Cheap thrills: Best ways to find discounted lift tickets

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

Walking up to a ski resort ticket window to buy a lift ticket can often come with what we’ll call “window shock.” Lift ticket prices at ski resort ticket windows are more daunting than ever. However, we want to share some ways that you can get around that and find discounted lift tickets.

At a number of ski resorts, particularly around a peak time, you could be paying $250 for a lift ticket. Ski for the weekend and you’re looking at $500 just for two days. So, how do you really save money? The single best way is to purchase one of the major ski passes – IKON, Epic, Mountain Cooperative or Indy. However, that implies you plan to ski more than a few days each season and want to try several resorts, near or far way. Still, you will save considerable dollars with a pass.

Do your research

Those ski pass products are likely here to stay. When looking to the future, Kelly Pawlek, President and CEO of the National Ski Areas Association (NSSA), told OnTheSnow, “I expect that the best values for the consumer will continue to be in the season pass products and midweek, non-holiday vacations.  As the U.S. shifts to more remote work, that could be an advantage to skiers and riders who have a little more flexibility to get away at off-peak times,” she said.

You might be an individual or a family planning to ski just a few days at a nearby ski area, and perhaps you’re also planning a week to ski somewhere fun that’s further afield. By doing a little homework before you hit the hill, you can find lift ticket savings, but just 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, a California video producer with ties to the ski and travel industry in Lake Tahoe. “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 the web for deals

Start by searching the web. Most ski areas put their latest deals and limited-time offers right on their home page, or in banner ads. Many resorts have “special offers” pages. Ski Vermont’s Bryan Rivard has some advice on saving money in Vermont that may just translate to other states as well. “Areas around the state offer military, senior, and (in some cases) Vermonter discounts on tickets—and free or discounted skiing for young children. Skiing at off-peak times is another great option; midweek or early and late season trips can offer some savings, and there are often options to buy multi-day or group passes at a discount,” Rivard says.

“It’s also a good idea to keep an eye out for ski area promos throughout the season—if you know which mountain you’re traveling to, getting on their email list is an easy way to take advantage of any special offers. SkiVermont.com also has a “Deals” section that’s worth keeping an eye on—and programs like the Ski Vermont Fifth Grade Passport program that provide any fifth grader more than 90 days of skiing across the state for the cost of enrollment. If nothing else, be sure to pre-buy tickets online to beat the walk-up price and get to the chairlift as easily as possible,” Rivard explains.

Best bets for early skiing, Killington Vermont.
Take advantage of some of deals and offers available in Vermont. @Killington Resort

Buy in advance for more savings

Purchasing lift tickets on the web can also yield discounts, with many resorts across North America offering savings if you buy your lift tickets in advance. However, sometimes there’s a 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. Discounts are even bigger prior to the season and during the early season when ski areas launch promotions that they hope will fuel skier/rider enthusiasm through the whole winter.

Shop Around

Resorts aren’t the only ones selling their lift tickets. Third-party vendors (such as ski shops, 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) throughout the Denver area generally offer discounted tickets to various Colorado resorts. Prices vary by resort and purchase date, blackout dates apply, and savings are modest – usually just a few dollars. Still, the advance purchase can mean avoiding lines at the window later on a weekend or holiday. Just act quickly as the resorts only provide a limited number of tickets to each outlet. Your best bet to find the “supermarket” discounts is early, not late, in the season.

Some local ski shops offer discounted lift tickets when buying at the shop. For example, in Utah, Canyon Sports, AJ Motion Sports and See N Ski often offer discounts. REI and Costco members can sometimes purchase discounted tickets in stores, but you will need to check with your local store to find out which tickets are available and when.

Watch for cool promotions

Learn to Ski and Ride Month each January is a nationwide program offering excellent beginner packages and promotions that include lift tickets, rentals and lessons at a minimal cost so newcomers to the sport can catch the skiing and snowboarding vibe. Check the websites and Facebook pages of your local ski area as this long-running promotion designed to bring newbies to the sport has become a mainstream option all across the country.

Mary Jo Tarallo, who ran the program for many years, said, “The initiative focuses on motivating children and adults to learn how to ski or snowboard by taking lessons from professional instructors.” The program has introduced well over a million newcomers to the sport.

As the longest running learn to ski and snowboard program in the industry, this initiative has served a crucial role in growing both sports in a way that promotes having fun and staying safe. Also, free or cheap cross-country and snowshoeing events across the country’s snowbelt are offered during Winter Trails Day (usually one day or one weekend at each venue).

Steamboat Springs, CO kids ski program school
Kids Ski Free program, Steamboat Springs, CO @Shutterstock

Finally, look for Kids Ski Free programs. Steamboat was the first resort to offer free lifts, lodging and lessons on a one-on-one basis with parents for vacation stays of five days or longer. Statewide programs enabling 5th graders to ski free are offered in Colorado, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and others.

Pair Tickets with Lodging

Most ski areas offer discounts on lift tickets when you also book lodging. 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.

Palisades Tahoe Ski Resort Covered in Snow
Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley) offers discounts if you purchase tickets in advance. @Palisades Tahoe
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