On My Itinerary: I’m going skiing, somewhere, this winter

Jon took off to Tahoe for the weekend for a friend’s bachelor party. All week, it had been storming snow in the Tahoe/ Reno area, and he flew right into one and managed to hop a free shuttle from Reno to Harrah’s in South Tahoe. From there, someone picked him up to the giant ski house they rented. Swift little maneuver to avoid paying whatever it usually is for the shuttle to Tahoe – which isn’t steep, about $26 one-way, but a clever idea nonetheless that I heartily applauded. He managed to get one day in, but he did report back that many of the runs at Heavenly were closed, despite all the snow, and that the winds were pretty high at the top. Nonetheless, I was sincerely jealous.

As a result, I spent much time surfing for ski deals for myself because I am just as much an avid snow-player, and I am looking forward to some decent conditions on the East Coast this winter, thanks to unseasonal cool temperatures this summer and early snowfall this December (the one that caused our accident).

The key to finding a good ski deal really depends on a few things: 1. the amount of snowfall at that mountain so far, 2. current weather conditions, 3. the road conditions, 4. whether your flight will make it to the destination without being cancelled or you spending the night in O’Hare airport, and 5. if the only time you have available is a holiday or not.

Now I’m not a mountain expert, but I’ve visited my small share of them. Here are some tips I’ve learned:

1. If you’ve got your own wheels, take advantage. In snow country, sometimes the smaller mountains are less expensive and less crowded than the major ones – and therefore, more snow. In Calgary, I went to the slopes used by the Olympics for a warm-up day trip before heading out to Banff and Lake Louise (which are marvelous mounds of powder, too). Similarly, I often like visiting Stratton over Mt. Snow or Killington in Vermont. In Colorado, which I’m aiming to visit for the first time this winter, lift tickets are often less expensive and also available on discount site liftopia.com at Crested Butte or similar mountains that are more difficult to reach.

2. Many hotels will provide a stay-and-ski package complete with lift tickets, and in lots of cases, free breakfast. Some will also come with kitchennettes so you don’t have to eat out every night and wait for a table when you’re starving after a day of skiing. Check hotel Web sites for deals.

3. If you’re with a big group, a condo makes things very inexpensive. Look on Craigslist for vacation homes in the area and contact the owners. Book early for holidays and weekends.

4. If you have vacation time to kill, mid-week skiing is a great option. No lift lines, cheaper tickets, and lots of hotel deals.

5. REI and local supermarkets sometimes participate in area mountain discounts, but you have to go to specific outlets to purchase. For example, REI and Albertsons supermarket will sell discounted tickets in Tahoe, but you have to either go to the REI in San Francisco or northern California or to an Albertsons nearby. We used to pass both on the way up to Tahoe, so stopping in for a few minutes will knock off about $12-$15 off your ticket.

6. Be prepared if you get snowed in. I’ve been stuck halfway up mountains due to heavy snowfall and trapped in a ski house for an extra night because 12 feet fell – and couldn’t even enjoy the fresh powder because the mountain had closed.  (I’ve also driven most of the way home, only to turn around and head back because it had been blizzarding the whole way, meaning fresh powder and a Monday with nobody on the slopes).  Fortunately both times we took cars, but if you had a flight scheduled, you – and hundreds others – will be scrambling to leave on the next available flight.

See you on the slopes!

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