While nothing may top the thrill of skiing down a powdery slope, the sticker shock of many ski vacations can be daunting. Skiers need to pay for equipment, lift tickets and of course, a few cool accessories. Several ski resorts across the country are trying to lessen the pain by offering lots of free extras that range from the chocolate chip cookies to electronics.
What is the perfect way to end a challenging day of skiing? At Sugarbush, you can grab a free cup of apple cider and let someone else carry all your ski gear. The mountain has a team of hearty mountain "Sherpas" to carry your skis (and your kids' skis) back to your car so you don't have to. The ski lodges at Sugarbush also supply free sunscreen, Tylenol and dog-treats.
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Every day at 3 p.m., hundreds of visitors ski off the mountain into the arms of the Beaver Creek cookie chefs to pick up their free chocolate chip treats. If you want to let the folks back home know how much fun you are having, fill out a free post card -- postage included -- which a mountain ambassador will mail for you anywhere in the world. And if you prefer to communicate by Facebook, use the resort's EpicMix -- a new tool that lets you post free photos, your vertical feet skied and other info that is recorded through your "smart" lift ticket.
Anyone lucky enough to hit one of the trails in Keystone, Colorado -- and who stays seven nights over the holiday season -- gets a very nice present under his or her tree: a brand new iPad 2. Kids also get a host of freebies, including access to a fun-filled ski fort and free ice-skating lessons.
Steamboat offers guests the best free lessons in town, with the chance to pick up some tips while actually skiing with two former Olympic champs: 1964 Silver medalist Billy Kidd and 1992 Bronze medalist Nelson Carmichael. The mountain also offers free nature tours that focus on mountain habitat and indigenous flora and fauna. Parents will love the fact that kids under 12 get to ski and rent their equipment for free when joined by a paying adult.
While Aspen is not usually associated with the word "free," the mountain offers a host of great giveaways. Have you always wanted to be the first one on the mountain? Guests who sign up with First Tracks at Aspen/Snowmass will be on the slopes before the lifts start running and all you have to do is reserve the night before. All skiers can start their day with free coffee which is distributed at the base of the mountain and hot cider is given out for free at the top of the lift. Aspen ambassadors also provide free mountain tours twice a day where they share their mountain knowledge and their favorite ski spots.
Since Whistler has over 8,000 miles of skiable terrain, it might be hard to figure out the best slopes to tackle. The folks at Whistler make it easy by offering daily free mountain tours that point out the best ski spots and where guides can share some of their favorite "secret" stashes. Families visiting with children will be thrilled to discover that kids 12 and under can rent their equipment and ski for free.
Heavenly Mountain, California
Visitors to Heavenly Mountain can join a Forest Service Ranger for some serious skiing and a free nature tour of the Lake Tahoe Basin that focuses on the history of the area and emphasizes such feel-good topics as habitat improvement and watershed restoration.