exception of peak holiday dates. Colorado’s Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which celebrates its 50th birthday this season, is letting guests ski free on their birthday with a valid photo ID.

And Bromley Mountain Resort near Manchester, Vt., has Family Fridays, when adults can buy $15 lift tickets for up to three children, down from $39 or $49.

BUY YOUR TICKETS EARLY The farther out you book, the better the deal. The average savings on Liftopia.com is 33 percent for tickets bought 14 days in advance compared with 27 percent off if you wait to buy within 14 days. Even during the popular New Year’s week, travelers can save by booking ahead. Vail Resorts, for example, offers between 11 and 14 percent off multiday lift tickets for three days that week if purchased online in advance.

Whatever you do, avoid the ticket window, which tends to have the highest rates. Over the past four seasons, the price for an adult weekend pass has risen 13.5 percent nationwide to an average of $75.92, according to a survey by the National Ski Areas Association. Travelers who bought a six-day pass for Telluride Ski Resort by early October saved $84. Now the best deal is $507 if purchased online seven days in advance. Purchasing at the window will cost $534.

LOOK FOR PACKAGE DEALS Sites like ski.com and worldonskis.com, which specialize in mountain vacations, have prenegotiated rates with resorts allowing them to create lift ticket and lodging packages at prices that you are unlikely to get by buying them separately. For example, World On Skis offers four nights at the Lodge at Jackson Hole (a Best Western Plus hotel), three-day lift tickets and daily breakfast Jan. 9 through early February. The cost, $746 for two people, was a $308 savings compared with booking through the hotel and resort’s ticket site separately, and $236 less than a similar package on the hotel’s Web site.

SKI MORE, PAY LESS Multiday passes generally offer greater savings. In Vermont at the Killington Resort, for example, visitors save $6 a day on four-day lift tickets and $8 a day on five-day tickets. The best deal if you are skiing eight days or more at Aspen/Snowmass is the Escape Pass, which offers access to all four of the resort’s mountains. With the pass, which costs $319 up front plus $52 each day you ski (which is deducted automatically so you do not have to stand in line at the ticket window) you pay, for example, $839 for 10 days instead of $970 at the resort ticket window rate, a $131 savings. For eight days you pay $735 versus $776. Escape Passes and rates are also available for those over 65, college students and children.

SKI MIDWEEK Flexible travelers will find the best lift ticket values on off-peak days and times. Full-day tickets drop to $77 from $84 midweek at Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vt., and half-day rates are $56 midweek versus $63 weekends and holidays. On average, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are slightly better than Mondays or Thursdays, according to Liftopia. Lift ticket rates are also generally lower in early winter, spring and just after popular vacation dates like Presidents’ Day or Martin Luther King’s Birthday. Not to mention that fewer crowds mean more mountain all to yourself.

GO TO COSTCO Local ski shops and big discount stores like Costco also offer discounted lift tickets. Nine Costco Warehouses in Oregon, including in Portland and Tigard, where members pay $55 a year to shop, offer booklets of two-day passes to Mount Hood Meadows Ski Resort for $122.99, or about $61.50 per lift ticket (including ski-check, normally $3), compared with $79 at the resort window.

In Utah, Ski ‘N See, an equipment rental company with 12 locations near major ski resorts, offers a variety of lift ticket discounts, including $74 lift tickets to Park City Mountain Resort, about 22 percent less than at the resort.

So before you head to the ticket window, look for local deals in the nearest town.