Love or Leave Winter, On the Cheap

Travel this winter, like pretty much everything else, is not expected to be a bargain. While rates for hotels and flights tend to drop after the holiday highs, resilient demand for travel portends higher prices at both ski and beach destinations, where winter is high season. Still, with flexibility and creativity — like avoiding peak days on the slopes or seeking out street food in the tropics — you can still manage to travel for less this season.

A specialist in slow-travel European walking holidays, InnTravel will introduce two new “snow breaks” this year designed for non-skiers who want to explore the quieter side of winter. A seven-night trip in Bavaria, Germany, offers opportunities to visit the landmark castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau under snow, and hike in the area on trails surrounded by the snowcapped Bavarian Alps. In Slovenia, a seven-night trip based in the village of Bohinjska Bistrica, in the northwestern part of the country, puts travelers on the edge of Triglav National Park and in the vicinity of walks around the lakes of Bled and Bohinj. Offered early December to mid-March, the trips start at 1,150 British pounds a person (about $1,333) and include lodging, airport transfers, local bus travel, many meals and some guided activities.

If you want to prolong winter, hit a spring skiing hot spot such as Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Last April, when most of the major resorts were preparing to close down operations for the season, I visited Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Valley) on the lake’s west coast, which boasts skiing that can last into May and beyond at reduced rates. In a trade-off between snow and expense, conditions were not peak — the snow was soft in places and occasionally sparse — but lift tickets were less than $100 a day (single day tickets this season in February are currently running from $149 to $229) and most of the mountain was open (the resort has yet to announce its spring skiing prices). At the end of the day, skiers and riders in T-shirts were drinking craft brews in the sunshine at aprés-ski bars at the base of the village, and many of the hiking and biking trails close to the lake were open and snow-free, offering something of a two-season vacation.

Winters are long in Minnesota, and the organizers behind the annual Great Northern Festival in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul hope they stay that way. The 10-day event, Jan. 25 to Feb. 5, highlights the unique winter culture of this northern region with outdoor film screenings, performances, Nordic ski races and tours, ice plunges, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships contested by amateurs on outdoor rinks and the St. Paul Winter Carnival with a snow-sculpting competition. Most of the events are free and some require a ticket, including Luminary Loppet, a walking, skiing or snowshoeing route on a frozen lake lined with 1,200 lights ($20). The winter celebration also focuses on climate change in talks, live podcasts and films on the subject. “Our cold, snowy winters shape our culture, and they are at risk as the climate continues to warm, so at the Great Northern, we want to motivate festivalgoers to take steps to preserve it,” said Kate Nordstrum, the executive and artistic director of the festival.

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