Of the Baker City Herald

For the first time since 1999, I didn't buy a season pass at Ski Anthony Lakes.

andquot;Make me regret it,andquot; I taunted the weather last fall.

OK, I regret it.

Snow conditions on the mountain have been excellent this season. January saw six feet of new snow, and the first week of February got another two feet.

As of last Sunday, the two week total had topped 30 inches.

This is not something to miss.

So what's a non-season pass holder to do?

Work it.

Or as Warren Miller put it, andquot;Wherever you go skiing, spare no expense to make your trip as cheap as possible.andquot;

For the record: I have at no time asked for or accepted any freebies from Ski Anthony Lakes. Travel andquot;journalistsandquot; in the magazine trade routinely ask for or even expect free tickets, meals or lodging, and the purveyors of those freebies expect something in return: coverage.

Most newspapers won't play that game, ours included.

Instead, I studied the daily lift ticket prices at Ski Anthony Lakes, watched for specials and stayed late or got in early so I could justify doing andquot;researchandquot; on Thursday afternoons.

Here's what I found out:

THURSDAY 1/2 DAY: A full-price lift ticket is $32; after 1 p.m., tickets are $23. Thursdays are half-price, $16; after 1 p.m., $11.50. On a Thursday afternoon, that works out to less than $4 an hour for lift service on what can be the best powder day of the week.

Here's why: Ski Anthony Lakes is open Thursday through Sunday. That means the first customers to ski any early-week storms will be lining up at the Rock Garden lift on Thursday mornings. I haven't pulled that off this year, but there are so few Thursday morning customers that they can't possibly ski all of a big dump like last week's 13 inches by 1 p.m.

CHARITY: I rounded up enough donations to the Red Cross ski-a-thon earlier this winter to earn free tickets for myself and a friend.

SPECIAL EVENTS: The Super Bowl draws skiers away from the mountain, so Ski Anthony Lakes offered $10 lift tickets to anyone wearing a football jersey. Turnout was slim, which meant fresh powder and clear sunshine for myself and maybe three dozen other people. It was a bluebird day for the powderhounds and the game didn't even start until after the lifts stopped running!

READ THE ADS: Gentry Ford and Ski Anthony Lakes do some co-operative marketing. One such venture: a full-color ad in GO! Magazine offering a free lift ticket to anybody who test drove a new Subaru, and a season pass to anyone who buys one. That sort of incentive put my caboose on the lift last Saturday to share the news about Gentry and Anthony's deal with other skiers and ride the plentiful powder for free.

GASOLINE: I never had the chance to put this one together for myself, but Anthony Lakes offers two-for-one tickets on Fridays with a qualifying purchase at a participating Shell station.

TAKE A KID SKIING: The Fifth Grade Passport program offers free rental, lesson and lift ticket to fifth graders every Sunday in March, plus a free ticket per kid for the adults.

BUY EARLY: Yes, you've missed out on this year. But this year isn't over.

andquot;We still have got a lot of great snow,andquot; says Jerry Krieg, the marketing for Ski Anthony Lakes. andquot;The key is to get them up here at the end of this year which will fuel next year's riding.andquot;

And how do they propose to do that? By selling early bird season passes for 2006/07 staring Saturday and allowing you to ski the remaining 15 days of this season on next season's pass.

andquot;It's great for people who've just learned this year,andquot; Krieg said. andquot;They can buy their pass for next year and get that 15 day advantage.andquot;

That, and next ski season is barely nine months away. It's never too early to start saving money.