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Head for the Hills to Find Summer Savings

Escapes Under $500
by , SmarterTravel Staff
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Family hiking at Whistler Blackcomb (Photo: Paul Morrison)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 8, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: activity, adventure travel, Anne Banas, Breckenridge, destination, Escapes Under $500, family travel, Killington, Mammoth Lakes, mountain, resort, ski, summer, vacation package, weekend getaways, Whistler.

"How can I save on my summer vacation?" is one of the most frequent questions I get asked as a travel editor. One of my favorite responses is to suggest venturing to the mountains. While gaggles of vacationers flock to busy beach destinations, ski resorts remain relatively low-key. And because lodges profit most when it snows, rates fall precipitously in the summer months. Plus, mountain locales are often drop-dead gorgeous and offer many fun summer activities like kayaking, hiking, and biking, as well as riding gondolas and alpine slides.

Whether you travel with family, friends, or a significant other, you can find an affordable and comfy ski lodge, often with stunning views, and will have easy access to ski village restaurants, shops, and activities. From the Rockies to the Green Mountains, ski resorts across North America have put vacations on sale for summer, and here are just a few examples, all for under $500:

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Breckenridge, Colorado

Colorado resorts have some of the best deals around, and Breckenridge follows suit with a variety of summer getaway offers. One of the best is the "Summer Kick Off Special," good for June vacations.

For example, mountain-view rooms with two queen beds at The Lodge at Breckenridge start at $86.25 for midweek stays in June. The three-night total comes to $397.20 (including taxes), which breaks down to $99.30 per person for a family of four. And because this lodge is dog friendly, you can bring your best friend along, too.

Here's the cost breakdown with round-trip airfare (including taxes) to Denver, the closest major airport:

  • $159 (airfare from Los Angeles on American) + $99.03 (hotel) = $258.03 per person
  • $175 (airfare from Houston on Frontier) + $99.03 (hotel) = $274.03 per person
  • $294 (airfare from New York on Frontier) + $99.03 (hotel) = $393.03 per person

Even if you depart from the most expensive city I've mentioned here, you'll still have plenty of cash left in your budget for a rental car, activities, and dining. And remember, you don't have to limit yourself to these departure cities; chances are you'll find airfare from your home base that will fit nicely within budget.

Mammoth Mountain, California

In California, Mammoth Mountain has released a High Sierra Stay and Bike Package from $76 per night, based on double occupancy. The offer is valid from June 20 through September 22, and includes lodging and all-day bike park passes that allow access to over 90 miles of trails and uphill transport via gondola, shuttle, and chairlift.

In June and July, three-night stays for a standard room at the slopeside Mammoth Mountain Inn come to $487.71* (including taxes), or $243.86 when sharing a room.

Here's the cost breakdown with round-trip airfare (including taxes) to Reno, Sacramento, or San Francisco, the closest major airports:

  • $203 (airfare from Phoenix to Reno on US Airways) + $243.86 (hotel) = $446.86 per person
  • $203 (airfare from Portland to San Francisco on United) + $243.86 (hotel) = $446.86 per person
  • $250 (airfare from San Diego on United) + $243.86 (hotel) = $493.86 per person

*Note: a $15 reservation fee might apply.

Killington, Vermont

Killington treats East Coasters to a Summer Adventures Package that combines lodging with daily passes at the Pico Mountain Adventure Center, which offers activities like alpine slides, mini-golf, and climbing walls. You can also add mountain biking to the pass. Rates start at $58 per person, per night (based on four people sharing a room), and are available June 28 through October 13.

When I checked, I found rates for $84.55 at the Inn of the Six Mountains. For three nights and adventure passes with mountain biking for a family of four (two adults and two children), the total came to $428.28, including taxes and fees. Divide that number by four people and pay just $107.07 per person.

Here's the cost breakdown with round-trip airfare (including taxes) to Burlington, Vermont, the closest major airport:

  • $119 (airfare from Baltimore on AirTran) + $107.07 (hotel) = $226.07 per person
  • $210 (airfare from Pittsburgh on US Airways) + $107.07 (hotel) = $317.07 per person
  • $255 (airfare from Atlanta on AirTran) + $107.07 (hotel) = $362.07 per person

Whistler, British Columbia

When considering a mountain vacation, let's not forget Canada. Whistler, for instance, has a two-part summer offer. First save 50 percent off your third night, and then receive up to 20 percent on select activities such as golf, river rafting, wildlife tours, and even spa treatments. Rates for three-star accommodations start at $80 per night and must be booked by June 30.

When I checked, hotel rates at the Marketplace Lodge were reduced to $66.67 with the half-priced third night figured in. When added together, a three-night total comes to $230 CAD (including taxes and fees), or $115 per person (about $114 US dollars; see XE.com for current exchange rates) if you share with someone else.

Here's the cost breakdown with round-trip airfare (including taxes) to Vancouver, the closest major airport:

  • $306 (airfare from Boise on United) + $114 (hotel) = $420 per person
  • $322 (airfare from San Francisco on Air Canada) + $114 (hotel) = $436 per person
  • $386 (airfare from Los Angeles on Air Canada) + $114 (hotel) = $500 per person

While flying to Vancouver is a bit more expensive than to other destinations I've mentioned, the ski resort's deep summer savings can make a vacation affordable and fit under budget.

And, as with any of these mountain destinations, driving could be more cost-effective and convenient than flying, depending on where you depart from. Also, if you do have some wiggle room in your budget, you can upgrade your accommodations or stay more than three nights and still pay no more than $500 per person.

Other mountain offers

Still want more ideas? United Vacations is offering $50 off air-and-hotel packages of three nights or more, plus 1,000 Mileage Plus bonus miles per reservation to mountain destinations. You can travel through October 31, so long as you book by May 31 and use promotion code "SUMMERFUN." Participating mountain resorts include Banff/Lake Louise, Whistler, Lake Tahoe, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, and Jackson Hole. In addition, Delta Vacations has special offers for room discounts at Breckenridge and free nights at Fairmont Resorts, which has properties in Banff, Tremblant, and Whistler. And don't stop there. Be sure to check the website of your favorite mountain resort for summer specials.

Know of another mountain resort that makes for a great summer destination? Please comment below on what makes it so special! Or, feel free to suggest a new Escapes Under $500 destination, as I'm always looking for fresh ideas.

 
 
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