SLADE COLUMN: Run the numbers on a ski vacation
Would you drive from Charleston to Atlanta to save $300 per ticket on airfare?
Would you spend an extra $189 per person to make a good father-son vacation a great one?
I did both of those things, and I think my experience offers some ideas about getting the most for your vacation dollars.
This isn't really about saving money, but about spending it well. A person's got to have some fun, and one thing I save money for is travel with family.
So let me tell you about my ski trip to Colorado with my son.
Snow-skiing is not inexpensive, particularly if you live in the Lowcountry. But if you're going to plunk down the cash to ski for several days in North Carolina, or West Virginia, here's how you could instead ski 11,000-foot mountains in Colorado with dozens of trails, short lift lines and real snow, for about $200 more per person.
Living in the Charleston area, the closest skiing is in North Carolina, more than five hours away. The larger Snowshoe ski area in West Virginia is a more than eight-hour drive.
I took my son to North Carolina when he was little and he learned to ski. Then, two years ago I had some free plane tickets and a kids-ski-free deal, so we went to Colorado for the first time. We were hooked.
It was an easy decision when the plane tickets were free, using frequent flier miles I received for signing up for credit card offers, but I've finally used them up. Faced with having to pay to fly, I wasn't sure Colorado would be possible this year.
One factor in my favor, a surprising one, is that most North Carolina ski areas charge more on weekends than some terrific ski areas near Denver.
Here's how it breaks down financially. Let's say you wanted to go skiing over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, as I did, what with Charleston schools being out from Thursday through Monday.
Ignoring the fact that ski conditions were looking awful in North Carolina, let's say I wanted to drive up with my 14-year-old and ski for three days. Lift tickets and equipment rentals — skis for me, a snowboard for him — would run between $449 and $477 at the Beech, Sugar or Cataloochee ski areas, plus about $200 for three nights in a modest hotel.
But an hour west of Denver, the two of us could ski for three days at the Loveland ski area for less than $350, while paying similar hotel rates. Loveland and some other Denver-area ski areas charge youth prices through age 14, which means big savings, because most North Carolina ski areas charge adult rates starting at ages 12 or 13.
Loveland is not a resort, but it is an 1,800-acre ski area on the Continental Divide with 93 trails, the longest of which is two miles long. Ski Cooper, another family-friendly ski area about two hours west of Denver, is even less expensive and has the distinction of having a trail called Slade's Run.
But how to get to Denver? Plane tickets from Charleston were too expensive for me to consider, with prices starting at $505. Here's where the time vs. money issue came up.
Instead of driving more than five hours to ski in North Carolina, I decided to drive about the same distance to the Atlanta airport, where Southwest was offering round-trip direct flights to Denver for $189. You can only find those fares on Southwest's website.
So, two nondirect round-trips to Denver would have cost more than $1,000 from Charleston, but two direct flights were $377 from Atlanta. Between driving and flying, we would be in Denver in about the time it takes to drive to the Snowshoe ski area in West Virginia. I'll drive to Atlanta to save more than $600 any time.
The savings on lift tickets and rentals in Colorado cover the cost of our car rental there. That means the only added cost of skiing in Colorado versus North Carolina was the plane tickets, at $189 each.
It's not a cheap trip — it was a year's worth of Christmas and birthday presents for both of us — but it should be a lasting memory. By now I should be home, hopefully with no broken bones, and no regrets.
If you decide to hit the slopes this winter, the website Liftopia.com offers good deals at most ski areas, although they are harder to find at eastern ski areas during holiday weekends. Weekdays are when rates are lowest, but that's tough to take advantage of if you have school-age children.
When I checked on Jan. 14, Liftopia had plenty of offers in Colorado but wasn't listing any deals in North Carolina for the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend except at Wolf Ridge Ski Resort, which was closed at the time due to heavy rain.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.