Every year when the snow starts falling, eager skiers and snowboarders plot their path to the mountains for the upcoming season. While some will stay in slope-side luxury and barely bat an eye at three figure ticket prices, others will be limited by how much they can spend. Although skiing and snowboarding will never be an inexpensive sport, there are still many ways that you can save money at the mountains.
Names like Aspen and Park City might impress your friends, but it will always be very challenging to find good value at these high end resorts. When choosing a winter destination, keep in mind that the mountains themselves are millions of years old and are impervious to our marketing hype. For the best value, follow the locals to smaller ski areas that might be close to major cities or perhaps a little off the beaten path. For example, Loveland and Arapahoe Basin ski areas are half the distance from Denver to Aspen, while Solitude and Brighton are just as far from Salt Lake City as Park City is.
Before Thanksgiving, many ski areas are eager to lock in vacationers by offering specials on lift tickets or even season passes. Some require you to be present in the region to purchase them, while others can be bought online.
Locals know that inexpensive lift tickets can be purchased in the early season, and sold off to vacationers in the middle of winter. Look in online market places such as Craigslist and Ebay for some great deals on lift tickets.
There are two markets for lift tickets; people who fly in from out of town, and those who drive to the slopes. Since the out of town visitors have already purchased lodging, the ski areas don’t feel like they have to drop their prices for them once they arrive. In contrast, competing mountains slash their prices at locations frequented by locals. Look for discount lift tickets in nearby major cities at supermarkets, sporting good stores, and in coupon books.
If you are planning on skiing or snowboarding for more than a few days a year, you really should own your own equipment. Renting is time consuming and expensive, while those with their own equipment head straight to the lift. Furthermore, selecting your own boots allows you to find the pair that fit better, perform best, and are the most comfortable. Since good equipment should last at least 100 days of use, your cost will always be lower than renting over the long term.
One of the big costs hitting people who travel to the mountains by air are baggage fees. Airlines are charging outrageous checked bag fees that hit skiers and their bulky luggage extra hard. Fortunately, there are ways around these charges. First, try to fly Southwest or Jetblue as they still allow two and one checked bag respectively without extra fees. If you must fly other airlines, investigate their credit card offerings to see if they waive fees for cardholders and their companions. For example, many Delta SkyMiles cards offer one free checked bag for up to nine people traveling together. Having this card can easily save hundreds of dollars in fees for a large group going skiing or snowboarding.
Many skiers sleep in and get just a few hours of runs in before lunch, only to retire early to the hot tub. If you aren’t going to be out there the whole day, consider just purchasing a half day ticket. Many resorts will give you a partial refund of your ticket price if you return your lift pass before lunch.
Skiers and snowboarders need a lot of gear, but by the time you reach the mountain, the resorts have you where they want you. There’s not a more expensive place to buy hats, gloves, goggles, and other gear than at the base of the mountain or in a resort town. To save money on gear, look for sales in major cities before the ski season begins. Also, mail order catalogs offer great prices throughout the year.
There are great deals in the early season, but there is not always snow. In the early spring, the prices have gone down while the snow depth is still at its peak. Add some longer, warmer, and more sunny days, and you have the recipe for some great skiing and some great deals.
This year, you can save money and enjoy a great mountain vacation. By taking some time to plan your trip, you can get in some great skiing and snowboarding for less than you might think.