Skiing midweek, traditional thinking goes, is more affordable and less crowded than skiing on weekends. Well, not exactly. The variables of midweek skiing are considerably complicated by the fact that "midweek" has a different meaning depending upon where you ski.
On the East Coast, midweek skiing offers a vast supply of sharply discounted condo and hotel rooms following the Sunday exodus of weekend warriors. At Rocky Mountain destination resorts, where five- and seven-night stays are common, lodging prices don't vary much at all. And midweek is yet another state of mind on the West Coast, where resorts such as Squaw and Mammoth host a mix of weekend visitors and destination travelers.
In short, the term midweek has become another way of saying discounted. For most resorts, Monday through Friday classify as midweek as far as lift-ticket discounts are concerned. But Sunday through Thursday is midweek for discounted lodging prices (except during holiday weeks, of course). And some airlines consider Sunday and Friday midweek.
At East Coast resorts, midweek is indeed the byword for affordability. Lift-ticket prices are lower. Lodging prices drop precipitously. And lift-and-lodging packages often reward midweek skiers with deals so sweet that lift tickets end up being free. Package discounts of up to 30 percent, even in high season, are not uncommon.
At Stratton, for example, the weekend rate at the Liftline Lodge is $125 to $135 per room, per night. But from Monday to Thursday, it's sold at a per-person rate of $59, based on double occupancy. Sure, that comes to $118 for two, but it also includes two lift tickets, otherwise priced at $45 a piece. You're paying less for the room and skiing for free. Of course, there's another key incentive to go to Stratton midweek. "The mountain is virtually yours," says spokesperson Myra Foster. "You never have to wait in a liftline. You can easily rack up twice the vertical you would in a weekend."
What's true at Stratton is true throughout the Northeast. Consider the deal offered by Snow Cap Inn in Sunday River, Maine: $69.95 per person midweek during midwinter includes a lift ticket (normally $43). That's a 22-percent savings over the $89.95 per night weekend rate alone. And for every resort, from Killington to Sugarloaf, there are the added attractions of no traffic, crowd-free restaurants and rental shops that are blissfully empty.
Other resorts, such as Okemo, offer extra incentives for midweek skiers in addition to the standard discounted lift-and-lodging packages. Okemo's Winter Value Fun Pack includes a free adult ski or snowboard group lesson, a complimentary rental equipment upgrade and a pass to Okemo's new Salomon demo center.
The Rocky Mountains
Head west, however, and midweek rates don't present dramatic savings. Sure, resorts are more crowded on weekends, particularly day-trip areas in Colorado's Summit County or those outside Utah's Salt Lake City. But because all of these are major destination resorts as well, they're often busy during the week with skiers who've come for three-, five- and seven-night stays. Hotels price their rooms accordingly, so midweek rates may be only slightly less than weekend prices.
Farther afield, at Colorado destination resorts such as Steamboat, Aspen, Crested Butte and Telluride, where there's not as noticeable a surge of weekend skiers, the lodging rates vary even less from weekday to weekend.
The most compelling reason for cost-conscious skiers to consider a midweek ski vacation in the West: cheaper airfare, at times slashed by 20 percent.
"Airfare is the crux," Bruce Rossard of Moguls/Tour de Sport explains. "Midweek airfares are quite a bit less expensive and there's better availability."
Rossard points out that ski airfares fall into three categories: high-season weekends, low-season weekends and, finally, midweek. Remarkably enough, it is usually cheaper to fly midweek during high season thhan to fly on a weekend during low season.
Consider these round-trip Northwest fares (priced at time of writing): If you fly from New York to Vail/Eagle on Saturday, March 7, and return the following Saturday, the fare will be $470. But if you leave two days later, on March 9, a Monday, and return the following Monday, the fare drops to $388, an 18-percent savings. If you go in January instead, which is traditionally the hidden low-season in midwinter, the weekend fare is still $443. If you need to split the difference and leave on a weekend, say Saturday, March 7, and return on Tuesday, March 10, the fare is lower still-$429-than the weekend-to-weekend rate.
The low fares that tour operators and central reservations offer are bulk-fare seats, the cheapest on the plane. On weekends, these seats go first, sometimes months in advance, meaning many skiers will pay big for the privilege of flying on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Meanwhile, those same bulk fares might still be available for a Tuesday morning departure, often just days in advance. So the real savings between weekday and weekend is often much greater than that 18 percent example cited earlier. At times, it can be as much as 30 percent.
When you're shopping around for a cheap weekday seat, remember that the various airlines have different ideas of what constitutes a weekday. Monday through Thursday is traditionally considered midweek. But Northwest and United, for example, consider all flights going to a resort on a Sunday midweek flights. Northwest takes it one step further and designates Friday a midweek day as well. Of course, the obvious benefit of flying midweek is that the flights and airports tend to be less crowded.
The Far West
Finally, at the Lake Tahoe resorts, you'll see a lot of midweek deals at properties such as the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, the Embassy Suites Resort and the Squaw Valley Lodge, with reduced room rates and free multi-mountain lift tickets. Combine these deals with a seat to Reno on a price-competitive carrier such as Reno Air, and you can save significantly over weekend costs. The same holds true at Mammoth Mountain, where lower midweek lodging prices at the Mammoth Mountain Inn, Mammoth Travelodge and Mammoth Thriftlodge save skiers 20 percent.
The lesson: No matter what your destination, careful shopping and price comparisons can extend your budget and your ski season this year.