BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Mike and Pam Mathe have taken their two kids skiing at Beaver Creek over Christmas break each of the past five years. It's their one big vacation for the year, a luxurious respite from Mike's traveling, the kids' classes.
No way are they going to let the economic downturn stop them from going this year.
"We need this vacation; this is what we look forward to every year," Pam Mathe said. "Realistically, it hasn't been a toll on us business-wise as it has for a lot of people, but if I had to buckle up and save for this, I would."
The good news for the Mathes — and anyone else who wants to go skiing — is that the penny pinching might not be so bad this year thanks to the creative measures ski resorts are taking to combat the slumping economy.
Extra nights lodging, ski rental packages, cut-rate lift tickets, stay-and-ski deals, upgrades — all are part of the promotions resorts are using to lure people to the mountain.
Of course, there's always going to be a portion of the population that's going to ski no matter what; snow's falling, they're headed for the hills.
For the rest of us, skiing is a luxury, something easily cut from the budget when things get tough. Paying rent or skiing? There isn't much debate.
Ski resorts are aware of the competition for consumer money and they're doing everything they can to hold onto their share.
"There's all kinds of tactical responses the individual areas are going to make, lots of energy within the industry to kind of counter the reasons why people might not ski this year," said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. "There's a lot of people paying a lot of attention."
There's plenty of reason.
Hotel bookings in Vail are down significantly and skiers who do show up are expected to to spend less money per person. Some are predicting one of the worst winters ever for the town's economy.
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Though the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek isn't expected to be hit too hard by the economic downturn because of its affluent clientele, holiday bookings are down from a year ago.
Many resorts also are seeing a shorter booking window from guests who normally make reservations early, keeping early-season money off the books.
"We've definitely seen a falloff in pace from last year, even over some of the key holiday periods," said Scott Gubrud, Park Hyatt's director of marketing and sales.
"I think there are people still planning on doing a vacation, they're just kind of on the fence a little bit in terms in waiting to decide what's happening in the economy, what's happening in the election, before they make a decision."
The key is luring those people off the fence.
Grand Targhee in Wyoming is already a lower-cost to nearby Jackson Hole — its family pass is cheaper than Jackson's single adult pass — and is trying to lure more regional skiers with cheaper multi-day lift tickets, discount punch cards.
Heavenly Mountain Resort near South Lake Tahoe, in California, in conjunction with Rock Resorts, is offering a variety of skier-enticing deals, including unlimited ski rentals, fifth night free lodging, even a $50 baggage bailout to combat baggage fees from the airlines.
"We acknowledge that vacation dollars are going to be tight this year, so we're just trying to make it as compelling and accessible as possible for people to make it up to the mountains," said Russ Pecoraro, Heavenly's director of communications.
Even luxury resorts, which normally don't feel the economic sting quite as bad, are taking measures to keep their numbers up.
The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek has taken the unprecedented step of extending some of its discount offers to the holidays, a time when the hotel fills up without much effort.
"This year's going to very different, so we've had to get a lot more promotional and provide a lot more of a value proposition as it relates to our guests," Gubrud said. "The good news for them is I think there's going to be a lot of great opportunities in the travel marketplace — particularly here — to take advantage of some deals they weren't able to get before."
Here's a look at some of the deals that are out there:
Where: Vail Valley/Colorado Rockies
The promotions: Fifth night free during the holidays, third night free with upgrade and breakfast, free Epic pass with Technique Week purchase.
The lowdown: For the first time this year, the high-end resort is offering a fifth night free promotion during the holidays. There's also a third night free package — available anytime outside the holidays — that includes a one-category upgrade and breakfast for two, starting at $949 a night. Beaver Creek mountain is offering a free Epic pass — a $579 value — to anyone who signs up for the first week of Technique Weeks, an all-inclusive program that includes five nights lodging, four days of personalized instruction and four lift tickets for $3,049.50.
Where: Wyoming/Grand Tetons
The promotions: Early season SnowCat adventure package, eight and six-day punch cards.
The lowdown: Grand Targhee's family pass, at $1,725, is already less than one adult season pass at Jackson Hole. Multi-day lift ticket prices have gone about $7 per day. The resort also is offering three days, three lift tickets and an adventure ride on a SnowCat for $369 per person through Dec. 21. There also are discounted punch cards for frequent visitors: $399 for an eight-punch card and $339 for six.
Where: South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
The promotions: Epic Pass, unlimited ski rental, baggage bailout, fifth night free.
The lowdown: The Epic Pass came out during the spring season and allows skiers unlimited access to the five Vail Resorts mountains: Heavenly, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. Cost is $579 and must be purchased by Nov. 15. Rock Resorts also is extending its fifth night free program to all six holiday periods and its baggage bailout program gives guests $50 off to cover airline baggage fees. There's also an unlimited ski rental program for $359; daily demo rentals usually run between $70-80.
Where: Southern Vermont
The promotions: Discount lift ticket pass, $72 one night midweek ski and stay, electronic billboards.
The lowdown: The Fanfare Card costs $99 and gives skiers a 50 percent discount on midweek lift tickets, 25 percent on weekend and 10 during the holidays. The $72 ski-and-stay deal is $3 less than the normal cost of a single-day lift ticket, plus it includes a room. The mountain also has electronic billboards on Interstates 91 and 95 in the Northeast, which is can be updated within minutes; nothing draws skiers out faster than seeing snow on the mountain.
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