MOUNTAIN HIGH, BUDGET LOW
Skiing and snowboarding are annual activities for many people, but a ski trip can be an expensive tradition. With a bit of advance planning and the help of online resources, it's possible to save money every step of the way, from travel to equipment rental.
LOOK FOR PACKAGE DEALS
Buying a ski vacation package that includes lodging, lift tickets, airfare, and equipment, instead of making arrangements piecemeal, is often the best way to pare costs. Scour daily deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial and specialized sites such as Ski Coupons, Ski.com, and SnowPak, which break down deals by region.
AVOID BIG-NAME RESORTS
It's not uncommon for several resorts to be positioned near each other. Don't hesitate to compare prices before deciding exactly where to go. To help plan a trip, look for resources that focus on a particular region, such as Ski Utah and Ski Lake Tahoe. Choosing a lesser-known resort may mean missing out on some of the "best" routes, but the lift ticket is bound to be cheaper and the slopes less crowded.
SHARE A RIDE
Many people opt to drive to a nearby mountain rather than fly to a ski destination. Find organized bus trips through local ski and snowboard clubs and outdoor stores, or try carpooling for a little more flexibility. Sharing a car with fellow skiers is a way to meet new people and split fuel costs. The "rideshare" area on Craigslist is one well-known resource for finding rides or passengers.
CHECK FOR DISCOUNTED LIFT TICKETS
Get the best prices on lift tickets by buying in advance. Liftopia is a tried-and-true source for discounted tickets. Sometimes lift tickets are part of buy-one-get-one deals or discounted with select purchases at gas stations and grocery stores. The only way skiers and snowboarders should have to pay full price for a lift ticket is by arriving at the resort without one.
BUY PARTIAL LIFT TICKETS
Some resorts offer discounted lift tickets that allow access for part of the day or only to select runs. Even frequent skiers or snowboarders may want to save a little money and take a day to refresh their skills or a morning to recover from travel.
QUALIFY FOR EXTRA DISCOUNTS ON LIFT TICKETS
Students, active duty military, and seniors may be able to snag discounts on lift tickets with a valid ID. Paid membership organizations, such as AAA or Costco, sometimes offer discounted tickets for local mountains.
BUY MULTI-MOUNTAIN PASSES
TRY A NEW ACTIVITY
Ski resorts generally offer winter activities and entertainment that cost less than lift tickets. Lay off the slopes for a day and try snow tubing or an adventure park to lower the overall price of a ski vacation.
GO ON OFF DAYS
Skiing on weekends, especially holiday weekends, rather than weekdays typically requires more expensive lift tickets. Getting time off to vacation during the week may be difficult, but for those fortunate few with a flexible schedule, a midweek ski trip may be the cheapest option.
WATCH THE WEATHER
Ski enthusiasts who live close to a mountain should check in at the slopes when a storm delays flights and forces cancellations. The powder is fresh and the resort needs customers, so there could be a deal worth jumping on. On the flip side, lack of fresh snow can deter some skiers and lead to savings for others who don't mind less than ideal conditions.
RENT SKIS OR A SNOWBOARD
Anyone who plans to partake in downhill winter sports only infrequently should rent, rather than buy, equipment. Look for websites that rent gear and offer free shipping, or reserve equipment for on-site pickup. This tactic is cheaper than renting on the spot at the resort and lets anyone traveling by plane avoid paying oversize baggage fees.
The idea of renting ski outfits may strike some people as odd, but it makes sense for families whose children will surely outgrow the necessities from one year to the next. Sports shops and websites that rent skis and snowboards may offer coats, waterproof pants, gloves, and goggles.
INVEST IN EQUIPMENT
Skiers serious enough to take several trips during the season can save big-time by purchasing and transporting their own gear. A secondhand store or an alternative source, such as an REI "garage sale," can be a treasure trove of deals. (REI events are open to store members only, but the $20 lifetime fee quickly pays for itself.) Buying ski equipment online also may save money, and deal sites such as GearScan feature discounted rates. Always double-check the return policy before buying.
JOIN THE CLUB
Joining a ski and snowboard club could be an unbeatable deal for enthusiasts. Most impose an annual fee, but members get access to club-specific deals, advice, and organized trips. Plus, it's a chance to meet fellow skiers and snowboarders.
DON'T EAT OUT
Meals at ski resorts are pricey. A fresh hot cocoa may be worth the cost, but bringing a bag lunch and leaving it in the car or a rented locker until needed is the frugal way to go. A reusable water bottle is also worth bringing, as bottled water is likely marked up significantly. Choose accommodations with a kitchen and bring enough food supplies from home to sustain everyone for the duration.
WAIT UNTIL SEASON'S END
In many places, resorts start closing up shop in April, which is prime time to ski for cheap. Fresh snow is no longer guaranteed, so resorts try to lure customers with lower rates and fees. This is also the moment when ski destinations sell used gear for extremely low prices.