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Skiing and snowboarding are pricey, but it doesn’t have to be a four-figure weekend. With a little extra planning, these cost-saving methods can help you cut the cost of your ski trip in half—or more.
1. Go to a “Locals” Mountain
Wherever there’s a big-name resort you’ve heard of, chances are there are smaller, “locals-only” mountains nearby, too. Colorado, Vermont, and Utah, in particular, are chock-full of these hidden gems, where lift tickets are regularly cheaper than at the bigger resorts nearby.
These places don’t have fancy ski-in, ski-out hotels or restaurants, and often have no on-slope lodging options at all. But don’t brush them aside. They can be extremely friendly to skiers and snowboarders of all levels, with affordable lessons, snow tubing, expert-only terrain accessible by foot or snowcat, and cross-country skiing tracks. These mountains are also more likely to offer discounts and deals.
2. Buy Your Tickets Ahead of Time
Buying day-of lift tickets at the mountain is the most expensive way to ski in North America. Instead, to save money, buy your lift tickets online. Research bundles, like multi-day passes with gear rentals, and ski-and-stay packages, especially during weekdays and off-peak weekends. And if the hotel where you’re staying for your getaway sells tickets on-site, it can be even cheaper, not to mention it’ll save you time.
3. Don’t Rent Gear on the Mountain
Renting skis or snowboards on the mountain can be super-easy—there’s no need to haul your gear to or from the parking lot, and you can often change out your boots for no extra fee if you accidentally rent the wrong size. But these conveniences can double or triple the cost of gear rentals. Instead, plan ahead and stop at a rental shop closer to home or on the way to the mountain.
Exit 240 Skis, for example, is on the way from Denver to many of Colorado’s biggest-name (and most expensive) resorts—Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Aspen, and more. Their rental packages start at $20 per day. REI is another big name and popular option for gear rentals if you are leaving from a major city center.
4. Stay in a Hostel
Hostels aren’t just for backpacking trips in Europe. Throughout the US, many popular ski areas in North America have boutique hostels and guesthouses where solo travelers can stay for under $100 a night, even during peak season. Many of these hostels offer services like discounted rentals, shuttles to the mountain, and free events to foster community among guests. Many also offer private room accommodations, so you can save even more if you bring a friend or partner.
5. Know Where to Watch for Deals
Sign up for emails from the resort where you plan to ski, or regularly check their website and calendar for deals. Many offer student or locals’ discounts or will let you ski cheaper if you show a season pass with any other mountain.
Keep an eye on local businesses, too. During ski season, gas stations in and near the mountains often run promotions where you can get free or discounted lift tickets for buying a certain number of gallons of gas. Grocery stores and other shops sometimes give out coupons. And—if you’ve got the patience for a hard sales pitch—car dealerships near the mountains occasionally offer free lift tickets in exchange for test-driving a car.
6. Be Strategic About Your Ski Pass
Depending on how much you want to ski, having a pass might be more economical than buying a day ticket, even if you don’t plan to ski more than a full-day or two at any one mountain. Before buying a season pass to your favorite resort or committing to a multi-day pass where you plan to vacation, research some of the bigger passes that cover dozens of mountains all over the world.
The IKON and Epic passes, for example, offer access to famous resorts like Aspen, Steamboat, Snowbird, Vail, Park City, and many more. If you are considering a ski vacation outside of North America both passes also offer access to resorts all over the world. Passes are generally cheapest before the season begins, so plan as far in advance as you can. Also, keep in mind that many passes come with a limited number of discounted tickets for friends.
7. Bring Friends
Rally a group of friends to travel with you so you can all share the costs of a car rental and large vacation home. If you can persuade enough people, you might be able to afford a sweet ski-in, ski-out home that you otherwise might not have been able to swing on your own. Plus, you’ll have access to a kitchen, so you can take turns cooking meals and share the cost of groceries. Some mountains, like Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, also let you park in the good lots for free if you have a certain number of people in your car.
8. Join (Or Start) a Ski Share
If you want to ski a lot this season but don’t live close enough to the mountains to justify all the driving, a ski share can be a more economical option than staying in a hotel. You and a group of friends rent out a large condo or cabin for the peak-season months and share the cost equally. Having a full-time resident, like a ski resort employee, to pay a larger share makes this cheaper. Further lower the monthly cost by charging a nightly fee for any guests ski share participants bring with them. Pool this money and split it evenly when your lease is up.
9. Thrift Your Gear
If you plan to ski a lot but don’t have the cash to buy all-new gear, check out Craigslist, Facebook’s marketplace, and secondhand sporting goods stores. You may be able to score a full set of gear for under $100 this way. It won’t be the fanciest, highest-tech stuff, and it might need a bit of TLC, but you can put aside.
10. Learn How to Backcountry Ski
Save up to take an avalanche safety course and make the transition from frontcountry to back for some of the best skiing out there. It’s a lot more work to ski uphill than it is to take a lift, but you won’t have to compete for powder runs, battle any crowds, or pay high lift ticket prices. Getting backcountry gear—you’ll need different boots and bindings, plus a shovel, probe, and beacon—is no small investment, but it will ultimately save you thousands on lift tickets.