Tours de Sport's Top 10 Money Savers when Booking a Ski Vacation

Hello out there in ski country! We have received many, many requests from skiers and riders out there asking us to clue them in on how they can save money on their ski vacation without sacrificing the quality of the experience. We understand that totally. Both your time off and the dollars that you can allocate to a ski trip are precious, so you want to make sure you are getting the best value you can.

Our staff here at Tours de Sport have put our heads together and come up with what we believe to be the best advice we can offer regarding getting the most bang for your ski buck. So with apologies to David Letterman, behold, The Tours de Sport Top Ten Ski Vacation Money Savers.

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10. Select independently managed properties.

This is not a really obvious one, but most lodging properties that aren't managed by a ski resort or a management company that handles many properties; don't have multiple layers of management. When dealing with a smaller independent or family managed property, you don't have to navigate through those layers when trying to negotiate a better rate or a special discount. The smaller the property, the more likely you are to be dealing with the primary decision-maker.

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9. Choose mid-size and smaller resorts when looking for shorter stays.

Not only will this usually save you money, but during many Holiday periods it is very hard to get anything shorter than a 5-night stay at many of the mega-resorts. Many smaller resorts and their lodging communities will offer nice discounts once you extend that Friday to Sunday weekend stays into a long weekend or mini-week.

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8. Stretch your total vacation budget and dine in.

Many folks get caught up in the price disparity between hotel vs. condominium style accommodations when pricing out their ski trips. Sure, there's nothing quite like having lots of hotel amenities at your disposal, and that hotel room price compared to that for a condo looks great. But wait a minute. Start adding in all of those meals (make that every meal if your room has no kitchenette), and maybe that condo is worth a second look. Now, I can hear Mom exclaiming in the background, I did not come on vacation to cook for this army. And she has a valid point. But even if you only do breakfasts and maybe a few lunches in your condo, the savings can be considerable. Another fun idea is to do a couple of family night dinners where everyone participates in preparing the meal, with the possible exception of the aforementioned matriarch, who really does deserve that spa visit. Guys, are you listening?

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7. Travel early and late season and save big.

If smaller crowds and fewer dollars out of your pocket sound like a good combination, then early or late season travel may be for you. Most resorts and lodging properties will discount their rates by anywhere from 25-40% for travel prior to the December Holidays and for mid-March and later. With the advances made in snow-making technology in the last couple of years, and the amount of capital that most resorts have invested in that technology, travel at these times is safer than ever before in terms of the ski conditions you will encounter. Late season is an especially appealing time, as it seems our Eastern winters have been late departing over the last 4-5 seasons, and several resorts still had near mid-winter conditions when they closed last Spring. It's pretty hard to beat a sunny March midweek day when it's only you and few dozen of your "friends" on the hill who know this secret!

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6. When selecting a condominium, maximize the occupancy.

When you decide that a resort condominium or town home is right for you, make sure you select the appropriately sized unit. Most condo properties charge a flat rate per night up to the maximum occupancy of that unit. Most will also sleep two persons per bedroom and two on a sleeper sofa or Murphy bed in the living room. So, unless you are four single guys who don't want to cozy up, select the smallest unit that will accommodate your group size. It really is a money saver.

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5. The further away the bed is from the slopes, the cheaper the rate.

This is a truism that is valid from Chamonix to Killington to Vail to Whistler to Nagano. If you can ski up to your door, you will pay for the privilege. What is surprising is how few ski vacationers realize this fact. There are many instances where a condominium that is less than a 200-yard walk to a lift will be over $100 less a night than one located on a ski trail, and one that is a mile away on a resort shuttle stop may be over $200-250 a night less during high season. Bottom line here is to evaluate how important being "ski-in/ski-out" really is to you. If you have small kids and you don't want to be schlepping equipment back and forth to the hill each day, then maybe it makes sense for you. Then again, there is also this wonderful little thing called “overnight ski storage”, but I digress.

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4. Book midweek vs. weekend.

Lodging and lift ticket rates are not calculated all that differently than airfares. Resorts even have yield managers just like airlines. It's all about DEMAND. When do people ski and board? Weekends and Holidays mostly, and everyone knows this. To incent resort guests to add a midweek night or two to a weekend stay, resorts usually set midweek rates anywhere from 20-30% lower than weekend rates. What they really love is for you to come and stay for 3-5 nights in the middle of the week. Many lodging properties will give really nice discounts and in some cases a free night when you go this route. Of course, the other benefit of midweek travel is the utter lack of crowds. So, on the hill during non-Holiday midweeks, it's you, your little family or group of friends, the locals who have taken the day off, and the few other savvy travelers who know that midweek is where it's at!

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3. Stay away from the Holidays.

This can be a difficult proposition if this is a family trip, and the kids are only off from school during the December and/or February break weeks. The cold reality, however, is that those yield managers know that you and a few hundred thousand other families are in the same boat. Consequently, during the December and February school break periods rates are the highest that they get for the entire ski season. Interestingly, our friends in Canada get a bit of a break with their March break weeks as each province may have different dates off during a given year. Now we don't advocate taking your kids out of school to go skiing, but one trick we have seen lots of families use is to pick a weekend where the kids may have a Friday or Monday off for teacher planning or end or marking period, and then take one extra day, and voila, a 4 night ski trip is born. Another option is to take two or three long weekend trips, instead of one long week. In fact, that idea merits its own number! Perhaps in our next list.

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2. Why fly when you can drive?

It's inescapable. When you consider any trip that involves getting on an airplane, your transportation costs, in most cases, will approach 30-40% of the total cost of your trip. Even with gasoline at $3.50 per gallon, a tank or two of gas in each direction to get your chosen ski resort will cost you way less than the $300 or higher per person airfare, plus a rental car (which also uses that $3.50 per gallon gas) or ground transfers. Now listen, we are not trying to talk you out of that dream trip to Park City or Sun Valley, but the reality is that you can stretch your vacation budget a lot further by hitting the interstate rather than the satellite parking lot at the airport. Not to mention that you should pretty much be asking for the seat next to you for your bags based on what the airlines charge for them now. Another consideration is time. Unless your destination is more than five hours from home, it will take you less time to drive.

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1. Don't go it alone. Get unbiased opinions and a volume discount.

The arrival of the Internet age has been both a boon and a scourge to the intrepid ski vacationer trying to find the best deal on a trip. While an unprecedented amount of information is available at the click of the mouse button, the process of trying to wade through and interpret all that is out there can be a thankless and maddening task. Our suggestion is to make the Internet your friend in the process, not a foe.

Work with a reputable tour operator that will:

a) Take the time to learn about your individual needs and give you honest assessments and recommendations for multiple resorts. Do you really think the folks at Acme Ski Resort are going to tell you that you would have a much better time at Amalgamated Mountain? Didn't think so. Like an insurance broker, tour ops are not beholden to any one company, or in this case, resort. They are free to make sure you end up at a resort that ensures you will have a memorable ski vacation. And, if that resort happens to be one that they don't offer, they will point you in the right direction.

b) Give you first-hand knowledge and insights from a staff that have spent time on the mountains, seen the lodging properties, and knows what is going on in the resort communities. They will know which resorts offer "kids ski free" programs, where the best nightlife can be found, and who has the longest intermediate cruisers. This is stuff you should not have to waste your own time finding by aimlessly surfing the web.

c) Most importantly, be able to offer discounts that you would not otherwise get by setting up each component of your trip by yourself. Tour ops normally send thousands of skiers each season to the resorts they offer, and in turn, the resorts and their respective lodging communities give discounts for the volume that the operator sends their way. These savings can then get passed on, and it's a win-win situation for everyone.

Of course, for skiing and riding in the Eastern US and Eastern Canada, your one stop shop for your ski and snowboard vacation needs is Tours de Sport. We are the only major tour operator that offers East Coast resorts exclusively. For over 26 years, we have been specialized in ski trips by skiers for skiers (and our boarding brethren too)!

As the season approaches check out our website for the latest Hot Deals and our Tours de Sport blog for more vacation planning tips and the latest resort updates. Better yet, become part of the action yourself by adding us on Facebook or following us on Twitter. If you are all about getting out there on the snow, you ARE part of the Tours de Sport family. Welcome!