The slopes are opening in top ski destinations and Hotels.com is encouraging travel planners to book now for the best deals.

"We know that people like to wait until the last minute to make travel plans, but I'm here to tell you that that is not the way to get the best deals," said Carl Minto-Sparks, senior vice president of marketing and retail operations for Hotels.com. "The 2006 ski season is set to be full and fun, so book now to get the best deals and to have a wider selection of accommodations. Also, consider alternative lodging options like vacation rentals to accommodate your family, friends and ski gear."

Hotels.com Tips for Planning Lodging for a Snow Vacation

- By booking before the New Year, you'll get the best deals. If you prefer to enjoy the slopes after the holidays, you will find the best rates by booking dates prior to President's weekend.

- Location! Location! Generally, the closer your rooms are to the slopes, the higher the cost of the lodging. But, if you stay close enough to the slopes, you may be able to avoid car rental costs.

- Vacation Rental accommodations are a great lodging alternative for groups and families. Try a condo with kitchenette facilities. The cost per person is often less than the price of a traditional hotel. (hotels.com has more than 2,000 vacation rental properties).

- Make plans to arrive in the late afternoon or early evening to give time to acclimate to the altitude and to prepare for hitting the slopes the next morning.

- Plan on arriving to the mountain about 30 minutes before the lifts open to get your equipment squared away and beat the crowds.

- Reserve your equipment in advance, especially around peak season.

- Ski schools are often booked well in advance, you'll want to take care of this as soon as you've determined where and when you'll be skiing or snow boarding.