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More snow, less dough

Family ski vacations can be tons of fun, but holy sticker shock — they sure ain’t cheap. By the time you shell out for the condo, lift tickets, ski lessons, equipment rental, meals, daycare, snow gear, and all those inevitable miscellaneous expenses, you might feel like your wallet’s been run through a blender.
/ Source: Wejustgotback.com

Family ski vacations can be tons of fun, but holy sticker shock — they sure ain’t cheap. By the time you shell out for the condo, lift tickets, ski lessons, equipment rental, meals, daycare, snow gear, and all those inevitable miscellaneous expenses, you might feel like your wallet’s been run through a blender.

The bottom line: Ski vacations are pricey by nature. Still, don’t put away those super-cozy thermal-insulated socks just yet. Once you’ve identified a , you can use a few smart strategies to skim significant cost off your total spend. Here are 10 easy ways to save on a family getaway this winter:

1. Book now. Every October, awesome early-bird ski vacation deals begin popping up all over. But time is ticking; you have to snap them up before ski season gets underway. For example, if you book the “Ski Free/Stay Free” package before October 14 at , a family-friendly resort in the Colorado Rockies (see ), kids 12 and under ski free every day of your trip. Book a four-night stay at by October 30 and get 20 percent off lodging and lift tickets. Book by November 15 at , voted the No. 1 ski resort in eastern North America by SKI Magazine readers, and you can save up to 30 percent on your trip. These act-quick opportunities are a dime a dozen right now, but they’ll dry up by mid-November.

2. Aim off-peak. Timing is everything. Depending on where you want to ski, the season can last anywhere from four to six months. Many resorts out West are open by mid-November and remain open through April. In general, prices at ski resorts are highest when there is a greater chance of snow (read: coldest months) and also during school breaks. Resorts’ rates can fluctuate wildly throughout the season. To wit: At , voted the No. 1 resort for family programs by SKI Magazine readers (see ), prices during SuperSaver Value Weeks are a full 50 percent lower than over the New Year or President’s Week. Opting to ski earlier or later in the season can also save you a bundle. At , the most-visited ski resort in the country, for example, early-season room rates start at just $59 a night. Hint: If your travel dates fall on the fringes of the ski season, it’s wise to choose a resort with a reputation for good snow-making capabilities, in case Mother Nature doesn’t oblige with a layer of the white stuff.

3. Go midweek. Lodging and lift tickets are always more expensive on weekends, so a Monday-to-Thursday ski break can cost half of what a Thursday-to-Sunday getaway does at the same resort. But saving money is just the beginning of the good news. Midweek typically means fewer crowds, shorter lift lines, and smaller group sizes during lessons.

4. Be a tourist. All the big ski destination states have dedicated tourism associations which exist to promote their own resorts and ski areas. Their Web sites can be good money-saving resources. For example, you’ll find hot deals at , and , resort packages at and discounts on lift tickets at .

5. Get free kids’ lift tickets. Wow — there’s nothing more family-friendly than a resort that lets kids ski free. Buy an adult ski lift ticket for five or more days at Steamboat Springs, in the Colorado Rockies, and you’ll get a free 12-and-under child’s lift ticket for the same number of days. Need to rent ski equipment, too? The deal includes free rental equipment for one child when a parent or grandparent rents adult equipment. Other resorts that offer “kids ski free” deals include , in Montana, and , in North Carolina.

6. Get free kids’ airfare. Don’t live within driving distance of a ski area? Look for “kids fly free” deals that provide complimentary air tickets for kids when a family ski vacation is purchased. Steamboat Springs pioneered “kids fly free” deals, but nowadays dozens of resorts are offering them, including , in Colorado and Wyoming, and , in British Columbia (see ). Freebies often play a part in the well-priced vacation packages and lodging deals on .

7. Get your grade-schooler a passport. Many states offer free or discounted skiing to students in a designated school grade. Typically, kids can apply online or through the mail and must provide proof of their current school grade. Each passport is good for up to three free lift tickets at each participating resort. Fourth graders nationwide can apply for the and . Fifth graders are eligible for the , , , , , and the , which includes resorts in Washington and Idaho. For sixth graders, there’s the .

8. Consult the deal watchdogs. Check , and for ways to save on lift tickets at resorts around the country.

9. Save on equipment rental. Price out equipment rental on your resort’s web site in advance of your trip. Sometimes pre-booking online can shave up to 20 percent off the overall rental cost. Weigh your resort’s rental prices against the discounts you find on . For example, if you’re headed to , SkiCoupons.com offers over a dozen printable coupons for equipment rental at local outfitters with savings of between 10 percent and 25 percent. Also, consider investing in your own helmets. Youth helmets can cost as little as $40 but frequently rent for up to $10 per day.

10. Follow the locals. True ski bums never pay full whack. They know that supermarkets and local ski shops in mountain resort areas sell lift tickets for up to $10 per day less than what you’d pay on-site. That’s a savings of $40 per day for a family of four. Consider investing in the coupon-filled for the area you’ll be visiting. Inside the editions for Denver, Utah, and Vermont, for example, you’ll find discounts on lift tickets, ski equipment rentals, dining, and many other amenities that travelers use. A skiing family could easily recoup the cost of the book in a single day.

Additional reporting by Amber Nolan