Winter sports vacations often get a chilly reception from the budget-minded traveler. Ski resorts are, well, resorts, with the high prices that go along with trendy restaurants and rooms with hot tubs and fireplaces.
But don't let your dream of a wintry wonderland melt. Even the most fancy resort touts a value season or bargain package. Here are some money-saving ideas:
Ask about package deals, which can include airfare, ground transportation, lodging, equipment rental and lift tickets.
If you can find a package with lodging and lift tickets for under $100 per day, you've got a good deal, says Mike Shimkonis of Telluride Ski Co.
Telluride's version is the Bargain Blitz, a five-nights lodging, four-day lift-ticket combo for $383 per person. This deal is good Jan. 2 through Feb. 9 and again March 23-30.
When looking at packages, compare prices and amenities. Condominium accommodations may cost more than a hotel room, but access to a kitchen can save a bundle on meals.
Ask questions about the location of lodging, shuttle availability and distance from night life.
Check newspaper ads, or see if your travel agent has some deals. Most resorts have a reservations line (usually an 800 number), and operators can describe a number of package options.
Vail and Telluride aren't the only resorts in the United States. Budget travelers should eschew Vail with its $48 lift ticket, and for that matter Northstar-at-Tahoe ($42), Sun Valley ($47), Deer Valley ($49), Killington ($46) and Aspen ($52).
Small ski areas offer terrific terrain without busting your budget.
When doing research, you'll often find good deals at areas referred to as "family" resorts or a "skiers' " mountain. Consider resorts such as Sierra Summit ($26) in California; Loveland ($32), SilverCreek ($32) and Monarch ($31) in Colorado; Butternut ($30) in Massachusetts; Angel Fire ($32) and Ski Rio ($31) in New Mexico; Alta ($25) and Wolf Mountain ($28) in Utah; Haystack ($29) in Vermont; and Crystal Mountain ($20) in Washington.
You'll also save money by buying multiday lift tickets. If you're under age 14 or over 60, bargains abound. Skiers pay a premium price for those ski-in, ski-out, slope-side accommodations. Savvy travelers can save by looking for lodging away from the resorts.
And you won't necessarily need a rental car. Large hotels and lodges may have their own shuttle service to the slopes, or you can select lodging served by public transportation. Ski towns cater to tourists, so buses often are free and equipped with ski racks.
Stay away from slope-side boutiques, restaurants and ski rental shops, where prices reflect a captive-audience mentality.
You'll find the highest prices at resorts during the last two weeks of December, the days surrounding Presidents Day in February, and most of March, when children are out for spring break.
Bargain hunters and locals know the best deals -- and often the best ski conditions -- can be found in January and April. At many resorts, the last weeks of the ski season are ski-free days for folks staying in participating hotels. Discounted and ski-free periods also herald the opening of some resorts in mid-November.
If you want to learn to snowboard or master the moguls, be on the lookout for ski-school deals. If you're a first-time skier or snowboarder, lessons may include free or discounted lift tickets.
Private lessons are beyond the financial reach of most skiers, but if you're savvy you may wind up in a group lesson that is semiprivate. Telluride's Mr. Shimkonis says Thursday is a slow day for most ski schools because weekenders haven't arrived and weeklong visitors are finished with lessons or taking a day off the slopes.
If ski school looms large in your plans, avoid weekends and peak weeks. Multiday lessons generally are the best dollar deal.
Mr. Shimkonis says a skier's first stop should be at the resort's ticket office. Inquire about specials, which may include frequent-skier cards, tie-ins to commercial products or other discounts.
Consider buying the 1995-1996 U.S. Ski Team Passport. Membership is $29.95 and provides discounts on lift tickets, ski school, lodging, dining and equipment rental at more than 250 ski resorts. Call (800) SKI-TEAM.
Here are some packages offered by hotels and resorts for the 1995-1996 ski season. Some may not have a bargain ring to them but are values for the type of services included.
* If you're looking for winter lodging bargains, try the accommodations of Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels. HI-AYH hostels are located at some of the top ski resort areas in the United States, including Breckenridge, Aspen, Anchorage, the Poconos and Vermont. Rates range from $8 to $20 for dormitory-style accommodations for travelers of all ages. Call (800) 444-6111.
* Spend a week in California and never ski the same slopes twice with the Ski Tahoe North package. Three-night packages start at $229 and include lodging (double occupancy) and three days of interchangeable lift tickets valid at Squaw Valley USA, Alpine Meadows, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sugar Bowl, Boreal, Mount Rose, Diamond Peak and Ski Homewood. Call (800) 824-6348.
* Sun Valley in Idaho celebrates its 60th anniversary Jan. 6-13 with a ski package starting at $412. Skiers get seven nights' lodging (double occupancy) and a five-day lift ticket. Call (800) 786-8259.
* Singles don't have to pay double-occupancy rates at Copper Mountain. Singles packages, which include lodging and lift tickets, start at $98. Call (800) 458-8386.
* In January, Discover Skiing and Snowboarding 101 is Winter Park's daylong lesson for first-timers age 14 and up. The lesson is free with the purchase of a lift ticket. Call (800) 729-5813.
* Four Colorado towns -- Cortez, Dolores, Mancos and Rico -- have teamed with Telluride Ski Resort to create budget ski packages. Visitors who stay at participating lodges or hotels in these towns, all within 70 miles of the ski area, can buy half-price lift tickets. Lodging rates start at $25 a person. Call (800) 253-1616.
* A mile from Heavenly Ski Resort and a mile from the night life and casinos of Stateline, Nev., Lakeland Village Resort offers a "Fresh Tracks" ski package good through Dec. 20, excluding holidays. Packages starting at $149 include two nights' lodging (double occupancy), two days' lift tickets (valid at six ski resorts) and one breakfast. Call (800) 822-5969.
* The Peaks at Telluride offers a perk-filled ski package. The deal includes luxury accommodations for five nights, five breakfast buffets, three days of lessons and rental equipment, four days of lift tickets, free access to the Spa at the Peaks, and a welcome reception with local ski instructors and representatives from Telluride Sports. From Nov. 22 to Dec. 20, the ski package is $530 per person (double occupancy); snowboarders pay $545. From Jan. 2 to Jan. 12 the package is $689 ($704 for snowboarders). Three-day packages also are available. Call (800) 789-2220.
* Copper Mountain allows free access to two lifts and more than 50 acres of easy terrain to beginner skiers and snowboarders. This offer is good Jan. 2 through the end of the ski season. Call (800) 458-8386.