Fall hasn’t been here for too long, but the chill in the air and the recent snow storm in Colorado are reminders that ski season is on the way.
Colorado’s ski resorts were hit hard by the recession last year, with visits down 6 percent. Unlike past years, this season will see few major terrain expansions or new features at most resorts, as operators wait to see how the recession will impact the winter business.
Front Range skiers can take advantage of this uncertainty — if they act now.
While most resorts have yet to reveal their window lift ticket prices, tickets at some are staying at last season’s rates, and season passes at most are remaining the same as last year, or even dropping in price, as resorts seek to compensate for the drop in national and international visitors by luring local skiers to the slopes. Some are offering payment plans, making passes good at other resorts and adding other perks.
“We have over half a million people who are dedicated skiers and snowboarders right here,” said Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for trade group Colorado Ski Country USA. “Resorts are working on providing packages and incentives and different pass products to make sure those people can get out on the slopes this year, because people live here because they want to ski.”
But many incentives and pass sales end before the lifts begin running, and prices for others begin going up very soon, so buy now to save later. Here are some of the best ski deals:
— Colorado Pass: This popular pass offers unlimited skiing at Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin, with 10 days, excluding some blackout dates, at Vail and Beaver Creek for $449. For unlimited days at Vail and Beaver Creek, get the Epic Pass, for $599. Or get the Summit Pass, for unlimited skiing at the first three resorts, for $399. Available at REI and Colorado Ski and Golf in Colorado Springs. This year, Vail Resorts is offering pass insurance, which, for $20, will refund your money if you get sick, injured or laid off from your job.
— Rocky Mountain Super Pass:
Unlimited skiing at Winter Park and Copper Mountain for $399. The Super Pass Plus includes six days at Steamboat for $449. Available at both Christy Sports locations in Colorado Springs.
_— Monarch season pass: Monarch is selling season passes for $319 through Nov. 7. Prices then jump $100. This year, season passes include free skiing at 10 other resorts.
— A Basin offers a $349 Bonus Pass, which includes unlimited skiing there and five days at Breckenridge and Keystone, and one of those days, excluding blackouts, at Vail or Beaver Creek.
— For those who don’t mind driving farther, Wolf Creek is selling passes through Oct. 4 for $574, then they jump to $718. Aspen/Snowmass is offering several new passes with smaller up-front costs and “pay-as-you-go” options to spread the cost over the season.
And what if you don’t plan to get in enough ski days to make a pass worthwhile?
Window-bought lift tickets in Colorado are notoriously expensive — more than $90 at some mountains. While some smaller ski areas, including Ski Cooper, Monarch and Wolf Creek, have already announced ticket prices will remain the same this year, many larger resorts have yet to reveal their prices.
But there are ways to ski much more cheaply.
One local favorite is the Colorado GEMS Card, offered by Colorado Ski Country USA. For $10, skiers get a free lift ticket (with restrictions) to Echo Mountain, Monarch, Ski Cooper and SolVista, two-for-one tickets at five resorts and discounts at nine. Numerous restrictions and blackout dates apply, so visit www.coloradoski.com/Resorts/Gems/ GemsCard/ for details and to buy one.
Many resorts also offer four-day passes, usually in the $130 to $140 range, available at the same locations season passes are sold. They are usually available only in the fall, like season passes.
For those who wait until the last minute, there are other options. Pass-holders usually get a few half-priced lift tickets, so find a friend to ski with. Or, as a last resort, you can usually get lift tickets about $10 cheaper than at the ticket window at local grocery stores.
Another popular promotion, Ski Free Colorado, will be back this year. Skiers who buy 10 gallons of gas at a Shell gas station — not Phillips 66 as in past years — can get a two-for-one lift ticket coupon for Monarch, Copper Mountain, Powderhorn and Winter Park. Visit www. skifreedeals.com for more information.
For those with kids, Ski Country USA will again be offering the popular 5th Grade Passport, which provides three days of skiing at all member resorts — that doesn’t include Vail Resorts’ four mountains — for 5th-graders, for free. The 6th Grade Passport includes four days at each for $99. Apply for both passes at www. passport.coloradoski.com.
Vail Resorts offers its own version, the School of Shred pass for 5th- and 6thgraders, good for four free days at Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin. They’re available where Vail Resorts passes are sold during the fall.
Rudolph said many resorts offer bundle deals, including lessons, lodging, travel or gear rentals with lift tickets to encourage visitors.
So when, exactly, will the ski season start?
It’s already underway. Loveland and Arapahoe Basin both have limited terrain open, with Wolf Creek scheduled to open on Halloween.
Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.