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By Maggie Tomasek
I’ve taken a ski trip almost every winter for the last 12 years, and I’ve learned some expensive lessons (and I’m not just talking about ski school). I’ve also learned how to travel cheap in ski country with a few simple tricks of the trade.
Buy lift tickets online in advance and save even more on multi-day passes. Most resorts charge you more at the ticket window, especially for single-day passes. Already know someone who lives in ski country? Invite them along and get discounted lift tickets. Many resorts offer “buddy tickets” or deals like "Ski With A Friend" for folks with season passes.
Select your travel dates carefully. Rates for lift tickets and lodging can fluctuate wildly, depending on the time of year. If you have a flexible schedule, avoid holiday weekends and “peak season” dates. Not only can you save money, but you’ll also see shorter lift lines and enjoy more room to maneuver on the slopes.
Anything you buy at the resort will cost you more money, including equipment rentals/purchases, food, booze and lodging. Plan ahead and find an off-site rental shop – and don’t forget to look for coupons online. Also, utilize the ample pocket space in your jacket and pants to load up on mountain-friendly snacks, like trail mix or jerky.
Be wary of airline baggage fees for skis, snowboards and equipment. This is one reason why I usually fly Southwest Airlines to the Rocky Mountains. Southwest lets you use ski equipment as one of your two free checked bags – and will even allow up to two bags (containing one set of skis/poles or snowboard and boots) to count as only one checked item, even if they’re packed and tagged separately. Avoiding checked bag fees can save me at least $100 round-trip. (Check out this handy guide to airline ski and snowboard bag fees.)
Bunk up. Grab a group of friends or family and live commune-style in a condo or house for a couple days rather than booking individual hotel rooms (I like VRBO.com). You’ll not only save on lodging, but you can split costs for groceries and supplies too. My favorite thing to do is put each person (or couple) in charge of making dinner one night for the whole group. Eating family-style is far less expensive, and you’ll get to sample a variety of home-cooked dishes. Bonus tip: If you’re dying to hit the town – because mountains towns are just so darn cute – save it for your last night so you won’t have dirty dishes or leftovers to deal with when it’s time to check out.
Weigh the value of ski-in/ski-out lodging. You might spend more to stay right on the mountain, but you’ll also get more bang for your lift ticket bucks since you won’t waste precious daylight driving to the slopes. Plus, you can save money by not eating overpriced meals in the lodge and instead popping back in to grab a sandwich or leftovers in your condo.
Maggie Tomasek is the Social Media & PR Specialist at Alliant. She began her career as a journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a seven-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.