For the country's ski areas, things have been pretty much downhill since 1987, when the sport boasted more than 18 million enthusiasts. Last season, 2 million fewer were on the slopes. The resorts hope an avalanche of special deals will halt the slide this winter.
With the average all-day lift-ticket price now $29 on weekends, many operators let kids ski free. For example, at nine spots in New Hampshire's White Mountains, an $80 five-day child's ticket comes free with each $149 adult pass. In some places, such as Okemo in Vermont, kids six and under ski free; during off-weeks at Mount Snow, the age limit is 12.
Grandparents and older parents can get cost-cutting deals at more than 100 areas--including Mammoth Mountain in California, Keystone in Colorado, and Waterville Valley in New England. Special plans for seniors provide free or half-price tickets to skiers over 55, 60, or 65. And almost everyone rides free at 70.
Among other deals, first-time skiers get free lift tickets, equipment, and lessons in early December at such spots as Jay Peak in Vermont and Crested Butte in Colorado. And accomplished skiers get the freebie if they want to learn how to snowboard.
SLUSH CHECK. In better times, if you bought a multiday ticket to lower the daily cost, most places had a no-refunds policy, even if rain or icy conditions made skiing impossible. Now, buyers of two-day tickets at Stowe can get rain checks or refunds if they decide by 8:50 a.m. to forego the second day on the slopes.
A different discount technique is a "frequent skier" card. At Stratton, skiers pay $25 for a card that cuts $10 to $17 off the $29 price of lift tickets throughout the season. At Attitash in New Hampshire, skiers can pay $18 to $96 for a Smart Ticket. Its magnetic stripe is programmed with a matching number of "units." A turnstile at each lift electronically subtracts units in relation to the lift's length. "You pay for just the runs you take," says Phil Gravink, Attitash CEO.
Faced with the slowdown, the sport's top Colorado resorts called off their longtime rivalry. Vail/Beaver Creek and Aspen/Snowmass/Buttermilk are joining to offer a Premier Passport good for 10 to 18 days of skiing at all five mountains for $38 a day. That's $4 to $5 off usual rates, and the deal includes a two-hour bus ride between the areas. The spectacular view of the 15-mile Glenwood Canyon is worth the price of a day's skiing.