If you've ever thought mountain resorts are reserved for the fur-trimmed, jet-set crowd, think again.
Due to a lagging economy, U.S. ski resorts are getting nervous pre-season and are publicizing discounts left and right, and those who book early will benefit the most. Not only will you find offers for lodging (often cast as a free night), but these properties have also reduced the cost for lift tickets or even let you ski for free. Never have I seen so many opportunities to hit the slopes in both the West and East, especially so many that could fit within a $500 budget.
If you're not a skier, or are like me and can last only for a few (preferably gentle) runs, keep reading. You'll find plenty of other things to do—like snowmobiling, dog sledding, snow tubing, and ice-skating, not to mention all the warming and pampering indoor activities like spa services. So get ready to shoosh, mush, or simply refresh, and I'll make sure the hot chocolate is ready and waiting when you return (metaphorically speaking, of course).
Here's a roundup of current ski packages, but be sure to check with resorts for the latest specials throughout the season.
Through April 1, ski for free in Jackson Hole at Spring Creek Ranch, with rates from $87.50 (which the resort claims is more than a 50 percent discount). You and a companion will receive lift tickets to Grand Targhee Resort or Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, accommodations, breakfast, and shuttle service to town. Rooms feature fireplaces and views of the Grand Tetons. Nonskiers can enjoy a full-service spa (hint: cozy mud wraps, hot stone massages, and facials).
In Idaho, the deals are so good you'll think they are bogus. In fact, at Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area, you (and up to nine of your closest friends) can stay in a ski-in ski-out yurt for $100 per night. While not a "true" hotel, these Mongolian-style tents are bona-fide lodging, however rustic. The experience is more suited for those who enjoy Nordic activities such as cross-country skiing and also snowshoeing. Look for other discounts on VisitIdaho.org.
In Montana, the 320 Guest Ranch is offering packages from $77 per person that include accommodations and lift tickets at either Big Sky or Moonlight Basin. Guests receive cabin accommodations, shuttle service, continental breakfast, and an end-of-day bonfire. The bonus: Children 10 and under stay free and ski for free. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sleigh rides, and winter excursions to [[Yellowstone National Park]] are also available. Or, add $32 (less for kids) and embark on a country sleigh ride, complete with wool blankets and a team of draft horses.
Ski-and-stay packages are the norm this year in Colorado, even at upscale resorts. But ski and stay for free? RockResorts, a luxury resort group with properties in places like Vail, Aspen, and Keystone, is offering one free night of accommodations and one free day of skiing when you book a minimum of three nights. Hotel Jerome in Aspen has the most affordable rates, from $358 per person for three nights.
The offers continue in Utah. At Snowbird, rates at the Cliff Lodge start at $99 per night. Also, Wolf Creek Utah Ski Resort makes things equally easy on the wallet with free skiing and rates from $99 per person per night. Packages here have the added bonus of a horse-drawn sleigh ride, and gift certificates worth $100.
In South Shore Lake Tahoe, stay just two nights and get the third for free at 17 properties. For an example, I looked into the Inn by the Lake, a boutique resort that has a variation of the offer with 25 percent off stays of two nights or more. I found rates as low as $81 per night.
Lodging specials at the Village at Squaw Valley consist of early-season rates from $89 per night through December 18. Plus, you get two Starbucks coffee drinks for every day of your stay, an added benefit for apres-ski warm-ups. Other packages are available throughout the winter.
Central Oregon's Sunriver Resort has a version of the ubiquitous "stay free, ski free" package that adds up to just $280 for three nights and includes three days of lift tickets at Mt. Bachelor, a free ski movie, and 10 percent off shopping, dining, and shuttle and spa services. For more of what the state has on offer, visit TravelOregon.com.
In terms of savings, things aren't that much different on the East Coast. Ski conditions? You be the judge.
At Waterville Valley Resort, New Hampshire, one child 12 and under skis for free for each paid adult ticket. Package rates start at $84 per person per weekend, and include accommodations and a horse-drawn wagon ride to pick out a Christmas tree. Other deals are available, such as an early-season package for $77 per night that includes free lift tickets. SkiNH lists statewide deals.
A pre-Christmas package at Killington Resort in Vermont includes accommodations and lift tickets for three days, starting at $86 per person per night. While this offer is valid only December 21 through 23, look for other vacation packages throughout the season. Also keep tabs on offers by other Vermont ski resorts, like Stowe, which has many vacation packages and last-minute deals (available via an email newsletter).
Rates start at a mere $60 per person per night for accommodations and skiing (as well as snowboarding or tubing) at two resorts in the Lehigh Valley, Bear Creek Mountain Resort or Blue Mountain Ski Area, through March 31. Where to stay? You have a choice of 14 hotels and inns.
Not too far away, hotels and resorts in the Pocono Mountains entice with similar deals. Of the many options, the Victorian-style Inn at Jim Thorpe offers accommodations, breakfast buffet, and an all-day ski pass from $69 per night on weekdays or $89 on weekends and holidays.
Finally, perhaps the best deal of all … Not only does Canaan Valley Resort in Davis, West Virginia, offer free opening-day skiing on December 11, but guests can stay at the resort for just $37 per night from December 11 through 14. You can't get much more affordable than that! If those dates won't work out, the resort also has other Escapes Under $500-friendly packages for upcoming holidays like Christmas, New Year's, and Martin Luther King Day weekend.
Getting to Ski Resorts
You'll save the most money and are more likely to stay under budget if you can drive, but flying might be more of a possibility than you might think. Although airlines have cut capacity, they are still struggling to fill seats this winter due to the weak economy. For you, that means airfare deals, even to ski resorts. Here are just a few examples of affordable round-trip fares, including all taxes and fees, to various ski destinations across the country:
- $179 Chicago to Denver (United)
- $195 Orlando to Manchester, NH (US Airways)
- $201 Baltimore to Burlington, VT (US Airways)
- $211 Los Angeles to Boise (United)
- $230 New York to Salt Lake City (US Airways)
- $269 Portland, OR, to Reno (Alaska)
If you don't see your city, check the most recent deals on SmarterTravel.com or compare fares with your own search. If you find a great fare, don't hesitate to book, so you'll guarantee your spot on the chairlift this season. Now it's time to start praying for snow.
Know of another mountain deal or travel tip? If so, add a comment below and share your knowledge with other travelers.