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Jackson Hole is a favorite of lovers of steeps...and they offer great savings for next year if you buy your pass in April.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Spring Brings the Best Deals On Annual Ski Passes

I’m just back from spring skiing in Vail, the crocuses are beginning to bloom here in New York City, so naturally I’m about to go online to purchase next winter’s ski pass.

Sounds wacky? Not really. Vail Resorts, among others, offer the best deals on their annual ski passes in the spring, and at many ski resorts your annual pass is also usable throughout the summer giving you access to the high country to hike, bike, picnic, explore.

This was my first year with an unlimited ski pass—an EpicPass from Vail Resorts in my case. I’d spent too many of the recent years logging only five ski days or so a season, and I was determined to finally hit double digits. I did the math (see the information below for savings at selected areas across the country) and calculated that buying a pass would be cheaper than paying even for multi-day tickets. And once I had the pass, I discovered benefits and incentives I hadn’t considered before:

No Ticket Lines

One compelling adventage is no waiting in line to buy tickets. Vail and many other ski areas issue their season passes as RFID cards, so with an annual pass in your pocket, you head straight for the lifts. And some resorts allow season-pass holders to pay a little more and get privileged access to express lanes.

Free or discounted tickets for friends. Some season passes come with a couple of free tickets for friends or family, others with the option to buy a fixed number (six is typical) of discounted tickets for ski buddies.

Season passes come with other discounts. These vary from ski resort to ski resort but may include discounts at selected restaurants, ski shops (for rentals or tune-ups), lodging, and more.

Dining at the slopes. You can save money on things like dining when you get a season pass as well as for ski tune ups and other resort services. Marc Guido photo.
Dining at the slopes. You can save money on things like dining when you get a season pass as well as for ski tune ups and other resort services.

Having a ski pass makes you smarter. Let me explain. If you’re trying to get the full value of a $105/day lift ticket (the cost at Vail), the tendency is to continue making runs even after you’re exhausted, just to get your money’s worth, a recipe for injury.

But on day one of the season this year, skiing with my brother-in-law and former college roommate—who bought passes when they learned I had one—we happily left the slopes for Pepi’s Bar early, rather than push our limits.


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When you’re tired—and who isn’t on the first day—the bar is a better place to be than on the slopes.
Incentive to stay in shape. OK, maybe this was just me, but knowing that I was going to make several trips out west made me visit the health club more often so I could get the most out of every day I skied.

So with all that in mind, here’s a selection of ski resorts, chosen from different parts of the country, that offer discounts for buying early. I’ve highlighted premium passes for adults that offer unlimited skiing or riding without blackout dates, but you’ll find other, less expensive options if you can live with blackout dates or fewer days. For many of these the best rate of the year comes now.

Mount Bachelor, Bend Oregon. photo by Marc Guido.
Mount Bachelor, Bend Oregon. photo by Marc Guido.

Big Sky Mountain Resort, Big Sky, Montana. Their premium Gold Pass is $799 if purchased before April 30, 2012, then goes up to $999 until Sept. 30 and $1,399 thereafter.

It offers unlimited direct-to-lift access (except Moonlight Basin), with no blackout dates, free skiing for up to two kids under 6/adult pass, 15% off at Big Sky Resort retail shops, and up to 10 days of free skiing at other Boyne USA Mountain resorts:

Brighton, UT; Crystal Mountain, WA; Summit at Snoqualmie, WA; Boyne Mountain & Boyne Highlands, MI; Cypress Mountain, BC; Loon Mountain, NH; Sunday River & Sugarloaf, ME. And if you buy your pass now, you can ski for free from Apr. 1-15 of this season. For more information, visit their website.

Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Lake Tahoe, California. Purchase a Gold Pass by May 7 for $729 ($699 if you’re renewing) and you’ll enjoy summer 2012 Squaw Valley tram rides and access to the High Camp swimming pool as well as unlimited skiing and riding at both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows next season. The pass also comes with 6 discounted friends and family tickets, discounts on Village of Squaw Valley lodging, 10% off food and beverage at selected outlets, 30% discounts on half-day private lessons, and discounts at the KSL Resorts of Coronado del Mar, La Costa, and Rancho Las Palmas. And did I mention 3 free rounds of golf? To find out more, website.

Spring skiing at Killington, Vermont.
Spring skiing at Killington, Vermont.

Vail Resorts, Colorado and California The Epic Pass, like the one I had, affords unrestricted access, with no blackout dates, to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado and Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood in California’s Lake Tahoe region.

The full pass is $659 if purchased before Apr. 15, 2012 (though more restrictive and less expensive regional passes are also offered); the price after that hasn’t been announced but last year it went up $40 through the summer.

Buying now guarantees you the lowest price of the season and comes with the additional benefit of lift access for this coming summer (though not bike haul). Other benefits include 6 ski-with-a-friend discounts, integration with the EpicMix app to track your skiing, free on-mountain professional digital photos, and various discounts for dining, rental, lodging, and more at selected locations. For more information: website.

Park City Mountain Resort, Park City, Utah. The prices for the 2012/2013 season passes haven’t been set, but last year’s can serve as a guide to the potential savings. Their unrestricted adult Mountain Pass cost $725 when it went on sale in the spring--$100 less that the price after mid September. With it you got two complimentary Friends & Family tickets, as well as discounts at selected restaurants and rental and repair shops.

You also have the option to pay more and also get access to express lanes on the mountain (called “Fast Tracks”), night skiing, underground parking, and more. For more information: website.

You can also save during the summer months at places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Summer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, Utah. This Little Cottonwood ski area near Salt Lake City doesn’t put passes on sale until Memorial Day, but once they do you can typically save $200 by buying before Sept. 15 (last year a full pass cost $999 until Sept. 15, then went to $1,199).

In addition to unlimited skiing and riding, passes are valid in summer on the Aerial Tram, Peruvian Chairlift, and Tunnel and include vouchers for nine Snowbird summer activities, among them the Alpine Slide, ZipRider, Ropes Course, and Climbing Wall.

In winter, the perks include 10 discounted Friends & Family tickets, lesson discounts, and discounts on selected apparel and skis at participating shops. For more information, visit once passes go on sale. Website

 

You can save money on ski instruction at places like Stratton, Vermont.
Instructor and student at Stratton Mountain in Vermont.

Stratton Mountain, Vermont. Buy a season pass before April 30 and you’ll save roughly $300 over the cost in season. There are several options, every one of them with resort charge privileges, summer gondola rides, and invitations to exclusive events.

At the top is their UltraPass which bundles direct-to-lift convenience and no blackout dates with locker and parking discounts, guest passes, early access, and more, including unlimited skiing at Okemo and Mt. Sunapee.

Beyond that, you get a $25 discount on up to 10 day tickets at other Intrawest resorts, among them Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Snowshoe in West Virginia, and two Canadian resorts: Tremblant in Quebec and Whistler/Blackcomb in British Columbia.

Purchased now, its $1,389, then goes to $1,569 until Oct. 8, and then to $1,669. For something a little more modest, without the early access, opt for the Standard pass at $929 now, then $1,079 until Oct. 8, and finally $1,229. And there are less expensive options if you can live with blackout dates. See website for details and bookings.

Snowbird, Utah, in the summer.
Snowbird in summer.

Sugarbush/Mt. Ellen, Vermont. The early season All Mountain pass, good for unlimited skiing at Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen, costs $1,049 for adults (ages 30-69) and gets you free skiing through the end of the season this spring.

Additional benefits include discounts on lodging and ski school and at selected restaurants, shops, and valley partners. Rates go up May 2 (though that rate hasn’t been published). For more information: website

 

Killington Resort, Vermont. Purchase an Unlimited Pass now and it will be good for express gondola rides and mountain bike park use this summer along with blackout-free skiing and riding next winter at both Killington and Pico Mountain. It also provides discounts on ski school, private lessons, selected restaurants and lodging, and demo equipment.

You’ll also enjoy 20% discounts on lift tickets at its sister resorts of Park City, Utah; Mount Bachelor, Oregon; and Copper Mountain, Colorado, among others. Currently the cost of an Unlimited Pass is $1,049, but prices go up on April 27. For information about all their seasonal passes, visit website.

 

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Although prices for 2012 have yet to be set, the best deal of the year occurs in August, when season passes go on sale. Last year, if you’d purchased their “Grand Pass” before Sept. 1 you’d have paid $1,195 instead of the $1,595 in-season price while getting unlimited skiing, discounts at selected restaurants and retail shops, a complimentary START bus pass, one complimentary adult group lesson, summer lift access, discounted bike haul, and more. More than you need? Check out the 10- and 15-day options as well (though without the summer privileges). website

 

Roger Cox

 

When he's not skiing, veteran travel writer Roger Cox runs Tennis Resorts Online, the Web's leading source of tennis-travel information. Read his tennis blog.

 

 

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