Downhill economy

By JASON O'BRYAN  |  November 18, 2008

The powder: great value for the size, student deals

The ice: difficult to get there

STOWE MOUNTAIN — STOWE, VERMONT
Stowe Mountain is one of the only ski resorts in New England readily accessible by train — an option infinitely preferable to a bus for anyone who's experienced both. Amtrak runs trains out of South Station that, with one transfer, take you to Waterbury-Stowe Station, a quick eight miles from the mountain. After a taxi to the resort, Stowe promises you won't need a car again — free shuttles run frequently all over the complex. Stowe is 199 miles away and therefore is better suited for a several-night excursion, which is good because they offer some of the best housing deals of any major mountain. Their WinterNet Special, for example, offers 30 percent off condo rentals between Sunday and Thursday, and the Ski&Stay specials offer three or five days of skiing and lodging for as little as $130 per night. And when the lift tickets are $75 to $80 for prime and peak seasons, those deals can save you some real money. Oh, and Stowe's enormous by Eastern standards — the fifth tallest vertical drop in New England at 2360 feet, with 485 acres of ski areas and 116 runs.

The powder: train accessible, very large mountain, good specials.

The ice: expensive even with specials, train commits you to at least two days.

BARGAIN-HUNTING TIPS
Public transportation options are feasible as far as Wachusett, but due to the strict nature of bus and train travel, places such as Stowe and Cannon are worth it only if you stay a couple days or more. For simple overnight trips, consider a company like Zipcar that allows you to rent cars by the day with free gas, or just go make some new, more mobile friends.

There are at least 70 ski areas in New England, each with its own pliable deals and strengths. Here are five simple, constant rules to remember when shopping a ski or snowboard vacation on the cheap.

FLEXIBILITY PAYS OFF If possible, mold your trip around the ski areas' deals, not the other way around. If the deals are on Tuesday, see if you can go on a Tuesday. And if not, at least stay away from anything listed as "peak" season, which is Mountain Code for "We're going to charge the shit out of you."

IF YOU CAN'T BEAT 'EM Think about how much skiing you plan to do, and take advantage of special offers. Sometimes multi-trip discount bundles can be worth the money even for only a single visit. Five days of peak skiing at Stowe, for example, pays for its own $75 card, with benefits.

EYE ON THE PRIZE Almost all the major mountains offer a cacophony of deals, specials, and promotions, all with their own small print and blackout dates. "Stay three consecutive non-peak, non-weekend nights and get your third day for a third of the price with an extra 10 percent off for every other three people . . ." We suspect they do this to give the impression of value while hoping that no one actually takes the time to utilize it. Study the details; make a chart if you have to.

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