SKI Deals

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Readers keep asking for them, so we keep gathering them. SKI Magazine's annual collection of ski-country deals runs the gamut again-from free skiing and lodging to good old-fashioned "pack-'em-in-the-car" promotions.

The mountains are teeming with bargains-you just have to know where to look. We've assembled 50 of the best (with 50 more on skimag.com, keyword: bargains). As the season unfolds, more will arise, so be on the hunt. When you find one, keep these tips in mind:

Ways To Ski For Less This Winter

The Web yields the best money-saving packages, as many resorts steer skiers toward their websites (rather than toll-free phone numbers) with web-specific discounts. Bookmark your favorite resorts' websites, as well as www.myskitrip.com, which specializes in ski vacations. And sign up for resort newsletters, especially those that zap last-minute e-bargains to subscribers.

Be sure to keep an eye on the fast-changing lists at discount sections of travel sites. Try www.expedia.com, which offers last-minute discounts on airfare and vacation packages; or www.smarterliving.com, which covers hot travel deals, with big discounts off the rack rates. Also check out www.orbitz.com and www.travelocity.com.

Think early- or late-season vacations, because resorts need to keep their beds warm and lifts filled. Traditionally, the deepest discounts are at the beginning and end of the season, but many resorts offer serious savings during part of January too. With so many open rooms, it's possible to book at the last minute (just remember to first check the snow conditions). Some of the midweek deals in the East (and a few in the West) are outstanding this season. Combine a discounted lift-and-lodging package with an airline e-fare, and you land a bargain for a three-day ski weekend.

At auction sites, you can find cheap vacations and 50 percent off-or more-on equipment and gear. Visit www.bid4vacations.com, www.skyauction.com, www.ebay.com, www.priceline.com, www.auction.lycos.com, for a vast collection of vacation packages, airfare and gear. But before placing a bid, be sure to search for and read the fine print, so you are aware of all rules and restrictions.

Pre-packaged trips by tour operators who specialize in ski vacations remain among the best deals and require the least amount of effort. Visit www.skitops.com, a website of the largest and most reputable ski tour operators in North America. To maximize savings, watch for suggestions that you book before a specific date. Also, routinely check out the major airlines' vacation desks. For example, if you visit www.unitedvacations.com, you'll find value-added deals, such as a three-night lift-and-lodging packages, which include a free ski lesson. The ski specials abound; you just have to scout them out.

A money-saving wrinkle at some resorts and ski conglomerates is bulk-buy lift tickets: The more you purchase, the cheaper the cost per day. (See the American Skiing Company's mEticket on page 173). If the place you intend to visit doesn't offer them, see if adopting the locals' approach-getting a frequent-skier card-makes sense. Visit a resort's website to find the information or check the local newspapers' sites.

Ski clubs are a sure way to save money and make friends. Find (or organize) a city, school, community or affinity group. Call local ski shops for information about clubs in your area.

Look for coupons. Read everything from the back of cereal boxes to the flyers in the envelope that come with your credit-card bills. Purchase discount coupon books, such as the Gold C Books available at grocery stores.

Collect frequent-flyer miles (even if you don't travel a lot), and cash them in for flights and vacation packages. Visit www.mileageworkshop.com, for hints on collecting miles and links to other sites where you can learn how to rack up miles. Keep in Mind

Unless otherwise specified, the packages we list are per person, based on doublle occupancy and do not include taxes or gratuities. Many are based on availability. Before you book any package or trip, ask about the terms and conditions. You can add days to many packages, but refund and cancellation policies vary. Canadian prices here are listed in U.S. dollars at a 1.54 conversion rate, but are subject to change. We strongly recommend you call to confirm the details of any bargain that might grab your attention.