Canada vs. US: Finding A Snowsports Bargain - My Family Travels

How family ski resorts in Canada compare price-wise to skiing the U.S. — with some strategies to make planning simple for your next (budget) snowsports vacation.

A Winter 2005 study done by the FTF office for a holiday weekend ski trip showed it cost about the same to fly from the Northeast and ski in eastern Canada, as it did to drive several hours to ski in a New England resort. (However, skiing in the Rockies or northern California is usually much more expensive.)
In the years since, our staff has done random checks on airfares and snowsports packages, only to find the same thing over and over again. So, we thought we’d share our money-saving strategy.

What makes a bargain?

Canada’s lower-priced ski in/ski out lodging and cheaper lift tickets help offset the airfare, which in any case has tumbled in recent years thanks to the many lowfare carriers serving this market. Northeast families on a tighter budget can even consider taking one of the budget high-speed buses from major cities to Montreal or Toronto, then renting a car. You don’t have to pile the kids onto a “Chinatown” bus any more, if you’re concerned about their sketchy safety record. Boltbus and Megabus are just two of the rapidly expanding mainstream companies that serve this market, and buses have lots of room underneath to store ski gear and pesky snowboards.

And that lodging? Much of Canada’s ski resort charm comes from staying in local B&Bs where family owners pride themselves on Mamma’s recipe for caribou stew and fondue. Avoid the few slopeside condos available and book everyone into a small and cozy local home, where a hearty breakfast and gregarious company are included in the lower rates. Many of the B&Bs will also serve you a wonderful, inexpensive dinner if booked in advance. These ski chalets often have an outdoors hot tub, sledding hill and other apres-ski facilities that, in combination with their local character, add a richness to the standard ski break. (Some are pet-friendly too.)

Of course, part of the bargain used to come from the favorable exchange rate (for years, C$1=US$.70), which made Canada about 30% cheaper for American families on vacation. But no longer; for 2008, the Canadian dollar is running a bit stronger than the U.S. dollar on international markets, so Americans will pay a few cents more for each Canadian dollar they spend.  That suggests that American residents should use a credit card for purchases because it will provide better value than exchanging cash for Canadian currency at a bank.

And it also suggests that Canadian families may head south onto the slopes of Jay Peak, Vermont and other nearby resorts to save money on their own ski vacations!

Cost aside, if you add in the appeal of a foreign culture, and lower prices for food, lessons, souvenirs, etc.  you’ll find Canada a bargain for skiing and snowboarding families. 

Bargain Hunting Lessons Learned

  1. If you’re skiing over a holiday period, plan ahead and work closely with a travel agent or tour operator to check on packaged deals, which can save you and the kids lots of money.  And don’t forget, the Canadians don’t celebrate the same holidays – like January’s Martin Luther King Day or February’s Presidents Day – so prices don’t get hiked up north of the border on so-called “holiday peak periods.”
  2. If you’re skiing midweek or late in the season, you can contact most resorts directly to find tremendous savings in family “packages” with more than you imagined – lift tickets, free breakfast, a rental car, free kids club or clinics, you name it – included. 
  3. Canadian provincial tourist offices work very hard to bring tourism into their communities, and local knowledge is invaluable, especially for bargain hunters. Use the web to find the tourist office or local chamber of commerce in your region of choice, and ask them for current values, maps, brochures the kids can enjoy, and a list of hospitable B&Bs. 

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