Want to ski for less? Head to Canada
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
While there are certainly great ways to save on the notoriously high cost of skiing here in the U.S. (Epic Pass discounts, kids ski free, seniors ski free), we at TPG wondered if heading north of the border in search of powder could also save you a little more this ski season.
The short answer: Yes! Skiers looking for deals should follow the lead of Harry and Meghan and consider spending some time in Canada this winter.
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Having compared several trip elements for Vail and Whistler while planning my own family ski trip this year, I had noticed that ski school and transportation from the airport were noticeably less expensive in Whistler than Vail. The current U.S. to Canadian dollar exchange rate is an advantageous (U.S.)$1:CA$1.31 at the time of writing, but it's not the only factor at work.
I decided to dive into the numbers a bit more and explore if this was a real trend.
For reference, the ski pass prices I am quoting are based on skiing for one day on Saturday, March 7. All accommodations are quoted at the time of writing for a five-night trip from March 7–12. Next year, remember to plan for those annual ski passes to avoid last-minute ski pass pricing.
Lunch is calculated as a burger, fries and soda at a midrange mountain restaurant for one person, in USD, based on Home-to-go's annual ski price index.
Related: Best credit cards to use on ski trips
Go to Whistler instead of Vail
My research turned up a few reasons why skiers should head to Whistler instead of Vail this winter.
If you want a full-service, extensive mountain like Vail in Colorado, Whistler could be a money-saving option for you. A one-day adult lift ticket at Vail is now an eye-watering $209, or $189 if purchased seven days ahead.
Whistler's one-day adult lift ticket is less expensive at CA$189 ($144) on the day, or CA$161 ($122) if purchased seven days ahead. There are also savings if you buy two or more days.
Both resorts are included in the Epic Pass if you're planning for next season.
Lunch at Vail comes in around about $17 while Whistler comes in around $9. (Though you can find a $5 lunch special at Blue Moose in Vail if you're pinching pennies there.)
Related: Planning a weekend ski trip to Whistler using miles and points
Group ski lessons
Adult ski lessons at Vail are $239 for one day or $458 for three days at all levels. A beginner's package for one day with a lift ticket and full-day lesson is $274. If you want to get better value for your money, Vail does a three-day lesson package for $658, including lift tickets. A full day of lessons for children ages 3–15 is $269 without lift tickets.
Whistler organizes its lessons by level from first-time skier (1) to expert (6). Half-day lessons are only available for Level 1. While the half-day lessons are CA$219 ($167), a half-day lesson and full-day lift ticket is CA$258 ($196). Full-day lessons only for levels 1–3 are CA$279 ($212) or CA$318 ($242) for levels 4–6. Full-day lessons plus lift ticket for levels 1-3 is CA$318 ($212) and for levels 4–6 is CA$391 ($297).
If you want to get better value for your money, Whistler also does a third-day free ski or snowboard lesson promotion for adults. When you tie that in with the lift pass, you're looking at a much more reasonable rate for three days of skiing on North America's largest mountain. For levels 1–3, it's CA$636 ($484) or CA$782 ($595) for levels 4–6 to have three days of full lessons and ski passes.
Where you will see the savings at Whistler is if you book children's lessons. One day of lessons for children age 3 to 12 is CA$255 ($194) and includes a hot meal. There are also multi-day adventure camps that provide more cost-effective savings.
We looked into child care for our youngest son (2.5 years old) while the rest of our family of four frolicked on the slopes and found a large discrepancy in costs between Vail and Whistler.
At Vail, the licensed daycare is often booked up for the whole season in advance. I could only find a few available dates in March. Children age 2 months to 6 years old are $176 per day. Local business Vail Sitters is a good alternative. Babysitters at Vail Sitters charge $30 per hour plus $2/hour for each additional child. An eight-hour day with a Vail Sitter priced out at $240 per day.
At Whistler, there are four licensed daycares available for CA$92.50 ($70) daily, and private babysitters are CA$125 ($95) for children 6 months to 5 years old. Whistler wins again.
We checked American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts to compare five-star resorts that are still available in Vail and Whistler. We found that by choosing Whistler, there were five-star options that didn't (fully) break the bank.
In Vail, the Four Seasons priced out at a staggering $2,255 per night. Even the thought of 5x American Express Membership Rewards points if I used The Platinum Card® from American Express to book the stay through couldn't help me stomach that price.
Up in Whistler, the newly renovated Four Seasons -- with a ski concierge and hot chocolate awaiting your return at the end of the day -- will set you back an average of $488 per night. While still expensive, it's less than a fourth of the cost of the Vail Four Seasons. By booking through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, you receive a one-time $100 food and beverage (Vail) or spa credit (Whistler). Fine Hotels & Resorts is one of my favorite programs because of its inclusions such as free daily breakfast for two.
With a fifth-night free promotion, you can stay at the grand dame ski in/ski out in Whistler, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which just underwent a $23 million renovation. It averages $402 per night through Amex FHR with a $100 food and beverage credit plus free breakfast.
When we turned to points, there is some availability left, but you'll need a lot of Marriott Bonvoy points for five nights in Vail.
The Westin in Whistler isn't inexpensive on points, but it does come in a bit less, as does Delta Hotels.
Where you will save money between the two locations is that the Whistler points hotels don't have resort fees, while the Vail Marriott charges a $50 per day resort fee.
Whistler's free family activities
While Vail has plenty for families to do off the slopes, Whistler wins with the free family activities after the slopes shut. Whistler has a free Family Après at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Mondays and Wednesdays featuring snow cones, face paint and sometimes even a visit from husky puppies from 3 to 6 p.m.
On Sunday nights at 7 p.m., Whistler hosts a free Fire and Ice show at Skier's Plaza where skier and snowboarders jump through flaming hoops and do tricks to impress the crowd.
How to get there
For Whistler, you can fly to Vancouver (YVR) and take a scenic bus for two and a half hours to Whistler. There are several options for a shuttle. The Whistler Shuttle must be booked in advance. Adults are CA$148 ($113) round-trip, children ages 6–12 are CA$68 ($52) and children under 5 are free.
An alternative is the Epic Rides bus that runs two times a day from downtown Vancouver. It can be a great option if you want to spend time in the city before heading to the mountains. It's a flat rate for all ages of CA$35 ($27) round-trip. A taxi to their downtown Vancouver pick up location is around CA$31 ($24).
For Vail, you can fly into Eagle County Regional (EGE) and be there within 20 to 30 minutes via the Epic Mountain Express bus. Adults cost $49. Children 12 years and younger ride for half-price.
Related: How an Aspen ski vacation gone wrong ended with my family at the police station
Or fly to Denver (DEN) and be about 90 minutes to two hours from the slopes, or longer in traffic or bad weather. Renting a car is an option but we would recommend taking one of the ski buses offered by a few operators.
For $191 each way, a family of four could join a shared shuttled with Mountain Shuttle to Vail that drops off at the central bus depot in Vail.
Related: Using points and miles to book an affordable Vail ski trip
Head to Mont-Tremblant instead of Killington
Whistler isn't the only ski destination in Canada to consider. Those from the East Coast may very well want to try Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, on for size -- especially if Killington, Vermont, is their usual stomping ground.
If you're heading to the East Coast, Killington in Vermont is $125 for a walk-up adult day pass and $96 for ages 7–18, with those under 7 free. Booking online will get those costs down a bit, to $116 for adults and $89 for children.
Head a little further north to Mont-Tremblant in Quebec and an adult walk-up ticket is CA$105 ($80). Mont-Tremblant has more tiers for their children's pricing at CA$70 ($53) for ages 13–17, CA$58 ($44) for ages 5–12 and CA$12 ($9) for ages 3–4. Under 3s are free.
Booking online for Mont Tremblant drops the above prices by 20% as long as you book 48 hours in advance. Single-day lift tickets are then CA$98 ($75), CA$88 ($67), CA$67 ($51), and CA$55 ($42) respectively, with age 3–4 tickets remaining the same.
Mont-Tremblant also offers half-day tickets from noon at a 25% discount from full-day tickets.
Killington and Mont Tremblant are included in the Ikon Pass, so keep this in mind if you wish to visit next season.
Group ski Lessons
You can see additional savings in eastern Canada when it comes to ski lessons, particularly for children's lessons.
At Killington, adults can only book half-day lessons which are $85 for one day. Children ages 7–15 can have half-day lessons for $110 for a half-day and $150 for a full day. Ages 4–6 have a full-day program for $175.
At Mont Tremblant, an adult half-day lesson is CA$95 ($72). Any full-day adult or child group lesson from ages 6 and up is CA$165 ($125). A full-day lesson for a 4- or 5-year-old is CA$129 ($98).
Lunch on the mountain at Mont-Tremblant is $9.18 while the same fare at Killington averages around $17.
Killington doesn't have any major points hotel options, so I checked the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal using my Chase Sapphire Reserve to see what was available with Ultimate Rewards points. The following properties are ski condos in the area that could be great for families.
In Tremblant, the ski condos are smaller, on average, but also offered at a fraction of the price on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
However, north of the border has more options for you on points as well. Five nights at the Residence Inn Mont Tremblant on our test dates is 150k Marriott points (including the fifth night free), while The Westin (or should I say, Le Westin) is approximately CA$281 ($214) for the same dates. (Note that the Residence Inn Mont Tremblant is moving from a Category 5 to 6 while The Westin will move from Category 6 to 7 on March 4, 2020. Read more about Marriott's 2020 award chart changes.)
How to get there
The Rutland Regional Airport (RUT) is 25 miles, or an approximately 35-minute drive, from Killington. The airport’s principal carrier, Cape Air, connects with Jet Blue hubs and has daily flights to Boston.
According to Killington's website, there are several other airports to rent a car and drive from:
- Albany International Airport (ALB) - Albany, NY | 2 hrs. 15 mins.
- Bradley International Airport (BDL) - Hartford, CT | 2 hrs. 40 mins.
- Burlington International Airport (BTV) - Burlington, VT | 1 hr. 45 mins.
- Logan International Airport (BOS) - Boston, MA | 3 hrs.
- Manchester Regional Airport (MHT) - Manchester, NH | 2 hrs. 10 mins
The mountain is 26 miles from Tremblant (YTM), 86 miles from Montreal (YUL) and 107 miles from Ottawa (YOW). Most people rent a car. However, the Mont Tremblant Express bus service departs from YUL and takes approximately 90 minutes. The bus costs CA$161 ($123) for adults or CA$111 ($84) for children ages 2–11. Under 2 is free.
Related: 6 tips for taking big family ski trips
With the same ski signage (greens, blues, black diamonds) and our common language, heading to Canada for your next ski vacation is an easy move. Make sure you use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees to maximize the exchange rate differences between the U.S. and our neighbors to the north.
Before you go, also make sure you have the proper documentation for entering Canada.
These Candian savings can be even greater if you book ahead, so if you miss this season, follow The Points Guy for updates starting in spring on how to maximize next season's ski vacations.