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  "Snowdeals.com"
By Everett Potter

It's a bleak Tuesday morning in the city and you hear about a massive storm blanketing the Rockies with fresh snow. You have two choices: You can merely dream about floating in perfect powder, or you can spend ten minutes online, grab a discounted package deal, and be on a plane by Friday night. Or a Friday night three months from now, if that works better. Such is the promise, at least, of the Web's best ski travel sites, a promise we recently put to the test and found prices that ranged from "no big deal" to "what a steal!"

If you've never shopped for a ski trip online, try now: In this post-holiday, post-Millennium Eve market, great deals are up for grabs. In general, online prices stay about the same whether it's three days or three months in advance, whereas everyone knows what happens when you call an airline last-minute ("The cheapest fare to Denver is 1,800 bucks?").

Two good places to start are Ski Vacation Planners (www.skivacationplanners.com) and Any Mountain Tours (www.anymtn.com). Both have contracts with airlines to sell discounted fares, with no pesky advance-purchase or Saturday-night-stay restrictions. The catch is you have to book lodging and ground transportation in addition to the plane ticket. But the online outfitters have these elements at competitive and occasionally drastically reduced prices too, and there's the advantage of one-stop shopping—visit a single Web site and you can arrange an entire trip.

In October, we priced two trips for January 21 to 25: one from Los Angeles to Park City, Utah; the other from New York City to Vail. Prices include taxes and three-day lift tickets, and are based on two people splitting the room cost.

Then we called the same airlines, hotels, and car and van companies used by the outfitters and came up with an à la carte price. [All prices in U.S. dollars.]

Ski Vacation Planners
www.skivacationplanners.com

    L.A. to Park City: $732 per person. À la carte: $890. E-savings: $158.

    New York City to Vail: $956 per person. À la carte: $1,097. E-savings: $141.

Any Mountain Tours
www.anymtn.com

    L.A. to Park City: $665 per person. À la carte: $781. E-savings: $116.

    New York City to Vail: $795 per person. À la carte: $1,135. E-savings: $340.

These sites aren't perfect yet. You may encounter downloads slower than a beginner at the bunny slope, or the frustrations that come with trying to explain complex travel plans to a computer instead of a person. And, as the prices above indicate, you won't always find an astounding deal. So should you rely exclusively on ski Web sites? No. Should you add them to your list of bargain travel tools? Most definitely.

And don't miss the adventure travel thread in the message boards at NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER.

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