Like Disney entrance fees or university tuition, ski-lift ticket prices have surged in the last decade.
The sticker shock, after including multiple-day tickets, hotel stay, lessons and rentals, can be quite jarring for those who may not ski every year.
Because ski resorts charge more for lift tickets at walk-up counters, savvy skiers typically buy online where they pay in advance for a small discount and may luck into Web-only deals.
We tried two of the best-known ski-reservation websites – Liftopia.com and Ski.com – and found that there still is no one-size-fits-all solution. Liftopia specializes in lift tickets, focusing on the resorts that are looking to drum up business by offering discounts on weekdays or low-demand days. Ski.com sells only packages, requiring customers to pay for a hotel room to get a lift-ticket discount.
While itâ€™s good to know that customers have options other than resort websites, the sites we tested have other limitations – mainly that theyâ€™ve partnered with only a handful of about 500 North American resorts. Chances are you may not find day-trip deals for the resort near you, and you might not be able to afford to fly to Whistler or Utah with kids in tow.
We preferred the online shopping experience at Liftopia, an intuitively designed site with maps and large search-field boxes. Ski.com is more cluttered, and shopping on the site can be confusing. But it offers live help, and the siteâ€™s Dan Sherman says about 90% of its transactions are conducted over the phone. “Planning ski vacations is not easy,” he says. “Itâ€™s not like going to the beach.”
Hereâ€™s what we found:
– Overview. Sells advance-purchase, date-specific tickets, rentals and lessons. Features about 150 resorts that offer discounts (about one-third of U.S. resorts and a handful of Canadian ones).
– Pros. Easy to navigate. Has discounts from about 150 resorts. Discounts – typically ranging from 15% to 50% – can be substantial, especially for weekdays and other low-demand days (such as Super Bowl Sunday).
– Cons. Tickets are non-refundable. Requires you to commit to a date. Resort search possible only by name and drilling down from a list of U.S. regions. No way to search based on your location (though the function exists on Liftopiaâ€™s mobile app). Discount claims are based on walk-up purchase rates (and not on the prices found on ski resortsâ€™ websites, which are cheaper than at the ticket counter).
– Takeaway. You may not find deals from your favourite resort. But itâ€™s worth trying, especially if youâ€™re flexible on dates.
– Overview. Sells ski packages at about 90 resorts in North America, Europe and South America.
– Pros. Discounts on lift tickets if you buy a hotel room (for example, 24% off for a day pass at Whiteface in Lake Placid, N.Y.). Live agent help. No reservation fee.
– Cons. Covers only 90 resorts (most in the Western U.S. and a few in Canada). Some hotel rates were more expensive than those found at other sites. The Hotel Telluride cost $309 a night in late January, while Hotels.com quoted the same night for $185. (Sherman says, “That shouldnâ€™t happen” and that Ski.com monitors rates.) No way to buy a lift ticket only. Site is disorganized. Special packages arenâ€™t significantly cheaper than individually priced options. No way to sort by map.
– Takeaway. Suitable if youâ€™re planning a trip to a high-end resort and want to book rooms in a package. Shop around for possibly cheaper rates.