The $1,000 Ski Vacation

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So, you've squirreled away $1,000 for your annual ski vacation. But unless you're one of the lucky ones who lives close to the mountains, you'll be flying-not driving-to your destination. So that grand has to cover your airfare, hotel room, meals and your Margarita tab. But in a winter world of $295-a-night hotel rooms and $59 lift tickets, where can you go and how long can you stay?

It is possible to take a comfortable trip for a reasonable price, but there are certain rules you'll have to follow. First, find a travel partner, because like Noah's Ark, room rates are predicated on pairs, and double occupancy offers the lowest rates around. Plan to walk a few minutes to the lifts rather than being slopeside. Consider a condo, which almost always provides more value than a hotel room, not to mention a kitchen, so you can economize at breakfast and have home-cooked dinners. And if you're vacationing with six or more skiers, consider a house rental, which can bring per-night costs down to as low as $50 per person.

Then time your trip with care. You'll get a lot more bang for your buck if you plan to ski during the low seasons-before Dec. 15, during January or in late March, when the rates start plummeting. Midweek, of course, is always cheaper, but we're basing our estimates on a time-pressed skier who can only get away for a weekend but can fly on Thursdays and Mondays to keep costs down. If you decide to shop around, use a central reservations office or ski-tour operator for your airfare, transfers, lodging and multi-day lift ticket-which can provide a savings of 20 to 30 percent over buying "a la carte." Plan on shuttle transfers from the airport-forget renting a gas guzzler unless it's part of the deal. Finally, book in advance. Last-minute means potluck, surcharges and budget-busting. That said, what can you get for your $1,000 in January? Plenty. (Prices are based on double occupancy.)

Seven Nights In Bormio, Italy
Yes, the best deal we could find takes you across the Atlantic and includes round-trip airfare from New York to Milan, transfers, seven nights at the Hotel Cervo, breakfast and dinner daily and a six-day lift ticket for $963. It's a tight budget but it's cheaper than a week out West. Your only worries are equipment rentals, a little lunch and the odd grappa at Rocca or Bar Cristallo in this old Roman spa town. Evening strolls along the promenade are free and de rigeur in Italian ski towns such as Bormio, which was the site of the 1985 World Alpine Championships. Call Central Holidays, (800) 935-5000.

Five Nights At Tremblant, Quebec
On this side of the Atlantic, one of the best deals we found was to Quebec's Tremblant. It includes round-trip airfare from New York or Boston to Montreal, a rental car and five nights at Chateau Mont Tremblant, which has its own pool and health club. At Canada's bargain rates, the tab comes to $545, with lift tickets, taxes and gratuities included. Add $200 for food and $80 for equipment demos, and you're left with a small Canadian fortune of $175 for gasoline, Molsons at P'tit Caribou and a daily supply of hand-warmers. If you live in Washington D.C., the trip will run you $45 more. From Atlanta, make that $85. Call Skican, (888) 475-4226.

Five Nights At Crested Butte, Colo.
Round-trip airfare from Chicago, transfers, five nights at the Sheraton Crested Butte Resort and four days of lift tickets will only set you back $807. That should leave you with enough for nachos at Dorina's Cantina, steak at the Idle Spur and a splurge at the new WoodStone Grille, not to mention ski rentals and a Fat Tire or two. Denizens of Dallas can get the same deal for just $747. Call Crested Butte Central Reservations, (800) 544-8448.

Five Nights At Heavenly, Calif.
The tab for round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Reno, a five-day car rental, five nights at Harvey's Resort Hotel & Casino, daily continental breakfast, a four-out-of-five-daay lift ticket and travel insurance comes to $789. You can use the remaining $211 for gas, rentals and dinner at one of the hotel's eight restaurants. Or, with a little luck, you can parlay it into enough cash for another ski trip at the hotel's 24-hour casino. Call Any Mountain Tours, (800) 296-2000.

Four Nights At Winter Park, Colo.
Round-trip airfare from Chicago, transfers, four nights in a downtown condo and a three-day lift ticket costs $794. That leaves you with $206 for huge $6 breakfasts at Moffat Stop Bagels and pampered lunches at the on-mountain Lodge at Sunspot. If you're coming from Dallas, you'll have $50 extra for pints of Mary Jane Ale. Call Winter Park Central Reservations, (800) 729-5813.

Three Nights At Keystone, Colo.
At Keystone, you can ski till you drop-or at least until they shut off the night lights. You can get round-trip airfare from New York, three nights at the Inn at Keystone, a three-day lift ticket and an Avis car, all for $855 from New York. You'll cut it close, but that leaves $145 to fill up the car, get equipment rentals, morning bagels at Inxpot and après-ski brews at the Great Northern. From Chicago, you'll have $241 left to play with. Call Keystone Central Reservations, (800) 404-3535.

Three Nights At Snowbird, Utah
Utah usually gets some of its best snow in January, so if three nights sounds short, just remember that 72 hours of skiing in all that Wasatch powder can be hard work. Round-trip airfare to Salt Lake City, three nights at the Inn at Snowbird and a three-day lift ticket will run you $605 from San Francisco, $726 from Chicago. That's a deal, and it leaves you with plenty of cash for high-performance demos, as well as a sirloin fix at The Steak Pit, margaritas at Keyhole Junction or the proverbial pepperoni pizza at Pier 49 San Francisco Pizza. Call Snowbird Central Reservations, (800) 453-3000.

TravelHit!
The average visitor to Vail, Colo., spends $300 per day, of which $30 is spent on lift tickets. (The Wall Street Journal)