Original Post

With lift fees high, skiers in constant bargain search

January 05, 2012 | By Marty Basch

As a way to save money to fuel his love of skiing, Jared Antista started an online ski networking group.

The New England Ski Networking Association is now some 700 members strong since its birth in the fall of 2010. Between 20 and 40 people ages 25 to 35 usually show up for a Saturday outing in the mountains, according to Antista, a 32-year-old Nashua, N.H., skier who works for a start-up sports and fitness company.

With a NESNA group discount, a skier saves $15-$30 off a lift ticket depending on the ski area.

"People are very happy about saving money when it comes to skiing," Antista said. "When I was in high school, it was 30 or 40 bucks for a weekend pass. Now it's 70 or 80. Resorts say they're pumping money into snowmaking and faster chairs, but I don't think that registers. If you can save $20 or $30, that's gas up there or a beer, and that makes people pretty happy."

Skiers and snowboarders have long played the discount game to avoid paying top dollar for lift tickets. On peak days this season, window lift ticket prices include $92 at Stowe, $87 at Stratton, $86 at Killington, and $78 at Bretton Woods. But a simple tactic of just going to a ski area's website to buy a lift ticket is a money saver. That shaves $5 off a Stratton ticket.

On websites such as Liftopia.com and LiftTickets.com, multiday lift tickets, frequent-skier cards, special events, non-holiday Sunday afternoon tickets, night skiing, and non-holiday midweek two-for-one deals are among the items on the dollar-saving menu.

Not only are snow lovers looking for a bargain, ski areas use them to fill chair lifts.

"There are off-peak time periods when ski areas aren't at capacity," said Karl Stone, the marketing director for Ski New Hampshire. "They are doing everything they can to improve business. Staff is in place, they've groomed the snow, and the lifts are running. It is about attracting loyalty and maybe getting people to spend money on activities like lunch they wouldn't have had budgets for."

Stone knows about discounts. The deal section of Ski New Hampshire's website is the third-most-visited page behind the home page and snow conditions.

Non-holiday midweek is the best time to score a deal. In New Hampshire, two-fers include Waterville Valley (Monday), King Pine (Tuesday-Thursday), Cannon (Tuesday, Thursday), Bretton Woods (Wednesday), Cranmore (Monday-Thursday, online only), Crotched (Tuesday), and Sunapee (Wednesday).

Special events are another great way to save, but expect to have company and see lots of straight skis and rear-entry boots. Pay $9 Jan. 6 at Cranmore during its Ticket Roll Back Day. Vermont's Mad River Glen has a similar special Jan. 31 at $3.50 for its Roll Back the Clock Day, which can attract 1,500-plus skiers.

"We've been doing that for years," said Eric Friedman, MRG's marketing director. "We see people who don't necessarily come to ski here and it keeps it affordable. When people come up and tell me it's the only day they can afford to ski and you see the equipment they're on, you know they're not kidding."

Though Mad River Glen is essentially giving away the skiing, it sees a spike in ancillary departments such as retail, the ski shop, and food and beverage. Plus, the co-op-owned Vermont ski area tends to sell a share.

"I'd say seven out of 10 years we sell a share to someone who has never skied here," he said. "They buy a co-op share for $2,000."

Other special events include Cannon's two-for-$68 deal Feb. 5, allowing football-loving skiers a chance to carve before the Super Bowl. On Feb. 6, the lift ticket rate at Okemo will be based on the combined points of the Super Bowl. So, if the Patriots reach Indianapolis and, say, knock off the Giants, 17-14, lift tickets are $31.

Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, sees two-for-one tickets at Wildcat, while Mad River Glen dispenses $14 tickets to kissing couples.

Mount Snow's Youth Pay Their Age Day (ages 6-18) is this Sunday, and tickets are $17 to those who want to celebrate St. Patrick's Day a day early, on March 16. Waterville Valley plans $10 tickets April Fools' Day, April 1.

Some resorts offer afternoon tickets on non-holiday Sundays, such as Attitash ($30), Wildcat ($30), and Shawnee Peak ($28). Southern New Hampshire's Crotched Mountain has a $24 Family Fun Sunday ticket from 2:30-5 p.m.

But ski areas want to build relationships. One way they do that, and pass on savings, is with a frequent-skier card.

"There certainly is movement toward frequent-skier cards to build loyalty beyond a one-time visit," said Stone.

Boyne Resorts has a frequent-skier card good at Sugarloaf, Sunday River, and Loon. For $97, skiers get a free day of skiing, plus $25 off midweek lift tickets and a $15 discount on weekends and holidays. That can buy more than a few beers after a couple of uses, considering lift tickets at Sunday River are $80, Sugarloaf $79, and Loon $78.

Said Friedman, "People are definitely cost-conscious."