Larry Pierce  /  AP
Steamboat Springs, Colo., offers family-friendly skiing on 3,000 acres and 165 trails.
updated 10/25/2010 4:51:39 PM ET 2010-10-25T20:51:39

With the craziness of back to school, the start of new sports and extracurricular activities, and the fast-approaching holiday season, it's very easy to throw vacations out the window until Winter Break and the New Year.

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However, for snow bunnies and ski bum wannabes who look forward to a new ski season, now is the best time to plan a ski getaway. Every powder lover will hit the slopes January through March, peak ski season, but early-season snow in November and December meets steep discounts and packages to entice busy families to hit the slopes.

Here are 10 great ski bargains across the United States. Don't underestimate the power of booking early. Oftentimes, resorts offer discounted rates or free days for booking early, no matter what time your vacation. At most lodges, rates in the early season are the best — a real-life example of the early bird getting that worm. If you are planning a ski trip, check out family ski vacation deals for specific up-to-date ski steals.

Find more hotels and resorts with our Family Ski Vacation page.

1. Be an MVP in Colorado
Within a 10-mile radius, four Colorado mountain peaks provide an array of skiing, including the family-friendly slopes of Snowmass and black-diamond runs of Aspen. Each base village has it's own flair, as well, with Aspen providing more of a ski-town experience with ample shops and more advanced ski opportunities, and Snowmass providing a slope-side chalet environment with ski classes for kids of all ages. (You will melt when your 3-year-old learns the beginning basics at the "Cubs on Skis" club.) Early winter is a great time to hit the slopes with the Stonebridge Inn'sMVP, Mini-Vacation Package. The early-bird package features a "Buy 2, Get 3" special allowing guests to stay for two nights and get a third free in late November or early December, with rates starting as low as $89 per night. Not only do guests receive a third free night of lodging at the moderate hotel with lodge-inspired decor, but also a third lift ticket and equipment rental through partnering company Four Mountain Sports. This package is perfect for families interested in a long-weekend ski trip. Families must book the offer before November 12th and stay must be between November 25th and December 16th.

2. Ski free in Steamboat
Steamboat Springs, Colo., presents a majestic mountain with 3,000 acres and 165 trails topped with Champagne powder. Steamboat Ski Town offers snowy activities, including ski school for all ages and ice skating after a day on the slopes. And a great perk of Steamboat? Kids ski free the entire season! In late November and early December Steamboat Grand Resort features a Ski Free deal that includes free lift tickets for use one less day than nights stayed, with a minimum stay of three nights (that means two free lift tickets) — and for every adult lift ticket purchased, kids get a free ticket! The deal also includes a 20 percent discount on ski and snowboard rentals, and kids get free ski rentals. Rates start as low as $100 per night.

Related: Steamboat Springs known for kid-friendly skiing

3. America's biggest skiing in Big Sky, Mont.
Big Sky, Montana, is well-acclaimed as one of the nation's top skiing areas with 3,600 acres of terrain for all levels of skiers. Located near Yellowstone National Park, which is still a gorgeous site when covered in snow, Big Sky has an award-winning ski school that can have your beginner skiers on the slopes in no time. Buck's T4 Lodge is located in the heart of Big Sky and offers discounted rates for those who stay earlier in the season. The Biggest Skiing in America Package rates start under $125 a night from late November through mid-December with families getting two-for-one skiing: ski one day at Moonlight Basin, get the second day free. And at Buck's, kid stay and ski for free, and shuttles to the mountain are free.

4. Pre-holiday fun in Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley, Idaho, is a popular ski destination due to its Bald Mountain, which features 90 trails and 14 lifts. The Sun Valley Resort presents an array of accommodations, from lodges to cottages to condominiums. The resort embodies a village-style atmosphere with many restaurants on and off the mountain. Families will especially be drawn to the Children's Center, which provides daycare and fun, daily activities. Take advantage of the Pre-Holiday Package, late November through mid-December, where you'll get one day of skiing and one night's accommodation for only $72 per person. Take advantage of the Kids Stay and Ski Free program, where one child per adult can stay and ski free of charge.

Slideshow: Hit the lifts (on this page)

5. Family time in Aspen paradise
At the base of Aspen Mountain, located between two ski lifts, is the luxurious, yet family-friendly St. Regis Aspen Resort. The resort's Family Time in Paradise package provides a number of discounts for the early skiers. Through December 16, families can receive connecting rooms or a suite and receive $50 to $100 Resort Credit per day that can be used at the Discovery Kids Club, general recreational activities or the spa. Kids 12 and under stay, eat and drink for free, and families can utilize Ski Butlers for assistance with ski activities.

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6. Free nights in Tahoe
Lake Tahoe provides quite a setting for early skiers. Climb the slopes for white powder, then spend the evenings in a snow-free lakeside base in either California or Nevada. Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Tahoe provides the best of both state with its California location that spans the terrain of Nevada, as well. Three ski bases are on the reserve, offering access to different skiing opportunities. For families, Heavenly hosts Adventure Peak — an adventure station at the top of the gondola with a restaurant and grill, as well as both private and group ski lessons. 968 Park Hotel sits beside the Heavenly Gondola and provides a Buy 1 Get 1 Free package for mid-November through mid-December skiing, with rates as low as $160 per night.

7. Ski free/stay free in Vail
Vail Mountain features some of the best skiing around. All ages and ski levels will find abundant trails, as well as chalet-style village environment at the mountain's base. The Lodge at Vail is a ski-in/ski-out luxury resort located near the Vista Bahn ski lift. Families stay in suites and multi-bedroom condominiums, and can enjoy the heated outdoor pool and hot tub facing the mountain's final run. The Ski Free/Stay Free provides a third day's skiing and night's accommodations after two nights' stay. Tack on that extra day, where children 12 and under stay free, and children older than 12 are just $25 per night.

8. Book early and save in Whistler
Whistler Blackcomb, always a popular ski destination, received worldwide recognition earlier in 2010 as the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics' Alpine Skiing location. Situated in British Columbia, Canada, Whistler offers pristine mountain ranges and prime ski conditions. This year, families can stay for four nights in the early season and take advantage of the Family Package, where parents save on lift tickets and kids under 12 stay and ski for free. Book that stay at the luxurious yet very family-friendly Fairmont Chateau Whistler for its Book Early and Save package. Families booking four nights before November 15 receive a three-day Whistler Blackcomb dual mountain lift pass per person, with rates starting at $244. Nightly rates start at $244. Be sure to book both.

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9. MountainSide discounts in Park City, Utah
Enjoy world-class skiing in Park City, Utah, considered some of best in the country. Located at the base of Park City Mountain, guests of the Marriott's MountainSide Villas enjoy ski-in/ski-out amenities, free shuttle service along Main Street, a heated outdoor pool, and family-friendly villas with kitchenettes and sofa beds. To sweeten the deal, through December 17th, families staying a minimum of two nights receive 20 percent off , with rates as low as $80 per night.

10. Big savings in Vermont
For some of the earliest skiing in the Northeast, head to the slopes of Vermont's Okemo Mountain. Making its own snow and opening on November 15th, Okemo offers a great family-friendly ski experience with a free learn to ski or ride program running November 30th through December 20th. The mountainside daycare center and playground helps keeps kids entertained, and children under 7 ski always free. Select the slopeside Okemo Jackson Gore Inn for extra savings. The ski-in/ski-out resort has a heated outdoor pool and a variety of room options, including three-bedroom loft suites. Midweek trips receive 30 percent off if booked before December 1. Beginning skiers staying at the resort can also receive free rentals and ski lessons with any two-night midweek stay.

Photos: Popular ski and snowboard playgrounds in America

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  1. Heavenly run

    Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., offers skiers 91 trails and 4,800 acres of terrain. (Corey Rich courtesy of Heavenly Ski Resort ) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Busy at Beaver Creek

    Colorado's Beaver Creek Snow Resort averages 311 inches of snow per year, gets 300 days of sun and offers more than 1,800 acres of skiable terrain. (Jack Affleck courtesy of Beaver Creek Snow Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Oh boy, Alberta

    Whiskey Jack Lodge is pictured at the foot of the ski hills in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. Lake Louise Ski Resort is one of the larger ski areas in North America with 4,200 acres of terrain. (Andy Clark / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 2-mile-high club

    Looking for a high-elevation rush? The base center at Utah's Snowbird Ski Resort sits at 8,100 feet. The resort's highest point, Hidden Peak, climbs to 11,000 feet. (Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Va-va-va-Vail

    Vail, Colo., located west of Denver, is one North America's better-known ski towns. Vail Ski Resort features more than 5,200 acres of skiable terrain over 193 trails. (Jack Affleck courtesy of Vail Ski Resorts) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Après ski

    Skiers and snowboarders can do more than hit the slopes in Vail, Colo. Visitors can visit spas, go shopping and enjoy nightlife, festivals and family-friendly activities. (Jack Affleck courtesy of Vail Ski Resorts) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Take a Telluride

    Also located in Colorado, Telluride Ski Resort has 18 lifts, 120 trails, more than 2,000 acres of terrain, and features "Galloping Goose," the resort's longest run (4.6 miles). (Telluride Ski & Golf) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Road trip!

    Ski and snowboard enthusiasts can easily drive to Telluride from the Four-Corner states. Located in Southwestern Colorado, the drive time is seven hours from Denver and Phoenix, 2 1/2 hours from Grand Junction, Colo., and 2 1/4 hours from Moab, Utah and Durango, Colo. (Telluride Ski & Golf) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Stowe away

    Stowe Ski Resort is smaller when compared to competition west of the Mississippi, but it is a hot spot in the Northeast. The area offers 485 acres of terrain, but an average trail length of 3,600 feet -- longer than any other New England resort, its Web site boasts. (Stowe Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Great spot for beginners

    Buttermilk Ski Resort is small compared to some of its Colorado neighbors. Located just outside Aspen, Buttermilk has carved out its niche by focusing on snowboarders and beginners. Buttermilk offers 435 acres of terrian over 44 runs. (Hal Williams Photography Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Experience required

    Aspen Mountain is the backdrop for a horse and carriage ride in downtown Aspen, Colo. Aspen Mountain features 76 trails -- 48 percent considered "more difficult," 26 percent "most difficult" and 26 percent "expert." If you're a beginner, you probably want to get your feet wet some place less daunting. (Hal Williams Photography Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Take a hike

    Members of Aspen Center for Enviromental Studies (ACES) take a snowshoe tour in Ashcroft, Colo.Ashcroft Ski Touring/Cross-Country Area offers about 22 miles of groomed trails, and is located 11 miles from Aspen. (Courtesy of ACES) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Lock and Keystone

    Another popular ski option in Colorado is Keystone Ski Area, located about 90 minutes from Denver International Airport. The area features 20 ski lifts, two gondolas and more than 3,100 acres of terrain. (Bob Winsett courtesy of Keystone Ski Area) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Grab a six-peak

    Vermont's Killington Ski Resort stretches across six peaks. Skiers and snowboarders can reach the area's 752 acres of terrain with 22 lifts. (Killington Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Beautiful Breckenridge

    Big crowds may descend on Colorado's ski resorts, but that shouldn't be a problem at Breckenridge. The resort has two high-speed SuperChairs, seven high-speed quad lifts, a triple lift, six double lifts, and others, giving it the ability to move nearly 38,000 people per hour. (Carl Scofieldd courtesy of Breckenridge) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Bring the family

    Smuggler's Notch in Vermont bills itself as "America's Family Resort," and offers services, activities and education aimed at making sure everyone in your clan has fun. (Smuggler's Notch Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 63 years and going strong

    Colorado's Arapahoe Basin has been operating since 1946. "The inaugural season opened with a single rope tow and $1.25 daily lift tickets," its Web site reads. Prices and equipment surely have changed, but "A-Basin" offers the skiers and snowboarders 900 acres of terrain -- more than half above the timberline. (Arapahoe Basin) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Long way down

    Utah's Alta Ski Area is scheduled to remain open through April 18, 2010. It features 2,200 acres of terrain, more than 100 runs and an average snowfall of 500 inches per season. It does not, however, allow snowboards. (Alta Ski Area) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Not for the faint of heart

    Of the 116 runs at Jackson Hole Ski Resort in Wyoming, 50 percent are "expert" and 40 percent are "intermediate." That's great news if you pass up the bunny slopes for some challenging skiing and snowboarding. (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. On -- or off -- the beaten path

    Jackson Hole Ski Resort offers 2,500 acres of terrain, plus an open backcountry gate system that offers access to an additional 3,000 acres. (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Sun Valley -- how original

    Seriously. Idaho's Sun Valley, started in 1936, claims it is the original ski resort. "Born out of a desire to bring the magic of the European ski resorts to America, Sun Valley quickly became a phenomenon without peer on this continent or any other," its Web site boasts. (Sun Valley Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Do you believe in miracles?

    American Shaun White is pictured competing during the Nokia Halfpipe Snowboard FIS World Cup on March 4, 2005 at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, N.Y. Lake Placid has hosted the Winter Olympics twice -- in 1932 and 1980 -- and offers a variety of activities, including downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, ice skating and more. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Old West reminder

    Seven thousand feet up in the Colorado Rockies, nestled quietly below one of the largest ski mountains in North America, sits a small ranching community that serves as a constant reminder that the Old West is alive and well. Never far from its ranching roots, Steamboat remains firmly linked to a Western tradition that sets it apart from every other ski resort in the world. (Larry Pierce courtesy of Steamboat) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Big skiing in Big Sky Country

    Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Mont., collects 300 inches of snow each year and features 3,000 acres of terrain, 94 marked trails and a 3.3-mile run called Hellfire. (Donnie Clapp courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Sweet on Sugarloaf

    Sugarloaf Ski Resort features 1,400 acres of skiable terrain, including Tote Road, a 3.5-mile-long stretch running from summit to base. Sugarloaf's redesigned terrain park features the 400 foot long Superpipe, a magnet for snowboarders throughtout the region. Portland and Bangor offer airport service to Sugarloaf, and Boston and Montreal are four short hours away. (Grant Klene courtesy of Sugarloaf Ski Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Crossing borders

    With more than 400 inches of snow per year, nearly 8,200 acres of skiable terrain and 200 trails, Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in British Columbia, Canada, is an outdoor enthusiast's paradise. (Randy Lincks courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb ) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Carrying the torch

    Some athletes will become world champions of their sport on the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb when the Winter Olympics roll into British Columbia early next year. (Paul Morrison courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb ) Back to slideshow navigation
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