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How to book a ski vacation: Our definitive guide

SmarterTravel

If you’re thinking of planning a ski vacation, it’s possible to purchase your airfare directly from an airline, rent a car from an agency, book a hotel near a ski resort, and then buy lift tickets on the mountain. But before you do, know your options: Bundling several travel components together can save you time and money.

If you decide to research a package vacation, there are a number of ways to start planning, depending on the type of vacation you want:

In addition, several Web resources such as user reviews and ranking systems can help you refine your search and choose the offer that works best for you.

Air-inclusive packages

Current ski deals:

Vail vacations with lift tickets from $489*

Banff five-night vacations with lift tickets from $995*

Of the airline-run vacation providers, United Vacations consistently offers the widest variety of deals. And since United typically includes lift tickets in its packages, itÂ?s a good place to start. Our recent search showed 13 deals to resorts in the Western U.S. and Canada, including a low price of $489 for a Vail package with airfare, four nightsÂ? condo lodging, three daysÂ? lift tickets, and discounts on equipment rentals.

UnitedÂ?s major rival, American Airlines Vacations, is also worth looking at. Its wide network of flights means it can provide access to ski towns across the country and around the world. And even though American VacationsÂ? website is not as user-friendly as United’s, our recent search did turn up one attractive offer. Starting at $297, American has three-night air-and-hotel vacations to ColoradoÂ?s Keystone resort. ItÂ?s worth mentioning that lift tickets are not included, though it is possible to buy them at additional cost through AmericanÂ?s website. Note that booking directly with Keystone Resort is also an affordable option&#151as low as $69 per night for accommodations and free winter activities such as night skiing and sleigh rides&#151but airfare is not included.

Of course, all of the major airline vacation providers offer ski packages, so itÂ?s a good idea to search the carriers that have service from your airport. In general, Continental Vacations, Delta Vacations, Northwest Airlines WorldVacations, and US Airways Vacations offer ski and snowboard vacation options that are quite similar. Nearly all of the packages are for resorts in the Western states, with a few Canadian options as well. Each provider will bundle airfare, accommodations, car rental, and lift tickets into any of their packages.

For a last-minute ski trip, Site59 might save you some cash, especially with the $25 discount you get as a SmarterTravel.com member. We recently found two-night packages to Stowe, Vermont for as little as $313, including accommodations and airfare from New York City.

DonÂ?t confine your search for an air-inclusive ski vacation to the airline vacation providers, though. Expedia can combine specially-negotiated airfares and hotel rates into low package rates. And Expedia features vacations not only to the West, but also to New England, Quebec, and even Europe. Orbitz also has many ski vacations for sale, but it doesn’t have a dedicated ski page on its site, so youÂ?ll have to sort through all of its destinations to find what youÂ?re looking for.

Liberty Travel may be the most helpful of these agencies, however, as it includes tips on whether to buy or rent equipment, what kinds of snow to expect, and even how to use a chairlift properly.

Packages without airfare

If youÂ?re lucky enough to live within driving distance of the mountains, but you want to stay for longer than just a day trip, you can save money by picking up a package that comes with both accommodations and lift tickets. And thereÂ?s no better place to start your search than the mother of all ski websites, Ski Central, which features links to resorts, hotels, and an avalanche of travel agencies specializing in ski vacations.

You’ll also want to visit SkiNet.com, which allows you to choose between pre-set packages and vacations that you build step by step. When we checked, SkiNet had very competitive prices, including just $382 for five nights at Trappeurs Crossing and four days of lift tickets to Colorado’s Steamboat resort.

Ski.com has a similar setup, and also includes what it calls “last-minute bargains,” though we didnÂ?t see a significant difference between the restrictions for those and the other offers that rotate through its home page.

Region-specific packages

Though they are fewer in number, there are several agencies dedicated to Eastern ski vacations. Our pick is Tours de Sport, which features vacation packages for 15 resorts from West Virginia to Quebec. At the time we checked, three-night Killington, Vermont, packages that include three daysÂ? lift tickets were available for $309.

And though it’s not confined to only East Coast skiing, OnTheSnow.com has great area deals, such as a two-night stay/two-day ski package that we found for Sugarloaf in Maine. Early-season prices started at $119, with late-season skiing available for as little as $143.

Another resource you’ll want to check for Northeast skiing is SkiNewEngland.com, which allows you to find lodging and attractions options across the six New England states.

Moving westward, if youÂ?re looking to ski the Rockies, one of the first places youÂ?ll want to look is RockyMountainSki.com, which features packages to destinations including Colorado, Montana, and even Canada.

With a broader focus, SkiWest has a pull-down menu that allows you to identify special offers at locations across the Western U.S. However, we didnÂ?t find any actual prices listed in that section, and you will have to request additional information from the agency to find out how much you might pay.

In contrast, Whitewood Ski Tours offers Â?Killer DealsÂ? that come complete with base prices, and there look to be some pretty good rates. We found a $254 package of four nightsÂ? lodging and three daysÂ? skiing at Big Sky in Montana.

User reviews

Once youÂ?ve found a deal that looks promising, itÂ?s a good idea to educate yourself about the resort in question, so that your ultimate choice is an informed one. Start with GoSki, which provides key details for thousands of ski areas around the country and across the world, along with user reviews of each resort.

Ranking systems

Ski GuideÂ?s review system can save you some time, since it ranks ski resorts by averaging number ratings submitted by users. For even greater detail, you can read the individual reviews at SkiTown.com.

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