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Taking the Kids: Heading to a snow resort without busting the budget

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Are you thinking snow? Maybe you've already headed to the slopes. Colorado's Keystone Resort opened October 12, the earliest start in more than 20 years and Winter Park opened earlier than it has in its 80-year history. In fact, many resorts opened well before their traditional thanksgiving weekend debut dates, and Thanksgiving travel was derailed when an early winter storm dumped snow across Colorado, causing massive flight cancellations.

Whenever you want to ski or ride this winter you can hit the slopes on a budget -- as long as you plan smart. Obviously stay in a rental rather than hotel where you can prepare meals -- the kids will be too pooped anyway at the end of the day to go to restaurants. Share with extended family or friends to save even more, especially popular vacation weeks. Save big on lift tickets by purchasing them through sites like Get Lift Tickets and Liftopia or buy online beforehand as part of a lodging-lift ticket package.

Families can save significantly on packages that include flights, lodging and adult lift tickets and rentals, said Ski.com's Dan Sherman. "Parents are able to take advantage of our lift ticket savings regardless of whether or not the kids are skiing for free," he said. "We also have lots of equipment rental programs where kids rent free with a paying adult rental."

And bundling flights and hotels or hotel and a rental car can save hundreds of dollars, adds Expedia spokesman Alexis Tiacoh.

Save even more by opting for smaller snow resorts -- an especially good bet if your kids are little (smaller and less expensive ski school classes) or you are all newbies (less crowded slopes). The $30 GEMS card offers significant discounts, including 2-for-1 lift tickets at 11 Colorado resorts, including Arapahoe basin, Cooper and Sunlight. (Here's what I said about a visit to Cooper, which is a half-hour but a world away from Vail, offering kids lessons as low as $69 as compared to over $200 at vail.)

Utah families learn to ski and ride at Brighton because kids 10 and under ski free with a paying adult (up to two kids per paying adult). Grab discounted tickets for everyone and go Night skiing.

 

How about the Midwest for a change? Wisconsin has plenty of affordable fun in the snow options whether you want to fat tire bike on snow, skijoring (a blend of dog-sledding and cross-country skiing) and visit a smaller downhill resort, including Cascade Mountain and Granite Park Ski Area, a favorite among riders.

The Maine nonprofit WinterKids app offers an array of discounts for families heading to the slopes in New Hampshire and Maine on everything from lift tickets, rentals, gear and more for a membership fee of just $35.

January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month with deals across the country in 34 states. More than 600,000 children and adults have participated. Since the program started in 2009 -- more than 150,000 beginner lessons last year in January. There are also programs to learn Nordic skiing. (newcomers can win prizes by posting a photo from "first day lesson" and tagging it #firstdayfaces.)

In conjunction with Learn a Snowsport Month in January, Ski Vermont partners with the Vermont governor's council on physical fitness and sports to offer the Take 3 Beginner Program at a reduced price of $49 (regular $129). That's three beginner lift tickets, three equipment rental packages and three beginner group lessons for less than $50. This offer is only available during January and only valid at participating ski areas; restrictions apply.

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