Skiing and snowboarding vacations are expensive, but these tips can help you stretch your budget this ski season.
Whether you’re a die-hard powder hound or simply curious about why people subject themselves to a gear-intensive sport that takes place outside in cold, snowy conditions (hint: because nothing comes closer to feeling like you can fly), you no doubt know that skiing and snowboarding are expensive.
For decades the slopes were the purview of the elite, but thanks to changes in how we pay for a day of skiing, where we buy gear, and how to shop for accommodations in ski towns, it’s never been easier to ski on a budget. Here’s how.
What’s that, you say? You’re not sure you’ll use it that much? Not a problem. These days, season passes are good for multiple mountains, as opposed to the one-stop passes of yore. It’s too late to buy a Vail Resorts Epic Pass because the last day to buy was 11/18, but you can purchase an Ikon Pass through 12/13. This pass offers a range of unlimited and limited skiing at 38 destinations around the world (the bulk are in North America). The pass costs $750 (it’s cheaper in the spring). Given that most resorts charge upwards of $125 for a day pass at the ticket window, this is a great choice if you’re going to ski six days or more.
Another pass to consider is the Mountain Collective, which offers two days at 17 resorts around North America along with a suite of other discounts for $470.
Ski and snowboard boots are expensive and it’s worth buying them new from a boot expert at a specialty shop because they are the piece of gear that most impacts the quality of your experience. Not only are they critical for comfort, they impact how well you can navigate your board or boards, and a proper fit is critical. Don’t skimp on ski boots. Also: buy a helmet. Your head is worth it.
Do, however, skip on the price of new skis or a snowboard, especially if you’re not sure whether you love the sport and want to keep doing it. Today’s rental shops have everything from top-of-the-line equipment to anyone-can-turn-these-boards quality, and you can rent a package for as little as $35/day. Plus, renting lets you try out a bunch of different brands so you know what you want if and when you decide to purchase.
On-mountain dining is no joke, especially when it comes to price. At many resorts, a $15 hamburger would be considered a steal and $5 French fries are par for the course. Pack a lunch. And snacks.
Keep energy bars or things that could freeze in pockets close to your body, and either throw your sandwich in another pocket or in a fanny pack or small backpack. Most resorts have at least one or two base lodges where bringing your own grub is smiled upon.
If you’re headed to the mountains for a multi-day ski trip and packing up food, remember to throw in some plastic sandwich bags and other food carrier things, otherwise you might end up with a PB&J leaking jelly through a napkin in your jacket pocket.
Or instant coffee. Or even ramen noodles. Yes, we’ll admit this is taking the save-money-ski-bum thing a bit far, but most mountain cafeterias will give you a cup of hot water for free or for a nominal price. That’s one way to save $5. The same thinking applies to carrying your own water bottle that you can refill at any restroom on the mountain.
Resorts don’t charge to park just to make buckets of money. They also want to encourage people to carpool more or to take public transportation when it’s available. Whether you drive to the mountain solo or with some friends, you should always search for free parking in advance. Most of the time there’s parking on a frontage road or nearby lot and often there will be a free shuttle to take you from there to here. Worst case, you might have to schlep for five to 10 minutes, but it’s worth it if you consider that fees at most day parking lots at resorts start around $20.
Got little kids? Bring friends. It’s easy to carve out space for a toddler in a resort base lodge. Rather than shelling out $125/day on nursery fees, bribe a friend (for the price of a beer or latte) to watch junior for a few hours. You spin laps, then they can head off on their own time. This works even better for parents who can take turns. If you have friends who have children, consider doing a kid swap for a couple of hours so that everyone gets some ski time.
The most important thing about what to wear on the slopes is comfort, which means warmth, nothing itchy, and nothing too tight. Sure, a person could drop $1,000 on a new get-up (Bogner for some, Patagonia for others), but that’s unnecessary. Costco and other big box stores in cold country always sell gloves and warm jackets this time of year.
If you have any technical wear at home that you use for running, biking, or even going to the gym, wear that instead of buying new base layers. You’ll need a thin, technical top and bottom, wool socks, a fleece or wool insulating top layer, possibly a down vest (if you get really cold), and a waterproof jacket. You’ll also need mittens or gloves and goggles.
Sweeter words have never been whispered in a ski town where throngs of restaurants competing for tired, happy diners slash prices between the time lifts shut down and dinner time. With $7 pizzas and $2.50 beer (common prices/items on happy hour menus), a diner could have dinner for less than $10 before tax and tip.
Headed up overnight? You’ll pay top dollar for the privilege of walking from your condo to the gondola. But you can score major last-minute deals at basic, budget hotels by simply calling and asking for availability and their best price (nine times out of ten this is more efficient and effective than searching online).
Air B&B can yield great deals, but finding them can be a time suck. If you don’t mind basic lodging, search for a hostel in the town where you’re headed or one of the trendier “Adventure Lodges,” to find shared rooms at double-digit prices.
About the Author: Rachel Walker is a freelance writer and editor in Boulder, Colorado. Her work appears frequently in the Washington Post, Inspirato, Sierra and other publications. Follow her on Twitter: @racheljowalker