(Travel + Leisure) -- Savvy skiers, listen up: This could just be your year to find great deals at some of America's best ski resorts.
Heavenly, California offers a large lodging base with a variety of lesser-priced options.
That's because these winter hot spots are bracing for a rough season: it costs the resorts a bundle just to run their lifts and keep their hotels open. And because of the softening economy, resort bookings are down 20 percent or more this winter. The silver lining? This combination is spurring the mountains to create irresistible ski deals.
Many resorts are adding value to ski packages, offering a third or fourth night free, or lowering rates during the traditional slow times, like the month of January and spring. Resorts are also offering passes that can save you dough, like the Ski Salt Lake Super Pass (good for Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, or Solitude), which is good for one to six days of skiing and free round-trip transportation from downtown and suburban Salt Lake City.
But don't wait for the resorts to make a deal -- you can be proactive about planning an affordable ski trip this winter. Here are our suggestions:
Accommodations. Start by checking out a condo or a ski house, even if it's just for a long weekend. A condo usually costs less per person than a hotel, and you'll gain a kitchen, which means savings on meals. And skip the pricey slopeside lodgings. If, for example, Beaver Creek is on your must-ski list, look for accommodations in Avon, just two miles away, and use the new Riverfront Express Gondola to get to the slopes. Travel + Leisure: Best affordable ski resorts slideshow
Airfare. If you can fly midweek, you'll generally find lower fares to resort destinations. And while nonstop flights are faster, itineraries with connecting flights are often cheaper. Also, shop on Farecompare.com and other sites that show the price difference that one day can make. If the price of airfare, lodging, and transfers still seems daunting, turn to a ski tour operator like Ski.com for a package that bundles everything together -- it can be the cheapest way to go.
Local transportation. Do the math. Ski-town airports charge high rental rates in wintertime, and your "car" may well be an SUV -- great for mountain driving, but a huge gas-guzzler. Instead, rely on airport shuttles. In Salt Lake City, Utah, that means All Resort, which charges $35 per adult (and $22 per child under 12) each way to Park City, a resort town that's compact and walkable. Do the same in Whistler, Telluride, and Aspen, which are also served by airport shuttle companies.
Resorts. If you don't have your heart set on one particular resort, you'll find places that perennially offer more bang for your buck. Fortunately, these spots span the geographical range. Okemo, Vermont, for example, offers a Midwinter Value Weekend package where you'll stay at Okemo Mountain Lodge (doubles from $275.50) for two weekend nights in a one-bedroom slopeside condo, including daily lift tickets.
Or choose to schuss down the most skiable acres in America -- all 5,512 of them -- at Big Sky, Montana and the adjacent Moonlight Basin, where children age 10 and under ski free. If you're heading farther west, Heavenly, California offers a large lodging base with a variety of lesser-priced options.
Another draw at Heavenly is gambling, in the adjacent town of Stateline, Nevada. Win big, and it could be the best bargain ski vacation you've ever had.
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