Last year was not a good one for the ski industry. In fact, according to the SnowsSports Industry America, it may go down as one of the toughest years on record, the worst winter for skier visits since 1991-92. Nationwide, participation in alpine skiing plunged 11 percent; snowboarding participation was down 7.5 percent; and total resort visits sank 16 percent.
The situation in New England wasn’t any better, with Northeast ski areas posting a 20.2 percent decline. It didn’t help that we had crummy skiing and boarding weather, with above-normal temperatures and below-normal snowfall. In fact, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center, the region averaged 8.33 inches of precipitation last winter, down 10 percent. During the month of February, for example, Massachusetts averaged only 31 percent of its normal snowfall, while New Hampshire and Vermont had their fourth driest February in 118 years.
According to industry members, this year’s preseason sales continue to lag. What does this mean for us? Bargains! Many New England ski resorts are offering enticing money-saving deals to lure people back, making it the perfect winter for a bargain-basement ski getaway. Here are some ways to save.
Our first penny-pinching rule: Never pay walk-up-window prices for lift tickets. Check out Liftopia (www.liftopia.com), the largest seller of online lift tickets, for discounts on tickets, lessons, and rentals at ski resorts throughout New England. Look for deals at specific locales or punch in the dates you would like to go for discounts offered during that time frame. Check individual resort websites; ordering e-tickets online in advance can save you 10 percent or more on lift tickets at many resorts. We also tend to schedule ski getaways late or early in the season when prices can be slashed up to 50 percent; we visit smaller resorts, which are typically less expensive, especially with young children in tow; and we frequently check resort websites for midweek deals, special days, and discounts for reserving equipment online.
Of course, you can’t beat free. January is “Learn to Ski or Snowboard Month,” and alpine and cross-country ski resorts throughout New England will offer free or deeply discounted lessons, rentals, and lift tickets. Specials are offered throughout the month; visit resort websites for specific times and deals.
If you have a fourth- or fifth-grade student, you won’t want to miss out on the New Hampshire Snowsports Passport (www.skinh.com/4th-and-5th-grade-programs/4th-5th-grade-snowsports-passports.aspx). The booklet costs $25 ($30 after Dec.1) and includes one to three alpine lift tickets and cross-country trail passes to 33 resorts across the state.
Vermont offers a similar program (www.skivermont.com/events-and-deals/program-passport) for fifth-graders. The passport costs $10 and includes 88 free days of skiing and riding at the state’s alpine and Nordic resorts. You do not have to be a resident of Vermont or New Hampshire to participate.
All fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders in Maine are eligible for a Winterkids Passport (www.winterkids.org), with free or heavily discounted tickets for downhill and cross-country skiing, ice skating, snow tubing, and dog sledding at more than 50 locations. You must be a Maine resident.
There are a lot of ski-and-stay packages available. In New Hampshire, lodging properties throughout Mount Washington Valley have teamed up with cross-country centers and ski resorts to offer free midweek lift tickets. Visit www.mtwash ingtonvalley.org/vacation- specials for lodgings and prices.
The Ski & Splash Package at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton (978-464-2300, www.wachusett.com, $369 per night) includes overnight accommodations at the Holiday Inn Fitchburg & CoCo Key Water Resort, four passes to the waterpark, and four lift tickets.
The newly-renovated Mountain Club on Loon in Lincoln, N.H., (800-299-7829, www. loonmtn.com) is offering ski-and-stay deals starting at $68 per person, per night.
The Ski+Splash+Stay package at Jay Peak Resort in northern Vermont (802-988-2611, www.jaypeakresort.com, $399) includes four lifts tickets to Jay Peak or Burke Mountain, daily access to the Pump House Indoor Waterpark, free day care for children ages 2 through 7, and a suite at the new Hotel Jay. The ski-and-stay special at Mount Snow in Vermont (800-245-SNOW, www.mount snow.com, $85 per night) includes free midweek skiing and a stay at the Snow Lake Lodge.
Stay at the Topnotch Mountain Resort in Vermont (800-253-8585, www.topnotchresort.com, $278 in December, $353 January-April) and you get two free adult lift tickets to Stowe Mountain Resort.Continued...