It's been rough sledding for the economy - unless your name is Bill Gates. So what's a budget-minded skier or snowboarder to do?
Go bargain hunting. There are plenty of ways to stretch your dollars on the slopes this winter, ranging from package deals for accommodations and lift tickets to discounts on meals.
"One of the raps has always been that skiing and boarding are expensive, so it's very important to make them as affordable as possible," said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association.
There are a number of deals at state mountain resorts that go a long way toward that goal. Some have been around for decades (Squaw Valley USA has had a super-discounted child's lift ticket ticket since the 1970s), while others are debuting this year (the Mammoth Rewards and FrequenSki cards, for example).
In any event, here are some ideas to save money and still have fun this winter:
Cut the commute. For SoCal skiers and boarders, with several resorts a relatively short drive away, they can realize some immediate savings in their travel costs.
"When you talk about skiing locally, it's already much less expensive than going out of state, for sure, or even to Mammoth," said spokesman Chris Riddle at Big Bear Mountain Resorts, which incorporates Bear Mountain and Snow Summit in the San Bernardino Mountains. "When you look at the drive, the lift ticket prices, it's a very viable option for the L.A. basin and San
Mountain High in Wrightwood, which bills itself as Southern California's closest winter resort, plays up its proximity to thousands of skiers and boarders in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire with a gas calculator on its home page, www.mthigh.com. Enter the current price of a gallon of gasoline, the type of vehicle you drive and where you're coming from and it will estimate what you'll spend on gas to get to Mammoth Mountain, Big Bear Lake and Mountain High.
"Nobody benefits from high gas prices, but if anyone is in a position to still do well at times when the economy is not a success, it's us," said Mountain High spokesman John McColly. "People who ski and snowboard have to ski and snowboard. It's part of what they do. So during times of economic downturn, they don't necessarily do it less, they just do it closer to home."
Go during the week. There's a double bonus if your schedule lets you hit the slopes Monday through Friday. Not only are the lift tickets cheaper, the slopes won't be nearly as crowded. At Mammoth, as many as 20,000 people could be skiing and snowboarding during a busy weekend or holiday, but only 4,000 to 5,000 turn out on many off-peak days, said Mammoth spokeswoman Joani Lynch. "It's a big difference in the experience."
Smaller crowds also are the norm Mondays through Fridays at Mountain High and Bear Mountain, where the weekday rates are $51. The weekend and holiday rates at both places are $62 or more.
There will be even more of a savings at Mountain High once the resort's Winter Wednesdays promotion starts on Jan. 9. Lift tickets will be buy one, get one free. "We'll have bands, DJs, giveaways, promotions, singles parties - all kinds of good stuff," McColly said. "Wednesdays will be the new time to be here."
And when it comes to price, here's one for midweek lift tickets that's tough to beat - $19 for all day at Snow Valley in Running Springs, available every Wednesday, except during holiday periods.
The weekday savings go beyond the lift tickets.
"If you're planning to spend the night, lodging midweek is substantially more affordable than on the weekends," Riddle said. "There's limited inventory during peak times, and that's Friday and Saturday nights. But if you go Sunday through Thursday nights, you have a lot more options and a lot more reasonable pricing."
Indeed. Many of the cabins, condos and other properties listed by the Big Bear Lake Resort Association - at www.bigbear.com - were 30 to 40 percent cheaper Sunday through Thursday nights than they were on weekends.
At Mammoth, the resort on Jan. 7 will launch Midweek Madness promotion, a combo deal with lift tickets and lodging at Mammoth Mountain Inn, The Village Lodging, Juniper Springs Resort and Tamarack Lodge & Resort, starting at $120 per person (double occupancy). During that month, regular-priced lift tickets are $79, so essentially that means the rooms are going for $41 a night per person.
And you can't beat the convenience.
"Mammoth Mountain Inn is right on the slopes," said Mammoth spokeswoman Laura Johnson. "You go out your door, walk across, put on your snowboard and you're there."
Season's greetings. Depending upon the resort, skiers and snowboarders can recoup the cost of a season pass in as few as six or seven days on the slopes.
Most resorts offer steep discounts on their season passes if they're purchased during the summer or early fall. Most of those discounts have expired, but Mountain High has extended its season pass sale - $250 off the regular $599 rate - through Saturday. As a bonus, buyers will receive two additional single-day lift tickets that can be used this season (certain blackout dates apply).
Besides access to the lifts, some season passes unlock additional savings. At Bear Valley, season pass holders receive a 10 percent discount at food and retail outlets at the resort, plus 25 percent off preferred parking.
Skiing or snowboarding? Go surfing first. Some of the best deals resorts have are posted on the Internet. Heavenly Mountain Resort, for example, last week was offering a midweek rate of $59 per person (double occupancy), per day at the Blue Lake Inn, with a two-night minimum.
"When you pull up skiheavenly.com, there's a pop-up in the right-hand corner and that's the screaming deal at that time," said spokesman Russ Pecoraro. "It's usually distressed inventory. Lodging properties have come to us and said they've got rooms that are not going to be sold and they need our help to sell them, so they give us an incredible rate. We put that with a really nice rate on a lift ticket and put it on the Web site. That's really the best way to go throughout the season."
Another Internet deal is available at www.kirkwood.com. Purchase your lift tickets in advance and get $5 off the price of each one.
Besides the Web sites for the individual resorts, one place to go for information about all of the state's resorts - including links to the home pages of 34 different properties - is www.californiasnow.com, which is operated by the California Ski Industry Association.
Purchase multiple-day lift tickets. Big Bear Mountain Resorts has partnered with Sport Chalet on a Triple Play Pass for $99, which is good for three midweek lift tickets. The regular price is $51 per single-day ticket, which adds up to $54 in savings. "Last year was the first year we offered that, and there was certainly enough interest to try it again this year," Riddle said.
At Squaw Valley USA, the discounted two-day rate is $124 vs. $73 each day if the lift tickets were purchased separately. Kirkwood Mountain Resort offers a two-day ticket for $99, if purchased at www.kirkwood.com, which is a savings of $29 from the price of two single-day tickets.
Consider multiple-night visits. Some resorts, including Northstar-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley, offer packages where visitors can stay three nights and get a fourth free. Among the restrictions, depending upon the location: The offer isn't valid during peak periods, including Christmas, the Presidents Day holiday in February, or on weekends.
Family values. There are plenty of deals that make it possible to bring the kids for not a lot of money. Lift tickets for children 12 and younger are $10 every day at Squaw Valley. Mt. Rose has a $124 family package that includes full-day lift tickets for two adults and two children. That deal is available every day of the season.
Rewarding experiences. New this season is the Mammoth Rewards Card, which costs $49 and will save guests $10 on regularly priced non-holiday lift tickets. Also, with the purchase of 10 lift tickets, the 11th one is free. "It's a good way to save money for people who enjoy coming to Mammoth but aren't ready to purchase a season pass," Johnson said. "It's sort of to bridge that gap."
Mammoth also is issuing a free FrequenSki card, which does not offer discounts off daily lift ticket prices, but does get users a free ticket with the purchase of 10. At Sugar Bowl, a $19 membership in the Core Rewards program nets card-holders a $10 discount on the price of a lift ticket any day of the season. In addition, every dollar spent earns points that can be used toward food and beverage vouchers, lift tickets or accommodations. And at Boreal, use the iRIDE rewards card to purchase an all-day lift ticket any two days during the season, and receive a third day free. There's no charge for the iRIDE card, which is available at www.rideboreal.com.
Package lift tickets and accommodations. Northstar-at-Tahoe pairs accommodations with lift tickets valid for the next day's skiing or riding. The lift tickets are exchangeable for a cross-country trail pass. Prices start at $103 per person for a studio condo, based on double occupancy. Through Dec. 19, the "First Tracks" deal at Mammoth gives guests at Mammoth Mountain Inn, The Village Lodging, Juniper Springs Resort and Tamarack Lodge & Resort a free lift ticket for each night they stay. Rates start at $115 and there's a two-night minimum.
Get schooled. Parents can bring their 3- or 4-year-old kids for free ski lessons at Northstar-at-Tahoe. Instructors give 45-minute lessons Sundays through Fridays at 1:30 p.m. At Squaw Valley, there's a $35 beginner package that includes rentals, a lift ticket and lessons. That deal will be available Jan. 13, Feb. 3 and March 30. Learn to ski or ride at Diamond Peak and once you purchase the three-lesson package and complete it, you'll receive three lift tickets at no charge.
An education in savings. College students can get the Mammoth Rewards Card, normally $49, for free. And the benefits - $10 off each regularly priced lift ticket and the 11th one is free - are the same as they are for people who pay regular price for the card. After registering online at www.squaw.com, students can download a coupon to purchase $47 lift tickets Mondays through Thursdays (non-holiday).
Have fun off the mountain. Once your day of boarding or skiing is done, consider some cheap extracurricular activities. In Mammoth, there's the Mammoth Ski Museum, where 500 years of the sport - including its local history with ski area founder Dave McCoy - are on display. Admission is $5. Or recharge your batteries at Hennessey's at the Village, where all burgers are buy one get one free every Tuesday, or at Whiskey Creek, where all food items on the bar menu (except desserts) are half-price from 5 to 6:30 p.m. daily. In Lake Tahoe, skating on Northstar-at-Tahoe's 9,000-square-foot ice rink is free, 1 to 8 p.m. daily. Bring your own skates or rent a pair for $5. At Squaw Valley, there's ice skating at the Olympic Ice Pavilion ($16 for a cable car ride and ice skating after 4 p.m.), water fun in the High Camp Swimming Lagoon & Spa ($11 if you already have a lift ticket) or rock climbing at the Squaw Valley Adventure Center ($14 per day).
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