It's Not Too Late


When should you book a ski resort for a mid-winter holiday vacation? The short answer is "yesterday." The holiday season is a euphemism for "sold-out" at virtually every ski resort around the country. Because dedicated Yuletide skiers routinely book their holiday ski vacations a year in advance, flights are already looking full.

But it's not impossible, even now, to book a place for the holidays. You can beat the odds by being flexible and remembering that most hotels and condos require a five- to seven-night minimum stay during the holidays.

First, secure airline seats right away. That's especially true if you plan to fly into small gateways such as Eagle County Airport and Hayden (Steamboat) in Colorado or Bozeman in Montana. But you should also buy seats now even if you plan to go to one of the larger airports in the West. Even though Denver International Airport averages 1,352 flights per day, with 21 carriers, it is jammed to capacity over the holidays. And forget frequent flier allegiance. This is when any flight will do. A willingness to make a stopover may mean the difference between skiing or staying home.

Remember that many Christmas skiers like to spend Christmas Day at home with their families and fly on December 26 or 27. For last-minute travelers, then, the trick is to travel before Christmas and spend the holiday at the ski resort. Those first couple of nights of pre-Christmas lodging are often sold at discounted rates. Second, don't be discouraged by hotels claiming that they're full because people can and do change their plans. At every resort, skiers who have made early reservations usually have to make good 45 days out.

Put yourself on waiting lists at specific resorts and double and triple book, especially when you're angling for space at high-end resorts. In Aspen, Colo., The Little Nell's waiting list starts the day after Christmas and grows to several hundred by September. Only 20 or so people make the cut.

What's true for hotel rooms is also true for condos. Most condo associations allow condo owners to pick their own usage weeks. The deadline for doing so varies, but even now, you can expect to find cancellations as owners decide at the last minute to put their units in a rental pool for the lucrative holiday vacation period.

Keep an open mind, cast a wide net and contact the central reservations office of the largest resorts, such as Vail, Colo., Whistler/Blackcomb, B.C. and Killington, Vt. All of them will be dealing with a constant winter holiday inventory rotation for the next couple of months.

Whether it's Keystone, Colo., Stratton, Vt., or Tremblant, Quebec, where you sleep is often less important than simply getting there. Because, after all, you'll be celebrating in the mountains.