3 tips for how and when to book a ski trip

Oct 19, 2021

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Like many outdoor activities, skiing saw an increase in popularity throughout the pandemic.

The National Ski Areas Association reports the 2020/2021 season was the fifth best ever in the U.S. in terms of skier and snowboarder visitor numbers since the organization first began keeping records in 1978/1979, with more than 59 million visits tallied.

If you’re considering hitting the slopes this season, the time to start thinking about — and planning — your ski vacation is now. We reached out to experts in Colorado and Utah for their tips on where to start.

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Forewarned is forearmed

In general, the COVID-19 restrictions in place last year — think enforced mask use in lift lines and on chair lifts — are expected to be looser this season.

“This year will be easier for guests in many ways,” said Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah. “I think in general the protocols will be more relaxed — but keep in mind that could change at any time.”

And whereas many resorts were on the same page last year regarding COVID-19 protocols, there’s expected to be far less standardization across the board at resorts this year, said Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director at Colorado Ski Country.

You’ll be best served by deciding where you want to ski first, then checking that resort’s particular rules and regulations to make sure you know what’s expected of you when you arrive.

“We’re telling people to know before they go,” Linsmayer said. “If you know what ski area you want to go to and when, check their website, get in touch with customer service via their call center to understand lodging options and cancellation rules as well as different COVID restrictions.”

“In Colorado, we are really taking a county-by-county approach,” he said. “What’s happening in Summit County might be different than Pitkin County and elsewhere.”

Expect things in Utah, and at resorts elsewhere across the U.S., to vary.

“Compared to last year, there will be a wide variety and range of protocols at resorts,” said Rafferty. “Some resorts won’t mandate masks in their lodges at all. So it’s more important than ever to plan ahead.”

Where you decide to ski might come down to your own comfort level and the requirements of your group, so be sure your questions are fully addressed before booking.

(Photo by Noah Clayton/Getty Images)

Timing is everything

One thing that hasn’t been altered by the pandemic when it comes to ski vacation planning is the early bird getting the worm, and we aren’t just talking about nabbing those corduroy or powder runs with first tracks.

“The earlier you book, the better deal you’re likely to get on things like lodging and even lift tickets,” Linsmayer said.

“The industry does dynamic pricing,” he said, “so you’re likely to have a better deal if you book a seven-day lift ticket in advance than if you walk up to a window and book the day you’re going.”

While there are occasionally flash sales during the season, Linsmayer says those are hard to predict.

If you’re looking to ski during a traditionally busy time such as the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day or spring break in March, the further out you can plan, the better deal you’re likely to get.

Also consider timing your visit for the traditionally slower weeks of the season, outside of the holiday weekends in January and February. Those less popular dates can be good times to find uncrowded lift lines and slopes.

Another tip: Not everyone wants to ski all seven days of a week-long ski trip.  So whenever you can, plan your actual ski days for weekdays versus the weekend.

“We encourage folks to ski mid-week if they do have flexibility,” said Linsmayer. “You are likely to have less people on the mountain with you then.”

If you have the flexibility and prefer to book your trip closer in, Rafferty said to “watch the weather if you’re looking for cheap and discounted windows for skiing.”

Many ski resorts in major destinations open around Thanksgiving or in the first week of December — and sometimes the snow arrives that early, too.

“Skiing in early December can be pretty amazing, with great deals and nobody around, if the snowfall comes through,” Rafferty said.

Likewise, mid to late-April, when many mountains remain open, can also bring great conditions — solid snow and bluebird skies, with warmer conditions than the heart of winter. The balmy weather might even see you stripping down to a T-shirt on the mountain.

Look for packages and other deals

Before piecing together your own jigsaw combination of hotel or vacation stay plus lift tickets and equipment rentals, it’s worth calling the resort to inquire if they’re bundling together any deals.

It might turn out to be a less expensive option than the moving parts you were configuring on your own.

There are all kinds of deals out there on lift tickets for kids ski passes, too, but if you don’t research them before your trip, you might never know about them.

Colorado Ski Country’s Passport Program offers kids in fourth, fifth and sixth grades four days of lift tickets each at 21 different Colorado ski areas for just $59.

Ski Utah has a similar ski pass for fifth- and sixth-graders to ski or ride 45 days at Utah’s resorts for only $45 (three times at each of Utah’s resorts). Or check out Ski Vermont for savings in that state.

Meanwhile, Club Med Quebec is opening on Dec. 3, 2021; the brand’s only all-inclusive ski resort in North America. Rates at the property in the Charlevoix region include all your meals and drinks plus group ski lessons and lift tickets, leaving equipment rentals the only thing left to pay. Price it out because, during off-peak times, the savings have the potential to be substantial, especially if you’re going all-in on a family ski trip where everyone wants to hit the mountain and take lessons.

Bottom line

If you’re planning to ski this season, don’t stall with planning – the earlier you book, the better the savings you’re likely to score. Remember, too, that for every Vail and Park City there are smaller mountains across the country worth researching for deals.

Featured photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images.

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