Next time you hit the ski slopes, ease your wallet and your nerves with these simple tips.
Snow makes the cold worth it. It's the reason we drive for hours on slick roads in heavy traffic for the chance to fight for parking, wait in long lines, and hurtle down frigid mountains in expensive gear. There's just something magical about seeing the world anew, dressed in its finest whites. To make your next foray to the frozen stuff even more enchanting, try these tips for easing the strain on your wallet and your nerves.
ARRIVE HAPPY—DON'T DRIVE
Shuttle to the mountain. Resort-sponsored shuttles pick up passengers at most Tahoe area hotels, and you can ride free to Northstar and Squaw Valley. An independent shuttle between Truckee and Sugar Bowl costs $3; Kirkwood's from South Lake Tahoe costs $5. Sierra-at-Tahoe offers round-trip rides from many South Shore hotels and casinos. Shuttle riders often get a discount on lift tickets.
Take the bus. The Bay Area Ski Bus operates on Saturdays, Sundays, and some weekdays. For $84 to $113 (includes a lift ticket), a luxury bus will pick you up in one of several San Francisco Bay Area locations, drop you at that day's destination mountain, then bring you back either that evening or another day (www.bayareaskibus.com ).
Share driving duties. Most resorts offer preferential parking to carpoolers. Watch bulletin boards at local ski shops or check www.alternetrides.com  to find other snow fans going your way.
Find a deal. Check www.slidingonthecheap.com  for discounts at resorts nationwide and regional e-newsletter updates. Look for lodging bargains in the hot deals section of www.parkcityinfo.com . The Tahoe Card from SnowBomb (www.snowbomb.com ) can get you discounts at many of Tahoe's major resorts, hotels, and restaurants.
Gear up before you go. If you rent equipment at your hometown sports shop rather than on the mountain, you'll pay less and save time. Sports Rack Vehicle Outfitters offers AAA members a 15 percent discount on all ski rack rentals and installations, as well as 10 percent off all merchandise bought online or by phone (www.racknroad.com  or 800-722-5872).
ESCAPE THE CROWDS
Ski the backcountry. Some resorts offer guided ski tours of slopes and valleys less traveled. Sierra-at-Tahoe's tour lasts a half day and costs $25. Alpine Skills International (www.alpineskills.com ), based in Truckee, also leads trips. Mountain Adventure Seminars runs one-day tours leaving from Bear Valley for $90 (www.mtadventure.com ).
Eat a big breakfast and carry a snack. That way you'll avoid the midday lunch crush at resorts. Or, if most of the runs at your resort converge at the village, grab food at an on-mountain café instead.
Don't downhill. Try another snow sport, like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Snowshoeing is perfect for families because the gear's cheaper than skis and it's not much harder than hiking. A great way to start out is from one of California's 21 Sno-Parks, cleared parking lots with access to trails and play areas. Get a map of park locations and find out which ski shops sell the required $5 permit ($25 for a season pass) by calling the Sno-Park hot line at (916) 324-1222. Bring a sled or saucer or visit www.wintertrails.org  to find a snowshoe rental outlet near you.
Photo Illustration by William Duke
This article was first published in January 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.