Colorado’s Aspen/Snowmass resort is offering free flights for children on Frontier Airlines.Snow has begun falling on ski slopes — and so have prices of lift tickets and luxury hotel rooms at many big destination resorts.

As the recession begins taking a toll on the ski industry, resort operators are offering a flurry of discounts they hope will draw more visitors. Colorado’s Aspen/Snowmass ski area announced a deal last week that allows children to fly free on Frontier Airlines and get free lift tickets on the mountain if accompanied by a paying adult. The Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, in Wyoming, is extending its early-season promotion — a fourth night free — through the end of April. And at Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah, which opened unusually early this year thanks to a heavy snowfall last month, is offering a variety of discounts, including free appetizers with entrees at the Steak Pit restaurant and an 11% discount on six-day lift-ticket passes with any lodging reservation.

By Candace Jackson, Dec 9, 2008, WSJ

[Colorado's Aspen/Snowmass resort is offering free flights for children on Frontier Airlines.]

In general, the steepest discounts can be found at ski areas such as those in the Rocky Mountains that rely largely on visitors flying from distant locations. Resorts frequented mainly by nearby skiers, including some slopes in Vermont and California, remain busy, but they are still rolling out some more modest deals of their own.

Last winter, ski resorts in the Northeast and the West saw some of the best conditions in years, boosting skier visits by almost 10% over the comparatively warm 2006-2007 season, according to the National Ski Areas Association. But this year many experts think even a series of well-timed blizzards won’t save ski resorts from the economic downturn. "I think it’ll be a bad year no matter how good the snow is," says Will Marks, a managing director with JMP Securities, who tracks the hotel and ski industry.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which still has holiday openings, is offering guests free lift tickets.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which still has holiday openings, is offering guests free lift tickets.

Ski-industry executives say the timing of the financial-market slump this fall spooked skiers and snow boarders just as they would normally have been calling to book winter vacations. And with the dollar stronger against the euro, many Rocky Mountain ski resorts say they’ll also see a drop this season in European travelers who had taken advantage of the steep exchange-rate discount in years past.

Aspen Skiing Co. says business could drop between 5% and 15% this season compared with last year. Vail Resorts Inc., which owns five ski resorts in Colorado, Nevada and California, reported Tuesday that advance bookings as of the end of October were down 23% from the previous year. The company says it has laid off at least 50 workers and says it won’t fill another 92 seasonal positions.

"This year is kind of unprecedented," says David Perry, Aspen’s senior vice president, mountain division. "People still want to take their family on the ski vacation, but are looking for the best bargains." Among Aspen’s promotions: Customers who purchase discounted seven-day lift tickets in advance will no longer be restricted by blackout dates.

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