Expert Tips on Finding Cheap Ski Vacations

Kathleen Roberts
Ron Schneidermann of Liftopia

Now is a great time to start planning cheap ski vacations. Whether you are a novice or experienced skier, trip planning can be a bit overwhelming. Recently, LoveToKnow was able to speak with Ron Schneidermann from Liftopia, an online resource for purchasing discount ski vacations. We asked Ron about planning ski vacations on a budget and what trends he sees in the ski travel industry. Here is what he had to say.

About Liftopia

What is your background in the ski travel industry?

Both Evan (the other Liftopia co-founder) and I are online travel guys. We met while working at the discount travel website, Hotwire.com.

The idea for Liftopia.com conceptualized during an IM conversation we had back in March of 2005. We were talking about heading up to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. It hadn't snowed in a couple of weeks and we were having a hard time reconciling the fact that we would have to pay seventy-something dollars to ski in less than ideal snow, while also dealing with the notoriously awful Bay Area to Tahoe traffic. It just wasn't worth it, the value wasn't there. We started talking how maybe if the ticket was $50, it would be worth heading up there. That was our "ah ha!" moment, where we realized that the online travel model of variable pricing determined by demand made a ton of sense in this industry.

What is Liftopia?

It depends on who you ask. For our ski resort partners, it's a platform for yield management and centralized online distribution. For skiers and riders, it's a marketplace where folks can book lift tickets online and save up to 60 percent off.

Really though, what we're doing is applying the online travel model to the ski industry. It never made sense to us that lift ticket prices remained the same whether it was a rainy Tuesday or a Saturday with a foot of fresh powder. Many different variables influence if someone heads up for a day on the slopes - weather, snow, day of week, time of the season, proximity to holidays, even the price of gas. By bringing lift ticket prices in line with a day's relative value, resorts get more people out on their slopes, and skiers and riders get to enjoy the sport they love doing more frequently.

Finding Cheap Ski Vacations

What trends do you see in pricing?

For a while, the obvious trend in the industry was higher lift ticket prices every year. Fortunately, that's slowed down, and that's a direct consequence of the country's economic woes impacting ski area visitation. While at some resorts, we might still see slightly increased prices this year, overall we should see close to flat ticket prices year-over-year.

The second recent trend is the return to aggressively priced (i.e. discounted) season passes. There's lots of debate within the industry as to the long-term viability of such a strategy, but the good news for consumers is that there are some killer deals out there.

The third trend is that, finally, resorts are getting more sophisticated with their pricing, which means that there is a ton of ways to find deals. For example, on Liftopia.com, we've seen the number of participating resorts grow from seven when we first launched in 2006, to 35 our second year, to over 80 resorts last season. Clearly, resorts are looking for outlets to help sell their distressed inventory.

What types of packages are most popular and why?

As far as destinations go, the Rocky Mountains are hands-down the biggest draw in skiing. In 2008, they saw nearly 20,000,000 skier visits, or just over a third of all skier visits nation-wide. And that was on an "off" year!

Because of the recession, many destination areas saw significant drops in occupancy rates, whereas many day areas saw visitation increase. What that points to is that many skiers and riders traded in their big ski trips to stay closer to home. Instead of flying, more people were driving, and instead of a week at a time, more folks were taking weekend trips or single-day trips.

Trip Planning

What should vacation planners watch for when planning their ski trips?

Being an online travel guy, the best new trends in ski vacations are that more and more resorts are putting deals online. The key thing is to do your homework before you go. Just as how the savvy shopper would never buy an airline ticket at the airport or book a hotel room at the check-in counter, the same rules hold true for skiing.

There's never any reason to be paying full-price these days. Check your favorite resort's website to see what sort of deals they have posted. You might be able to find some great ski and stay packages, for example. Also, check out other third party websites. For example, if you're willing to book your lift tickets online and in advance, you can save up to 60 percent off on sites like Liftopia.com.

How can skiers plan affordable ski vacations?

If you're heading to a ski area overnight, try to stay near the resort instead of "on mountain". You can usually find some great values, especially if the resort is near a bigger city such as Reno or Salt Lake City. When booking big ski trips, try out several of the local mountains in addition to the big resorts. They are usually cheaper, have great service, and offer smaller lines than the more "touristy" resorts. You should always, ALWAYS, plan early to get the most bang for your buck.

What should people keep in mind when booking their ski trips?

Higher demand periods are going to mean higher prices. There are a handful of peak dates in the industry where the resorts see the majority of their skier visits. These include Christmas Week, MLK Weekend, President's Day Weekend, and "ski week".

These are the times when the resorts don't need deals to get folks out to the slopes, so it's hard to find any values out there. If your schedule is flexible, consider booking your trip the weekend before or after these periods. The slopes will be less crowded and you should be able to find some great deals.

Final Notes

If you plan and keep your eyes open for deals, you can plan cheap ski vacations that are just as awesome as those high-dollar trips. Just follow these tips from Ron Schneidermann and you can have a great time, even on a budget.

LoveToKnow would like to thank Ron Schneidermann for taking the time for this interview.

Expert Tips on Finding Cheap Ski Vacations