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10 best early season ski deals

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.
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Steamboat Springs, Colo., offers family-friendly skiing on 3,000 acres and 165 trails.Larry Pierce / AP
/ Source: Family vacation critic.com

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.

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's MVP, 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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.