Plenty of ways to ski on the cheap or free

SNOQUALMIE SUMMIT -- The winter of 2008 follows the fall of 2008 -- when the economy plummeted faster than a downhill skier.

Everyone is cutting back, but does that mean cutting out skiing and snowboarding?

Maybe not.

Gas prices are dropping, and Northwest ski industry insiders say there are lots of ways to ski and board on the cheap or even for free.

"You can work part time and get a pass," said Alex Kaufman, spokesman for Oregon's Mount Bachelor. "At some ski areas, volunteers get a pass."

Flipping burgers and running chairlifts are time-honored ways to get a pass and enough money to be a ski bum for a winter, but retired people and weekend warriors now take jobs at ski areas.

The Summit at Snoqualmie -- a Cascade Range ski area about an hour's drive east of Seattle -- also gets a lot of part-time workers who are there for the season pass, said marketing director Holly Lippert.

Lots of part-time workers stick around for night skiing, which The Summit offers six days a week, Lippert said.

Here are some suggestions for other ways to save some money on the slopes:

Skiing under the lights

A lift ticket for night skiing is usually much cheaper than a daytime ticket.

"The hill isn't as crowded at night," Lippert said. "I like skiing under the lights."

Skiing or boarding from 4 to 10 p.m. at The Summit costs $34.17, while you'll pay $51.71 for a day ticket.

But the screaming deal for dedicated night skiers is the $239 season pass. You can ski or board from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday all winter long.

"A lot of people come up here after work," Lippert said. "You can make first tracks all night when it's snowing."

Hitting the road

A combination stay-and-ski package is a great way to take a mini vacation without breaking the budget, Kaufman said.

Book a package early or late in the season and you can often get big discounts, Kaufman said.

Hotels and resorts that partner with Mount Bachelor, near Bend, Ore., offer a free third day of skiing or boarding -- and a free third night's stay -- if you book a two-day stay, Kaufman said.

"You can ski for $40 to $50 a day," Kaufman said.

Whistler Blackcomb, the sprawling -- and world-famous -- ski resort in British Columbia, is a fantastic deal because of the strong U.S. dollar and weak Canadian currency, said Stuart Remple, senior vice president of marketing.

On Oct. 30, one Canadian dollar was worth 82 cents in United States currency.

"Everything in Whistler is on sale for United States visitors," Remple said. "It's 20 percent cheaper here than a year ago, but many Americans are not aware of the exchange system."

Skiers and boarders from the United States can book two-day, two-night packages -- which include lift tickets -- for $85 Canadian a night, Remple said.

A 10-day Edge Card puts boarders and skiers on Whistler's slopes for $46 U.S. a day, Remple said.

Right now is the time to book bargain ski-and-stay packages, Kaufman and Remple said.

Other ways to save

Touring ski and snowboard movies often include discount lift tickets in the price of admission, Kaufman said.

Skiers and boarders can also save a few bucks if they buy five- to 10-day lift-ticket books, Kaufman said.