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Finding your best ski deals

If you're looking at a ski vacation this winter, you're likely to find acceptable snow and facilities in most developed ski centers. So you obviously want to look at the cost and the overall destination experience at options available to you. TripAdvisor, the "world's largest travel site," recently issued a release in which it summarized "trip index" cost data for 20 of the country's most important ski destinations. The index is a composite of the average costs of a hotel night within a five-mile radius of the destinations, a daily ski rental, a daily lift ticket, a burger and fries meal, and one bottled or draft beer. And the results showed a huge spread in the daily cost, from $802 at Vail, Colo., to $210 in Durango:

-The 10 least expensive destinations, from lowest up, are Durango, Colo., at $210 per day, Bend, Ore., Taos, N.M., Salt Lake City, Utah, North Conway, N.H., Whitefish, Mt., Kingfield, Me., Sun Valley, Idaho, Jackson Hole, Wyo., to Banff, Alberta at $323.

-At the other end of the scale, the most expensive are, from the top down, Vail, at $802 per day, Aspen, Colo., Park City, Utah, Telluride, Colo., Crested Butte, Colo., Breckenridge, Colo., Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Whistler, BC, Big Sky, Mt., to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., at $423.

-A substantial price gap occurs between number three, Park City at $677, and number four, Telluride, at $567; data on the inexpensive end show a relatively smooth progression from top to bottom.

Within these numbers, I see some significant patterns:

-Hotel costs are by far the biggest factor in the cost differences among the various destinations, ranging from $645 at Vail to $96 at Durango.

-That spread of almost $550 dwarfs the relatively modest spreads for the other cost elements: $26 between the most expensive ski rental in Mont Tremblant, at $52, and the lowest, at $26 in Durango; $47 between the most expensive lift ticket of $110 at Aspen and $63 at North Conway; $5 between the most expensive burger meal of $14 at Mont Tremblant and $9 at North Conway; and between the most expensive beer, $5.42 at Mont Tremblant and $2.85 at Whitefish...