Cheap thrills: Best ways to find discounted lift tickets

Newsroom Lift Passes Cheap thrills: Best ways to find discounted lift tickets

Lift ticket prices posted at ticket windows across the country seem more daunting than ever. Window-shock. One-day tickets at Aspen, Vail, or Deer Valley as examples, can cost upwards of $200. Don’t even think about what it costs on a holiday. You won’t sweet-talk your way into discounts once you’re standing at the ticket office. Too late. You’re doomed to pay the rack rate.

By doing a little homework before you hit the hill, you can find lift tickets for cheap—even free—as long as you don’t wait until the last minute.

“The ski industry is like the rest of the travel industry,” said Amelia Richmond of California’s Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows). “If you book a last-minute trip to Hawaii, you’ll pay more. With lift tickets, discounts are out there, but you have to prepare.”

Search online and you’ll find discounts

Richmond suggests starting by searching the web. Most ski areas put their latest deals and limited-time offers right on their home page, or in banner ads alongside. To find existing discounts, browse pages tucked behind the lead. Many resorts have “Special Offers” pages.

Squaw Valley
Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley) offers discounts if you purchase tickets in advance. Credit: Palisades Tahoe

Buy in advance for more savings.

Purchasing lift tickets on the web can also yield discounts. Many resorts across North America offer savings if you buy your lift tickets in advance.

“That’s how you’ll get the best pricing for individual lift tickets,” Vail’s Kate Lessman said, adding that such purchases come with a “lowest price” guarantee. “The Vail Resorts guarantee the price will be the lowest available for that day—and also significantly lower over holiday periods—compared to the window rate.” Vail Resorts owns 37 ski areas in the U.S. and is still growing.

The catch? One-day tickets aren’t always cheaper online. Sometimes the discounts don’t kick in until you buy a pass for two days or more. In some cases, a “waiting period” applies.

Discounts are even bigger prior to the season and during the early season when ski areas launch promotions they hope will fuel skier/rider enthusiasm through the whole winter.

“We do a huge early-season push,” Killington’s Sarah Thorson said. That includes selling much cheaper lift tickets (compared to the regular price ) are valid throughout the ski season, but are only sold through mid-October. Killington also sells other incentive passes.

It also pays to hit preseason ski shows. “We actually gave away vouchers for free lift tickets,” Thorson said. “We want to get everyone excited.”

Buy in advance for more savings, like in Killington Resort
If you plan to ski at Killington buy your tickets in advance. Credit: Outlook / Shutterstock

Buy multi-resort passes for big savings

There are several passes offered that include a number of visits to many resorts. Vail Resorts Epic Pass and Alterra Resorts IKON Pass both offer serious values if you aren’t just going to ski your “home” area. Even, then there are deals within those passes.  You will be able to find the pass that fits your travel plans and budgets. The Epic Pass and IKON pass usually go on sale in the late spring and prices go up incrementally until the news season is underway.

Buy multi-resort passes for big savings - IKON Pass
The IKON pass now offers a payment plan to make it easier on your wallet. Credit: IKON Pass

Shop Around

Resorts aren’t the only ones selling their lift tickets. Third-party vendors (such as convenience stores, supermarkets and gas stations near ski areas) sometimes offer them at prices that are lower than the resort’s window rate.

Kroger-owned supermarkets (City Market and King Soopers) in Denver, Colo. offer discounted tickets to various Colorado resorts. Prices vary by resort and purchase date, blackout dates apply, and savings are modest—tickets to Breckenridge sell for $96 instead of $99—but the advance purchase can mean avoiding lines at the window later. Just act quickly as the resorts only provide a limited number of tickets to each outlet.

Pair Tickets with Lodging

Most ski areas offer discounts on lift tickets when you also book lodging. At Northstar, guests who purchase two nights’ accommodation and two days of adult skiing receive the third day free (lodging and lift tickets). And Whistler/Blackcomb offers ski and stay packages starting at $119 per person, per night—just $23 more than the cost of a (regular price) lift ticket alone. During the holidays, packages sometimes offer the only discounts available. For Christmas skiing, ski and stay deals may be the only way to avoid paying full price.

Breckenridge offers plenty of deals with lodging packages. Credit: Andrew Maguire
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