Whether you're an active skier, snowboarder, or skater, or just enjoy the great mountain sightseeing and ski-lodge atmosphere, many of you will be heading for winter sports centers over the coming months. And several online sources are eager to help you find some of the better deals.
The good folks at Kayak.com, the popular search site, have pored over their ticket search records to figure the best times to buy tickets and fly to some of the top destinations:
Fly in January for lowest airfares to Denver and Sun Valley, Idaho; fly in February for Stowe, Vt.; Calgary, Canada; Mount Bachelor and Mount Hood, Ore.; Lake Tahoe, Nev.; and Park City, Utah; fly in March to Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Mont Tremblant or Whistler, Canada.
For centers in the eastern parts of the Colorado Rockies, such as Aspen and Breckenridge, fly to Denver and take a shuttle rather than fly directly to the winter centers.
But Aspen is worth the effort, say Kayak's sources; TrustYou.com ranks its hotels No. 1, followed by Keystone, Colo.; Salt Lake City; Santa Fe, N.M., and Lake Tahoe, Nev.
Other reports note that you can find much better hotel prices in big cities that are near winter centers, such as Burlington, Vt.; Reno, Nev.; Portland, Ore., and Salt Lake City; city hotels plus shuttles generally cost a lot less than staying right in the center. Some of the lowest priced ski centers rely almost completely on nearby communities for accommodations and restaurants, including my hometown of Ashland, Ore., as well as Ogden, Utah, and Santa Fe, N.M.
Several outfits sell promotionally priced ski lift tickets, accommodations, and related winter activity tickets: Liftopia.com, 800-349-0870, seems to be the largest such agency, selling promotionally priced lift ticket bundles in 37 states (yes, even Indiana and Alabama have at least one ski facility) plus Austria, Chile, France and Switzerland. It even lists Russia but posts no deals there. Liftopia claims discounts as high as 70 percent. Although it lists hundreds of individual winter sports complexes for any given date, the majority show "out of stock" on many deals.
GetSkiTickets.com, 970-233-7040, sells lift tickets, seasonal passes and deals bundled with rentals and lessons at 50 resorts in eastern and western winter centers in the United States and Canada, with discounts claimed to be up to 60 percent.
Colorado Ski Country, an association of most of the state's winter vacation centers, posts a long list of members' promotional deals, ranging from kids free to third-night free and promotionally priced resort stays. Check the website at coloradoski.com.
Also, check winter packages from xanterra.com at winter-spectacular Yellowstone Park.
Most big airlines also post air/hotel packages to the winter vacation centers they serve, several with fairly short buying windows. The big online travel agencies such as Expedia and Orbitz also feature winter sports vacation packages, as do major credit cards and tour operators such as Apple Vacations. And if that's not enough, individual vacation centers and resort complexes also post their own promotions.
If you don't want to spend all your vacation time in a winter sports center, consider a destination that provides a combination of winter sports and other options. Tahoe, for example, combines winter activities with Vegas-style bright lights and action. Santa Fe gives you both skiing and its broad spectrum of cultural activities.
The ultimate example might well be the Sierra Nevada Ski Resort in Spain, where you're 20 miles from historical Granada and where you can ski in the morning and sun on the Costa del Sol in the afternoon. Keep looking; you'll find something.