Lift ticket prices posted at ticket windows across the country seem more daunting than ever. One-day tickets at Aspenand Vail can cost more than $100. And unless you look like Matthew McConaughey or Angelina Jolie, don’t expect to sweet-talk your way into discounts: once you’re standing at the ticket office, you’re doomed to pay the rack rate.

Yet deals can be found. By doing a little homework before you hit the hill, you can find lift tickets for cheap—even free—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, Public Relations Manager at California’s Squaw Valley. “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 Online

Richmond suggests starting by searching the web. Most ski areas put their latest deals and limited-time offers right on their home page, or in banner ads alongside. To find existing discounts, browse pages tucked behind the lead. On squaw.com, a link to “Lift Ticket Deals” appears right below “Lift Tickets & Passes.” Killington in Vermont does the same, by advertising reduced ticket rates (such as $39 passes for Vermont and New Hampshire residents) on its “Special Offers” page. 

Squaw valley Image

Squaw Valley's website offers fast access to discount tickets.

Buy in Advance

Purchasing lift tickets on the web can also yield discounts. Squaw Valley, Killington, Whistler/Blackcomb, and all of Vail Resorts mountains offer savings to guests who buy in advance, online. 

“That’s how you’ll get the best pricing for individual lift tickets,” Vail Spokesperson Kate Lessman said, adding that such purchases come with a “lowest price” guarantee. “Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly and Northstar guarantee the price will be the lowest available for that day—and also significantly lower over holiday periods—compared to the window rate.”

The catch? One-day tickets aren’t always cheaper online. Killington’s discounts don’t kick in until you buy a pass for two days or more. In some cases, a “waiting period" applies: at Squaw, tickets must be purchased at least three days ahead of time to benefit from the $9 savings.

Discounts are even bigger prior to the season and during the early season, when ski areas launch promotions they hope will fuel skier/rider enthusiasm through the whole winter. 

“We do a huge early-season push,” Killington Spokesperson Sarah Thorson said. That includes selling K57 tickets: These $57 tickets (compared to the regular price of $79) are valid throughout the ski season, but are only sold through mid-October. Killington also sells Express Cards, a $129 discount pass that earns 50-percent discounts off midweek tickets and 25 percent off weekends and holidays.

It also pays to hit preseason ski shows. “We actually gave away vouchers for free lift tickets,” Thorson said. “We want to get everyone excited.”

 

Killington

If you plan to ski at Killington buy your tickets in advance. Photo Courtesy Killington Resort

Buy Passes with Perks

Rack rate prices may be higher than ever, but season pass prices are dropping—and they can offer dollar-saving perks. The Tahoe Super Pass (valid at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows) starts at $579 and gives passholders 50 percent off additional tickets—as well as $25 off lift tickets at Whistler/Blackcomb.  

Killington’s season pass offers similar benefits, including 20 percent off day tickets at Colorado’s Copper Mountain, 20- to 50-percent discounts at Quebec’s Ski Bromont and 20 percent off tickets at Mt. Bachelor in Oregon. 

Shop Around

Resorts aren’t the only ones selling their lift tickets. Third-party vendors (such as convenience stores, supermarkets and gas stations near ski areas) sometimes offer them at prices that are lower than the resort’s window rate. At 7-11 stores near Whistler/Blackcomb you can pick up single-day lift tickets for $82.95 (instead of the regular price of $96). 

From Jan. 2 through April 16, 2012, participating Shell gas stations are offering 2-for-1 tickets at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. Buy 10 gallons of fuel, and you receive a voucher for one free ticket when you buy one at regular price.

Kroger-owned supermarkets (City Market and King Soopers) in Denver, Colo. offer discounted tickets to various Colorado resorts, such as Arapahoe Basin, Monarch, Keystone and Breckenridge. Prices vary by resort and purchase date, blackout dates apply, and savings are modest—tickets to Breckenridge sell for $96 instead of $99—but the advance purchase can mean avoiding lines at the window later.

Pair Tickets with Lodging

Most ski areas offer discounts on lift tickets when you also book lodging. At Northstar, guests who purchase two nights’ accommodation and two days of adult skiing receive the third day free (lodging and lift tickets). And Whistler/Blackcomb offers ski and stay packages starting at $119 per person, per night—just $23 more than the cost of a (regular price) lift ticket alone. 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. 

breckenridge

Breckenridge Resort is one of many resorts that offer free skiing and lodging packages.