Shortly after I learned to walk, my parents strapped skis to my feet and deposited me at ski school. What started out as the hobby of young-marrieds has now become a passion for their grown children.
But there’s just one problem with this: skiing is expensive!
I devoted much of my early adulthood to figuring out how to pursue my passion while pinching my pennies. Here are my best tips to make the most of the mountain while getting the biggest bang for your buck!
Have an awesome tip you want to share? Please leave it in the comments section!
The Cheapskate’s Guide to Snow Skiing and Snowboarding
1) Never buy lift tickets at the resort: At this point, I consider it almost an insult to walk up to the ticket counter at the ski resort and purchase a lift ticket for the day. What? Was I born yesterday?! From season passes to local deals, you can save a small fortune on your lift ticket if you just do a little research.
If you’re really passionate about a particular ski resort or group of jointly owned ski resorts, consider purchasing a season pass. I have a friend who bought a pass to the Heavenly family of resorts this year, and after his fourth day on the mountain, he’s basically skiing for free.
If you can’t commit to just one resort like me, shop for deals via your local sports and grocery stores. In Colorado, King Soopers sells discounted lift tickets to most Denver area resorts and in the Northern California area we depend on the discounted passes from Sports Basement, Lombardis Sports, and Lucky/SaveMart. And I’m hearing a lot of interesting chatter on the Internet about finding deals on ebay, but I’ve never tried it personally.
2) Never rent gear at the slopes: Unless you found some kind of online deal, the ski and snowboard rentals at the base of the mountain are generally a terrible deal. Thanks to poor planning, I have paid as much as six to ten times the going rate for ski rentals at the base of the mountain.
It would be easy to convince yourself that you’re paying for the convenience of not hauling your gear up the mountain, but in my experience, the lines at the rental shop at the ski resort are so long that you’ll lose an hour minimum of good skiing time.
Research a deal in a town near the slopes or even in the city where you live and throw your gear in your car. Even my tiny Honda Accord can handle several pairs of skis so don’t rule out this option, even if you don’t have a ski rack.
3) Never buy gear at the slopes: If you drop a glove while on the lift and want to buy a replacement, that’s fine. But beyond “emergency gear replacement,” you want to avoid buying ski and snowboarding gear on the mountain.
Use the ski season to demo gear that you’re interested in purchasing and then wait until the end of the season to strike. My beloved Sports Basement in San Francisco will allow you to demo skis and apply the demo fees you accrue all season long toward the purchase of skis. Even better, at the end of the season, they begin to sell off all their old gear. It’s the perfect time to score an incredible deal.
If you don’t live near a good discount sports shop, follow the same model but use the Internet for purchases. Demo ski and snowboard gear during the winter and then begin monitoring sites for sales on what you like. Don’t miss awesome sites like Steep and Cheap (which has one incredible deal a day), Backcountry.com, Sports Basement, and of course, ebay.
Remember, real powder hounds NEVER pay retail.
4) The condo controversy: Okay, I’m probably a little hard core but just hear me out. I don’t stay at the slopes when I go skiing. I live in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe is three hours away. I’m on the road by 6am, on the slopes by 9am, done for the day at 4pm, and back home by 7pm. Now obviously this plan is not for everyone and I understand that. But when I tell people how manageable it is and how much money it saves me, I see them coming around to the idea a little.
By going up and back in the same day, I avoid nearly all of the dreaded Bay Area traffic and I save quite a bit on my lodging. And if you wanted to do this option but not drive, research if there’s a ski shuttle in your area. In San Francisco many people take the Bay Area Ski Bus, which also serves other ski areas like Jackson Hole and Salt Lake City. For just $109 you can enjoy a ride up there, a breakfast on the bus, a lift ticket to your resort, and apres-ski snacks on the way home. Even better, you can spend your time watching movies on the bus, instead of driving, and the carbon emissions for your trip will be way less.
If you must stay at the slopes, I highly recommend checking out Travelocity’s Top Secret Hotels. By booking at the last minute and not knowing the hotel’s name, you could save up to 55% on your stay.
And finally, considering going in on a condo share with a group of friends for the season. While I’ve never tried this option, I know many devoted skiers who swear by it.
5) Pack your own food: This is something my parents taught me oh so long ago and it remains true to this day. The food at ski resorts is insanely expensive–and often not very delicious. My parents packed a full lunch for everyone in our group in watertight plastic bags, and then buried the lunches in the snow near the lodge where they wanted to eat. Come lunch your drink is cold and your food is waiting on you!
To me, this is a little more effort than I’m willing to put forth and instead I eat a big breakfast on my way up the mountain, a granola bar hidden in my coat midday, and then treat myself to a mid-afternoon beer and snack. Not only do I save a lot of money, I save a lot of time on the slopes too. The lunch rush at the lodge can easily cost you $30 and 1.5 hours.
When it comes to hydration, I stick to the water fountains–which are greener than bottled water and free! But another good idea is to make a one-time investment in a CamelBak and fill it up with tap water at home.
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