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Lift ticket prices are hitting all-time highs. We’re talking above-$200-per-day highs at some of the poshest ski resorts. Ouch! Still, when the snow keeps falling, it’s hard for skiers and snowboarders to stay away from the mountains. What is a budget-conscious skier to do?
Well, we did the research, and there are still plenty of ways to save money and ski free this winter. Yes, that’s right — free lift tickets do exist. The best part is, a majority of these offers are longstanding deals, so you can be confident they’ll stick around when you’re planning a trip for next year and beyond.
Here are 14 ways you and your family can ski for free this winter.
1. Fly Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines first wowed us by flying our wine home for free from wine country airports, and they’ve done it again with ski season. Alaska Airlines boarding passes count for free ski days at resorts near its airports. Choose from many participating resorts, including local favorites Schweitzer in Idaho and Big White Ski Resort in British Columbia. Check out the full list here to see where your boarding pass can take you.
2. Visit Vail Resorts
Yes, Vail Mountain breaks records with pricey lift tickets each season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find deals on the slopes for your little ones. The Epic SchoolKids Colorado Pack is a free program for children in kindergarten through 5th grade that provides access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte. In addition to four free days at each of the resorts, the package includes one free first-timer ski or snowboard lesson and equipment rental during select weeks early in the season. Parents should plan ahead and register early for the Pack. Also, watch for blackout dates.
3. Connect with Colorado Gems
The Colorado Gems Card is a discount card offering buy-one-get-one-free lift tickets at 10 smaller Colorado ski areas. The card costs $25 and is good for two two-for-one lift tickets at each participating area. Additionally, cardholders have access to Flash Deals, last-minute promotions and exclusive savings. It’s no surprise the Gems card is sold out for this season, but this hidden treasure goes on sale again in the summer for the 2019/2020 season.
4. Attend 3rd or 4th Grade
I SKI NY offers one of the best incentives for elementary school-aged kids to learn to ski and snowboard. Once registered, the Learn to Ski or Ride Passport gives them one free lift ticket, rental and a beginner lesson at each of the participating New York ski areas. If youngsters already know how to make their way down the slopes, the Kids Ski or Ride Free Passport provides up to three lift tickets at each of the participating resorts (when accompanied by a paying parent). Explore new terrain at the family-friendly Hunter Mountain and many more!
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6. Attend 5th or 6th Grade
Several states offer incentives allowing 5th graders to ski free. If you live in Colorado, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York State or Michigan, you’re in luck. Look for other programs in states not mentioned here, too.
A Ski Utah program allows 5th and 6th graders to ski free at each of Utah’s 14 resorts throughout the season. Fifth graders receive up to three free days and sixth graders get one day at each resort with the program. It’s open to children out of state too. In the fine print, you’ll see a $25 processing fee, but that’s quite the deal if your kids are the right ages.
Nearby, Ski Idaho offers a similar deal with access to an incredible 18 resorts across the state. All families need to do is submit an application for their 5th or 6th graders (fine print includes a one-time $18 processing fee). Then, Ski Idaho will email you a passport valid for three free days at all 18 ski resorts for 5th graders, or two free days at each of 17 participating locations for 6th graders.
6. Stay in the Sun (Valley)
Generally, Sun Valley, Idaho can be a pricey place to ski. However, families who reserve their vacations through InIdaho.com can score a number of great deals. Some packages include free or discounted adult ski tickets or free tickets for kids with each paid adult ticket. Be aware of blackout dates during the holidays, though.
7. Fly to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows
If you fly into the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, your boarding pass counts as a free same-day lift ticket at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. The ski resorts lie an hour away from the airport. The deal counts no matter what commercial airline you choose to fly. All you have to do is show your same-day airline boarding pass and a picture ID at the Ticket Office.
8. Celebrate Your Birthday at Ski Marmot Basin
If your birthday happens to fall during ski season, that will get you a free lift ticket within three days of your special day at Ski Marmot Basin. Your friends and family also get a discount. But if you won’t be celebrating getting a year older, you have another option. Provide your Alaska Airlines boarding pass to the Guest Services desk to select from one of two budget-friendly deals: a free full-day lift ticket, or a three-day consecutive day lift ticket for the price of a two-day lift ticket. No matter which offer you choose, the free day can be redeemed within 14 days of flying into Edmonton Airport, so you can really enjoy it. The airport is four hours away from the mountain, so same-day tickets would work here.
9. Ski in April
If you’re still in the mood for skiing when spring rolls around — and everyone knows the snow and weather are prime during this time — you’re in luck. Many resorts offer deep discounts and more freebies as closing day nears. At Big White Ski Resort in British Columbia, a reasonable overnight stay in April comes with two free lift tickets. Some properties include up to four free lift tickets.
10. Fly by Night (Skiing)
Anyone flying American, Delta, JetBlue and United Airlines directly into Steamboat/Hayden Airport can receive a complimentary lift ticket for night skiing in this Colorado region. If your flight arrives Thursday through Monday, you’ll receive a same-day lift ticket. But if your flight arrives on a Tuesday or Wednesday, you can redeem your complimentary night-skiing ticket on the Thursday of that week when night skiing resumes.
11. Combine Lift Ticket and Rentals
At Mount Bachelor, your boarding pass earns you a free lift ticket plus a ski or snowboard equipment rental package. This promotion is only valid for those flying Alaska Airlines from Portland or Seattle into Redmond/Bend Airport, but convenient flight schedules mean there’s still plenty of time on the slopes left after landing. The airport is a short 20 miles away from the mountain.
12. Fly to Snowbasin
Salt Lake City is an ideal starting point for ski vacations. As a result, if you fly Alaska Airlines into the airport on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, you can get a free lift ticket to use the day after your arrival at Snowbasin. First, you need to book your flight and register at VisitOgden.com. With confirmation email, photo ID and your boarding pass in hand, you can redeem a free lift ticket within 24 hours of your arrival.
13. Learn and Get a Beginner Bonus
Vermont’s Sugarbush has a stellar First Timer To Life Timer program that isn’t free to begin but comes with a valuable bonus. Riders of any age who complete the three-lesson package ($225) will receive a free unlimited season pass (valued at $1,600) to use for the remainder of the season. That’s a lot of free ski days.
Loveland offers a similarly sweet deal. All participants who complete the 3-Class Pass program (starting at $399) of three lessons at Loveland Ski Area in Colorado earn a full season pass to help hone their skills for the rest of the season.
14. Travel Uphill
Uphill skiing, or skinning, costs $0 at many resorts and comes with the added satisfaction of earning your turns. While you don’t have to shell out money for the ski runs, you pay for your time on the mountain in sheer physical exertion. According to the National Ski Areas Association, about half of ski resorts in the country allow uphill skiing on their slopes. Some require an inexpensive uphill (around $10) ticket, but many are completely free of charge. Others, like Monarch Mountain near Salida, Colorado, offer a dedicated uphill lane and encourage the use of it. Check this list for the latest uphill policies to see if a resort near you offers this reasonable option.