Swerve Around The Costs Of Expensive Ski Vacations

Paying for a ski trip can seem like a blind run down a rough slope, with formidable costs hard to avoid as you careen down the mountain. Veterans of the slopes know how to cut down on costs so they can focus on enjoying their time in the snow.

The Frugal Toad offers these ways to save on ski trips:

* Rent from stores, not the resort. Renting your equipment is an attractive option because you don’t have to lug your bulky stuff everywhere. Resorts charge inflated rates, so save some funds by checking out a nearby shop instead.

* Buck the fashion trends. Decking yourself out in the latest, brand-name gear will make you look good, but also sap funds that you could put to better use. Instead, bundle yourself up with stuff you own. You can also find used ski clothing cheap online or at used sporting goods stores.

* Commute. Staying onsite at a major ski resort is convenient, but can carry formidable costs. Look for nearby hotels and see if they offer shuttle service, or if their rates are low enough to offset the cost of renting a car.

11 Ways to Save Money While Skiing [The Frugal Toad]

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  1. Captain Spock says:

    I was frankly SHOCKED at how much an average ski vacation costs. I went to Park City with the Fiance’s family in February and it was extremely expensive (I didn’t have to pay, so I was flabbergasted when I saw the prices after the fact). It was fun though!

    • SaltWater says:

      Funny you should mention PC, UT because compared to California, in particular Mammoth Mountain, that area is a relative bargain. Any way you slice it skiing is expensive. Saving a few bucks here and there on this and that won’t bring costs down enough to make a huge difference. Sure, eating out and high end lodging can be cut out but transportation, gear, lifts tickets and incidentals make skiing a very expensive sport.

  2. LanMan04 says:

    What is this, the 80s? People seriously deck themselves out in designer, what, coats for ski vacations?

    • thrillcook says:

      Coats($150-$300) + pants($80-$180) + Helmet($95-$250) + goggles($50-$300) + boots($250-$650) + board($175-$900) + bindings($80-$250)
      Then tickets to the lift, parking, food and fuel to get there, then lodging.
      And least of all hope you don’t still get hurt.

      • sixsevenco says:

        Who buys all of this stuff every season? I guess people that care more about fashion than function.

        All of this stuff should be bought at the end of the season for the following year. You’ll pay a fraction of the cost.

  3. James says:

    re: commuting. Staying offsite in a hotel isn’t always cheaper. I live in Colorado and have taken many many trips with family and friends.

    I always check the ski resorts lodging area for deals, and local condo rental companies as well. If have have three or more people a one bedroom condo with kitchen isn’t much more than a hotel (often the same I’ve found for multi day stays.) And you get a kitchen – so you can visit the grocery store, eat breakfast in (getting to the slopes earlier,) pack a lunch to eat on the mountain (avoiding $15 hamburgers – no joke) and be selective about eating dinner out. And often after a day of skiing you’re tired, worn out and want to stay in rather than waiting for an hour at a crowded restaurant during peak season. (and saving you money for a few NICE meals hour rather than hving to eat out every meal.)

    This alone can save hundreds of dollars in a group/family of 3-5.

    Agree on renting gear off site. Not only for the cost, but renting at a resort involves a huge assembly line procedure than can take an hour. A small local rental place lets you pop in and pop out far faster.

    • James says:

      another re: commuting. Staying on site (or in town) gives you a parking space or easy access to shuttle bus service. Parking at resorts can be $10-$20. If you’re spending money on a ski vacation you might as well stay in the ski town instead of a Motel 6 10 miles away. And in my experience the cheap motels aren’t much more than staying in town. (Compare the Days Inn in Silverthorne, Co versus a studio or condo rental closer to Breckenridge…)

      Also – if you have kids, pack extra hats, gloves, mittens etc… So WHEN they lose one you won’t have to buy a $30 pair at a local shop. (Or spend half the day looking for it before you do.) I have a duffel bag I throw in the truck for every trip. It’s full of old ski pants, old gloves, hats, liners, old goggles. When friends/family visit and need or forget something it’s all in one place and nobody has eat time time buying stuff.

      Last tip: Suncreen: Don’t skimp.

  4. Chmeeee says:

    In my opinion, staying at the resort is worth it, and can actually help you save money if you rent a condo with a full kitchen. I love being able to step outside the front door of a rental unit, step into my skis, and go. Driving/riding in a shuttle twice a day in full ski gear is a major hassle, and I don’t go on vacation to get hassled.

    Also, staying on the mountain allows me to go back to the condo for a more relaxing lunch break and cook my own lunch which avoids the overpriced, low quality crap food in most ski lodges. (plus there’s beer in the fridge)

    My most recent trip ran $300/pp for three nights lodging on the mountain for four in a nice two-bedroom condo and two days of lift tickets (plus the cost of dining). That’s actually pretty reasonable IMO.

    • James says:

      100% correct. Especially if you have out of town friends and a group — people can split up and do their own thing too being at the resort or in town.

  5. Snoofin says:

    I save a LOT of money by not going on ski vacations

  6. foodfeed says:

    Also look for local shops with discount lift tickets. Sometimes the local weekly paper in a ski town has has a few coupons. The lift ticket rates are what keep me off the slopes these days.

  7. theblackdog says:

    Another tip: Find The Doctor and borrow the TARDIS to check and see if it will actually snow or be cold before you buy a season pass to a ski resort for the following winter.

  8. speaky2k says:

    After just getting back from a ski trip recently I will have to agree with several of these. We went to Gore Mt in upstate NY. A group of 12 of us rented a condo just off the mountain (5min away) and we cooked breakfast & dinner there every day. The price of the condo for the long weekend and the number of us who went made the cost with food to be about $150 each, a single night at a regular hotel would be this. Also check around a lot of places for discount tickets. If it is a local resort, check the fast food places and even super markets. We were able to buy a ticket from a local TV station that had punch outs for 5 different ski resorts, including our local ski resort, Gore, and some other larger places, all for only $50.
    Unfortunately with the warm winter this year, I only got to go skiing twice and this is our off year for a out of the region ski vacation.

  9. Daddy-o says:

    One way to tell the *real* skiers from the wannabees: The real skiers have older, well-worn equipment and the wannabees have the latest hottest stuff with hardly a scratch.

    • cosby says:

      Please when I replaced my skis the first trip some idiot with rentals skied over the ends and scratched the crap out of them. Ski’s can get scratched fast.

      I still am rocking a set of poles from the 90’s though. The decals on them are trashed and very dated but I’m not replacing them till I break one.

  10. Anachronism says:

    I think the article is undercuttung one of the easiest ways to make skiing (relatively) affordable- make a good choice of where you decide to ski.

    I’ve lived in Colorado for close to 30 years, and get 50-60 days in a season. Haven’t been to Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, or Copper Mountain in a decade. In ten years, I’ve been to Winter Park three times, Keystone once (and probably won’t do it again, even if free). I take a day at the Aspen resorts about once a season, because my brother lives there.

    Where do I ski? 95% of my skiing is done at Sunlight Resort, Monarch, and Loveland.

    I live here. I can ski anywhere, and season pass prices for most of the above areas are CHEAP- $350 to $600. Its not the money that keeps me from skiing Breck and Vail. Its that the skiing experience SUCKS. I will not give resorts money that expect me to pay $20 for parking so I can walk my gear 1/2 miles through their fake swiss village to get to the 20 minute line for the lifts. I refuse to ski trails with 150 people a minute using the same trail.

    My tips for a good vacation, at least in Colorado:

    1. You are not Seth Morrision. Most people taking ski vacations are not top-level expert skiers. If most of your ski trip is going to be spent on groomed runs, which are almost completely interchangeable between Colorado ski areas, you don’t want to spend extra $$$ to go to Vail or the Summit Areas to have the fun of skiing groomers with thousands of other people. You want to go to a place like Sunlight, Monarch, Arapahoe Basin, Wolf Creek, Powderhorn, Loveland or Durango and get away from the crowds. The mega-areas advertise the larger amount of terrain they offer, what they don’t advertise is there are still hordes of people skiing all that terrain. Instead, go to Sunlight, where on a “crowded” weekend, you can expect your group to be the only people on the run.

    2. Maybe you are Seth Morrison. So why the hell would you want to go to most mega resorts in Colorado? If you are an expert level skiers, look past the hype. Vail is flat and tame. Breck is flat and tame. Steamboat is really flat and tame. Keystone is exceptionally flat and more tame. Winter Park? Top notch for a mogul skier, otherwise flat and tame. Again, Sunlight, Monarch, Wolf Creek, Durango, Arapahoe Basin ALL offer comparable or better expert terrain than all the ski areas listed above. The Back Bowls of Vail are an overhyped joke.

    That said, if you really are this type of skier, Telluride, Crested Butte, and the Aspen resorts are larger destination resorts that CAN bring it.

    3. Snow sucks at the big ski areas in Colorado. It really does. For one, many of them are outside the big snow bands in Colorado. Keystone gets about 250″ per year, while Breck, Copper, Winter Park, Aspen and Vail get about 275″. Loveland gets around 350″ (last year they got over 550″). Monarch gets 350″ per year. Wolf Creek consistently gets more snow that any other ski area in Colorado- its ridiculous. Furthermore, 12″ at Sunlight goes much, much further than 12″ at Vail. I get 12″ at Sunlight, I can expect untracked lines for the entire day, and really good lines the day after. I caught a 15″ day at Steamboat this year. By 9:35, if you wanted to ski anything other than crud, better find some TIGHT trees. I found myself wishing I was not on my ski vacation and was skiing my home mountain, Sunlight.

    4. Deals. http://www.coloradoski.com/colorado-gems-card Buy the card for $10 (one for each person that will get a discounted lift ticket), and go ski some great ski areas for dirt cheap. May I note that this gets you $40 day tickets at Sunlight, and $39 day tickets at Loveland, and a free day in April (best ski conditions of the year) at Monarch.

    I’m dead serious about all of this. I don’t ski the smaller Colorado ski areas because I am too poor to ski anywhere else. Season passes in Colorado are CHEAP. I ski small ski areas because in every way, the skiing experience is BETTER. Great snow. No lift lines. No pay parking. Walk straight from the parking lot to the lift. Fresh lines, friendly people, NO HASSLES.

    • sixsevenco says:

      I also live in Colorado. Setting cost aside… Your assessment of the terrain for these resorts is all wrong. Nearly ALL of the resorts you list have excellent terrain, you just need to know where to go to find it. This includes Keystone. (hint: it’s nowhere near the front of the mountain) I will concede Winter Park with all of its catwalks, but when I go there, I spend all of my time on Mary Jane anyway…

      Calling these resorts “flat” either shows you have serious biases against the large, commercial resorts, or you’re not as good of a skier as you think you are.

      Vail can be tricky. Given its sun exposure, the slopes can get pretty choppy with melted/refrozen snow. But if you catch Vail on a fresh, power day… And I LOVE the free outdoor grill at the top of Blue Sky Basin. I’ve seen people pull a full rack of ribs out of their backpacks for a lunch-time feast.

      I’ve never been particularly fond of Lovewind, but I know it has a solid fan base.

      I do agree that Wolf Creek, Telluride, and Crested Butte are exceptional. Had the best power day of my life at Wolf Creek…

      • fs2k2isfun says:

        I agree with this post.

        • James says:

          As do I. Breckenridge is a fine place. I took my niece there for private lessons while I can zoom up Peak 10 or Imperial for some expert runs, then go back down and enjoy some easy wide greens or blues with her the same day. Something for everyone.

          I’d get bored at smaller resorts after doing all the runs – and there’s not that much to do for a wide variety of skills and people.

      • Anachronism says:

        Yeah, I’m fully aware of what you can access going for a hike at Keystone. I’m aware there are some great cliff bands out the gates to East Vail. Its a shorter hike with much deeper snow at Monarch and Wolf Creek- hell, on a snow day you will get better stuff directly lift served at these areas.

        I reiterate. There is NOTHING special about the steepness or challenge of the in-bounds terrain at the areas I listed that cannot be replicated at smaller ski areas in Colorado.

        In Colorado, there are the run of the mill steeps that 90% of the ski areas have. That’s not to say that you can’t find challenging stuff, its just that its not more challenging than places where the ticket is half price, with the difference being that a lot fewer people are tearing out the snow on that terrain at the smaller places.

        Sunlight Resort, all 470 acres of it, has steeper and more techinical terrain than all of Steamboat.

        The reason the mega-resorts in Colorado got big is NOT because they have top-tier expert terrain. In many cases, the access to the expert terrain only happened long after these places were already giant.

        Expert terrain (defined by me as sustained (800+ vertical feet) of 45* or higher pitches, cliff bands, chutes, lines that requires billy goating and madatory air) can only be found at a handful of areas on Colorado. Problem is, a lot of mountains in Colorado just aren’t that steep for a sustained period. There is a huge difference between tacking 200 vertical feet of a 50* pitch in Christmas tree bowl at Steamboat (hell, you can straightline it to the runout if you want) vs. 1500 vertical in Highlands Bowl (Aspen Highlands).

        In my opinion, the only reason to spend more money than what it costs to ski at the GREAT smaller areas in Colorado is to get terrain that they don’t offer, and the only places to do that in Colorado are places like Crested Butte, Aspen, Telluride (and Silverton, which is another ball of wax entirely).

        Vail, Copper, Breck, Keystone, Winter Park (excluding world-class mogul runs), Steamboat, Beaver Creek do NOT offer terrain that is more challenging than Loveland, Wolf Creek, Monarch, Sunlight, Durango, etc.

        • sixsevenco says:

          I never said the big resorts are better than any of the other places you listed. I simply said the terrain is not as bad as you made them out to be in your OP. Others seem to agree with me.

          I’m a native. I grew up skiing Conquistador and Monarch. I love Monarch. I love the small resorts for the reasons you mention, but I also love the large resorts too.

          While I don’t like being around them, I also love tourists that bring revenue into Colorado. (lookin’ at you Texas) With this in mind, I don’t love posts that are unnecessarily negative and incorrect.

          • Anachronism says:

            “While I don’t like being around them, I also love tourists that bring revenue into Colorado. (lookin’ at you Texas) With this in mind, I don’t love posts that are unnecessarily negative and incorrect.”

            I love tourists that bring money to my state too. But the fact remains that the number of people (not ski visits, but the total number of people that actually ski or board) is both declining and their ages are getting older.

            I view the reason for this is because if you ski 50+ times a season, it has never been cheaper to ski. So, for the skiers, life is good because they ski more than they ever had in these days of affordable season passes.

            However, if you are a young family learning to ski, it has never been more expensive. Any many choose to avoid the cost because they are disgusted at how expensive it is.

            My entire goal is to point out that for all those people planning ski vacations to Colorado, they can save tons of money, ski more, and have every bit of a quality vacation at the smaller ski areas in the state.

            I’m glad people enjoy skiing all of the places I commented negatively about. If you think it is worth putting up with Breck crowds for Breck terrain, more power to you. I’m glad that you ski and have fun, because that’s what it is all about.

            However, this comment thread is about how to save money skiing, and I am convinced that by skiing the smaller areas in one of the prime ski vacation states, you can have every bit of fun, and IMO a superior experience, skiing the smaller areas. Don’t feel like you are cheating yourself by venturing off the beaten path a bit.

            • James says:

              People that vacation for a ski trip often want the full “ski trip” experience, including hot tubs, local taverns, impressive gondolas

              Plus most VISITORS aren’t going to be exert skiiers and stay on the front easy face of the mountains where it’s fun, easy, and amenities are easily found. They do a few runs, get hot chocolate, rest, and are done at 3pm. I’ve (very patiently) learned over the years not to push them.

              I got to Loveland, Echo Mountain, Eldora plenty, but when my family and friends visit I place or town that has many activities to do. (coffee shop, ice rink, tubing hill)

              By myself or with my regular ski/boarder friends it’s a different gear…

    • ajaxd says:

      Thanks for the long post.

      One thing I never knew about is resorts charging for parking. Must be a West thing. In the East I haven’t seen it.

      • Anachronism says:

        Vail charges for their lots, $20 a car. Whee! Vail decided to build condos on their old parking lots, so they have a massive parking shortage.

        Ajax mountain (Aspen) has no (none, zero) parking at its base. Aspen Highlands and Snowmass has limited pay parking. What is also annoying about the Aspen areas is that they offer no real direction on where to park, even though 3 of the 4 mountains have almost no parking. If you are skiing Highlands or Ajaz and need to park a car, you park at Buttermilk and take the shuttle bus.

        Most larger resorts in Colorado have pay parking that is closer in, and the free lots require a shuttle bus to get to the lift. In many cases (KEYSTONE, Steamboat to a lesser extent), the shuttle bus drop off forces you to walk through the base village to get to the lifts.

        What this means skiing at the larger areas is you can expect 30+ minutes in hiking, riding shuttles, etc. to get to the lift from where you park your car.

        On the flipside, a few weeks ago at Sunlight on a weekday powder day, I showed up at 8:55 AM, parked in the first spot on the lot, and went and grabbed first chair. I guess it all depend on what you value…

    • LabanDenter says:

      this post reads like one of those astroturfing fake reviews. Paid for by the resorts reviewed as being ‘good’

      • Anachronism says:

        Haw, like the little areas I’m advocating for could afford to pay me. ;)

        Yeah, I get on the bandwagon for a lot of the places I like, because I don’t think they get nearly the love they deserve.

      • clippy2.0 says:

        I did Arapohoe this summer (I think like 2 days before they closed) Even in that warm, t-shirt style weather, it was fun. free parking, cheap rentals, decent terrain. hotel in keystone wasn’t bad either. granted, it was off-season, but considering only a quarter of the mountain was open, I can only imagine how awesome it would be during normal season

  11. ole1845 says:

    Skiing has become very expensive. It’s basically an activity for people with money. I was in Colorado over Presidents Day weekend to ski and was amazed by the number of very expensive vehicles I saw driving up the mountain to Summit County. Fortunately I have money.

  12. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    Bring a couple of six packs of good craft beer to almost any rental shop, resort or not, and they will set you up with a full kit for free. I don’t know if we have ever paid for renting gear when someone comes to town.

    Pack your lunch, don’t buy it there. Plus, it’s fun to eat a PB&J on the lift!

    Ski mid-week, if you can. No lines, and places to stay are SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper.

    If you’re planning on skiing in Summit County in Colorado, check out some of the ski shuttles that run from Denver. You can save a bunch of money by staying in Denver and commuting up. Or even staying in Evergreen or Idaho Springs, which are about an hour from the resorts.

    • James says:

      what ski shuttles are operating between Denver and Summit County – aside from the airport ones which are $50+ a per person?

  13. clippy2.0 says:

    Best unknown ski tip? When you go to rent, find out if they have demo skis. These are generally the top of the line, latest great skis, rented out to let people try an awesome ski (most places have this program with the idea that you will buy the ski’s after trying them). In some cases, the cost of demo ski’s is less than the cost of the normal rental skis, because people don’t know about them. Highly recommend asking about them

    • Anachronism says:

      I don’t agree with this at all.

      1. Demo skis are a secret? I’ve never seen a rental shop that didn’t have a “Demo” line on the price board.
      2. I’ve never seen a demo rental that rents cheaper than your typical rental fleet ski.
      3. I’ve seen many “demo” ski rentals that still consist of lower-tier equipment that still doesn’t reach the level of even beginner equipment. Its hard to call it a rental when the ski is still designed and sold only for rental fleets, and even if you liked it, you can’t buy it in a store.
      4. A lot of true “demo” skis will not serve a beginner very well. For the most part, higher end skis will be stiffer, wider, and will require a correct motion to turn/carve correctly. Not fun things for a wedge or ankle-pivoting turn skier that is still figuring out edging.

      The better way to go if you are interested in getting good rental skis is to research the type of ski you are interested in skiing, and ask specifically to demo those skis. This will be a lot more effective than asking for the “secret demo” skis, because that question in itself demonstrates you don’t really have any idea what kind of a ski you want.

      And, because you are demoing skis, and the whole point is to find a pair of skis that works well for you, if you don’t like what you rented, roll back to the shop and try something else.

      • clippy2.0 says:

        It obviously varies from location to location, but I would disagree entirely with your observation about the quality. I would be shocked to find a shop that the demo skis are not better than the normal rentals. Most mountains I’ve been too, the demos will be a bit more, but never more than 20 bucks, and i’ve seen a few that it is indeed cheaper. (To be fair, I’ve only ski’d in MA, NH, and CO, so I’m sure mileage varies)

    • sixsevenco says:

      I didn’t think ski shops really did this any more… Unless you showed you were serious about buying. I guess it varies by location.

  14. Anachronism says:

    I’m posting too much in this thread, but this is like the first ski thread ever on this board.

    If you decide that you want to “save” money by buying ski equipment (you don’t really save money, but it makes it easier to justify going more often)….

    BUY BOOTS FIRST. Go to a DEDICATED ski shop, not a Sports Authority or similar big box store. DO NOT BUY SKI BOOTS OFF OF THE INTERNET. You need professional, knowledgable advice to purchase the correct boot, and often times, you then need a knowledgeable professional to modify the shell so it fits properly. 95% of people buying their first ski boot without good help will buy a boot several sizes too large. Skiing in too large of a boot will create LOTS of boot pain, and if the boot is too large, there is nothing that can be done.

    A properly fit pair of boots will do more for your skiing than any other piece of equipment. It doesn’t matter how great your skis are if you can’t move them through the snow wothout pain.

    Invest your money into the boots, and if you want to save money, hit a ski swap for some lightly used skis. Or just rent skis.

    BUY BOOTS FIRST.

    • clippy2.0 says:

      so much this. Also, boots do not fit like shoes. listen to the person you deal with. they will know better then you

  15. c_c says:

    Keep spending that $$, is what I say. It subsidizes my cheap skiing … $450 for a season pass to 5 mountains in Colorado.

    Seriously though … bring a backpack, fill with lunch and canned beer (Colorado has a lot of good canned beer), boom you just saved $25/person.

    If you have a car, find out where free parking is; most mountains have pay lots close to the lift, but free lots with a free shuttle nearby.

    VRBO … you can usually find decent rentals, if you have more than a couple of people it’s cheaper than a hotel.

  16. Michael Belisle says:

    Go nordic, but not resort nordic. Public hiking trails become cross-country trails in the winter.