Colorado is a top ski destination with ski resorts for every kind of skier, over 27 mountains to choose from and amazingly fluffy snow. It’s one of our favorite states to take a winter vacation in, but to make it affordable, we do our research and come up with ways to save on a Colorado ski trip so we don’t break the bank. You can, too! Hop along as we explore ways to save on a Colorado ski trip. You just may be able to put that money toward another ski trip!
How to Save on a Colorado Ski Trip Based on When and Where You Ski
Plan to Ski Off-Peak
I know. We don’t always have control of when we can travel. School and work schedules often determine vacation time. But if you have any kind of flexibility, you can save a lot of money by skiing off-peak. When is off-peak? Pre-Christmas in December, it is quiet. January, especially the first few weeks of January while kids are freshly back in school and parents are recovering financially from the holidays, is nice, too. Later in March and during spring skiing in April are also quieter times. Consult our month-by-month guide to skiing Colorado to pick your best time to visit. When you ski at a quieter time, you can spend more time skiing and less time waiting in lift lines, saving you money AND time.
We always say the early frog gets the flies, and the early bookers get the best locations for the best prices. Many of the more desirable affordable options go first. Then, once you’ve booked your lodging, all your other plans such as flights, rental cars, lift tickets and activities can fall into place.
Find the Cheapest Family Mountains
There are many great family ski mountains in Colorado, but some of them cost a lot less than others. You are going to find more affordable accommodations, deals and lift tickets at Keystone and Breckenridge compared to Vail and Beaver Creek. But these slightly less-expensive mountains are still large enough resorts and provide a great skiing experience for all levels. Keystone and Breckenridge have a lot of terrain for beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers. Plus, these resorts offer lot of family-friendly entertainment. There are even more budget-friendly resorts with inexpensive lift tickets, but they do not offer as much for families with beginner skiers as the larger resorts.
How to Save on Lift Tickets and Lodging
Get the Best Prices on Lift Tickets
There are many ways to save on a Colorado ski trip when it comes to lift tickets. Friends don’t let friends buy single day lift tickets at the mountain the same day they ski! That is the most expensive way to ski. Consider the Frog Family your budget buddies when it comes to saving on lift tickets. You might get tired of hearing us say “book early,” but for almost all Colorado ski resorts, you will save money by booking multi-day lift tickets at least 7 days in advance. (There’s an exception to this for active-duty or retired military who can get great discounts at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge or Keystone at the ticket window.) Look at the tickets to see which other resorts the tickets can be used at, because you might be able to hop around if you want to check out multiple resorts on your journey.
If you are skiing during a holiday period, you should expect peak pricing vs. skiing during a weekday or quieter time late in the season (such as late March and into April). The timing of your trip can help you to save money on lift tickets, as well.
If you’re a good planner, the best way to lock in savings is to purchase a multi-mountain Epic Pass several months before the ski season begins. The earlier you get a jump on purchasing, the lower the price. Spring is the best time to purchase for the following season. Undercover Tourist sells select Epic Passes that will save you a bundle. You can purchase with restrictions to save money, but these passes have blockout dates near holidays. The unrestricted passes can be used any time.
What we love about the Epic Pass is that it is good at any Vail-owned resort (including the pricier options). The Colorado resorts on the Epic Pass include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and now Crested Butte! You can use all of your Epic Pass days at one resort and in one trip, or you can hop around to all of the resorts or take several trips to Colorado. The Epic Pass is also good at other great ski resorts such as the Lake Tahoe resorts (including Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood), Park City, Utah and others.
If you did not get an Epic Pass in time for the current season, you need another plan to save on lift tickets. Undercover Tourist has lift ticket and lodging packages that can help you save money on a Colorado ski trip! Just bundle your lift ticket purchase with lodging to lock in your savings. Always check to see if a lift ticket is included with any lessons you may have booked. If you are fairly new to skiing and aren’t ready for the top of the mountain, you might be able to get by with a less expensive beginner lift ticket that services just the beginner lifts until you are comfortable enough to go higher.
If Steamboat Springs or the Aspen Snowmass resorts are in your plans, you’ll want to purchase online seven days in advance for the best price. At Aspen, the motivation to do so is even more savings. The resort will give you a one-time, $20 on-mountain dining voucher with adult ticket of 6 or more days, $100 off per day of ski school and guided experiences and discounts on rentals. The Ikon Pass, good at Steamboat and Aspen, is similar to the Epic Pass. You can buy the pass early before the ski season is underway if you plan to do a lot of skiing at those resorts.
Look for Kids Ski Free Options
At many family ski resorts near Denver such as Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail and Beaver Creek, kids under 5 ski free. You need to pick up the free lift ticket at the window. At Steamboat, kids under 5 can ski inexpensively (for $10) and at Aspen Snowmass, kids 6 and under ski for free! And speaking of lift tickets … if you’ll be going to Keystone, you’ll save even more because at Keystone, kids ski free with a minimum two-night stay at applicable lodging. You'll have no lift ticket cost for kids 12 and under! Ribbit! Always be sure to ask questions when you book because you might discover some good deals.
Take Advantage of First-Time and Never-Ever Deals
If you are new to skiing, choose one of the less-expensive ski resorts. Chances are you won’t be getting to take advantage of all of the skiing that big and glamorous resorts have to offer. You’ll be on the “bunny hill.” We highly recommend lessons to gain the skills and confidence you need to become a successful skier. Then, take those skills higher on the mountain and explore more resorts.
Lift tickets are often included with first time ski lessons for adults and kids. If not, they can be included at a steep discount. The pricing of first time lessons is significantly less than other lessons. Definitely take advantage of the savings and the safety! Plus, the advantage to being in a lesson if you are visiting during a crowded time is that lessons and ski school groups skip lift lines! We love skipping lines! Did you know January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month? You can find special January deals for Never Ever Ski and Snowboard packages.
Find Out If You Need Adaptive Lessons
Does someone in your group have physical or cognitive disabilities? They can succeed at skiing and snowboarding with the right type of instruction provided in adaptive lessons. The lessons are affordable and lift tickets and equipment may be included. Some resorts provide a companion a buddy pass, too!
Purchase Ski School in Advance
Yep, the secret to saving on ski lessons is to book them in advance, but there are other smart tips to save on a Colorado ski trip lesson. Group lessons are cheaper than private lessons. However, if your entire family is learning together, you can save money on a family lesson for up to seven people and stay together. You can also save on multi-day lessons, which offer the advantage of helping you progress in the program over a couple of days. Be sure to budget tipping the instructors into the cost.
If you are an intermediate or advanced skier, you can also take a free tour, which is not the same as a lesson. But, you can follow a guide and learn about the mountain, and you might pick up some great tips for free. Let’s say your kids are in very different places than you are in terms of skills; put the kids in ski school. Kid lessons may include lunch and lift tickets, and you may be able to add equipment rentals inexpensively. Some Keystone packages include a helmet rental, but at other resorts, you may need to rent or bring one. You'll want to book at least 48 hours in advance at most Colorado resorts.
Save on Traveling to Colorado
Find the Cheapest Airports
Before you book that ski hotel, make sure you can find flights that suit your budget into airports that will work for you. You’ll generally have more direct flights and budget-friendly choices flying into the large Denver airport than into some of the smaller airports closer to some destinations. Are some of the best family ski resorts near Denver, Colorado on your must-ski list? Look up the distance you’ll need to drive to factor in time getting to your destination. It’s also smart to acclimate slowly to altitude to prevent altitude sickness. We like to fly into Denver late in the day, stay overnight at a hotel along the way and then make our way higher in elevation to the ski resort in the morning to give ourselves time to adjust. Here are some tips on how to prevent altitude sickness, which can come in handy when visiting Colorado.
See If Your Ski Resort Offers Free Skiing the Day You Fly
Sometimes there can be perks to flying into other airports that make it worth the extra expense. At Steamboat Springs, you can receive free night skiing on your day of arrival when you fly into Steamboat/Hayden. Just show your boarding pass at the ticket window. And with certain airlines, such as Alaska, you also get free skiing at Steamboat on your departure date, as well! Two free lift tickets and a shorter drive may make a flight worth the price difference.
Use Miles or Credit Card Perks
Several months in advance, see what airlines fly to your destination in Colorado from your home airport and apply for credit cards with those airlines. You can use airline credit cards to get free flights with points, free companion fares and free checked luggage. And skiing comes with a lot of luggage in terms of bulky clothes and sport equipment. Each Alaska Airlines Visa card has an annual free companion fare, plus you can earn free flights with the points.
The free checked bags benefit of your credit card really comes in handy for us. My wife Flora and I each got a card so the tadpoles fly free with us to Colorado. (There are taxes on the companion fare, so it’s not exactly free, but it saves over buying two tickets.) We jump for the savings we get on free checked bags. You see, Flora likes to bring her own skis and boots. Speaking of skis and boots, most airlines count the ski bag and boot bag together as one item. Here are some tips for flying with skis to ease your journey.
Save on Food and Entertainment
Hit Happy Hour
After a day of skiing, our family is famished. We hop into a restaurant offering happy hour specials and turn après ski into an early dinner.
Bring Snacks and Meals or Do Some of Your Own Cooking
If your lodging has any kind of kitchen (even a mini refrigerator and microwave will help), you can save a lot of money by making your own meals. We like to save time and money by eating breakfast in our hotel or condo. We often pack some energy bars in everyone’s pockets for snacks and have been known to throw some sandwiches in a backpack for lunch. Ski lodge food is pricey, so if you can limit your purchases there, you will save big time.
Use Free Transportation
Many Colorado ski resorts and ski towns have free buses to get you from your lodging to the ski resort or the store. Hop on the free shuttles to save on parking and gas.
Find FREE Activities and Snacks
Many of the best Colorado Ski Resorts for families have a lot going on in terms of entertainment. Your mission is to find the most bang for no buck. That means looking over the calendar of events for each resort. You may find parades, snow play activities, dress-up contests, musical entertainment, festivals and fireworks. You might score free cookies at the end of the day (thanks, Beaver Creek and Keystone). Vail offers free snow shoeing. The historic town of Breckenridge has free art classes and museums. Look for the Yeti at Keystone and let the kids play in the Kidtopia Snow Fort (but you do need a lift ticket or scenic ticket to get there). Or, you can stop by Kidtopia Headquarters for games, toys and more.
Find more free entertainment on your own. Swim in the hotel pool. Take a scenic ride on a gondola during the free afternoon hours at Vail. There is a lot of winter family fun you can have without it costing you an arm and a frog leg. We haven’t yet met kids who will turn down family snowball fights, making snow angels or building snowmen!
We hope you’ve found these ways to save on a Colorado ski trip hopful in planning your epic family ski vacation. Chances are, you’ll need a rental car to get you from the airport to your ski resort. Did you know you can get a jump on savings by booking a Denver area car rental through Undercover Tourist? We’ve also hopped into discount ski hotels at some of the best family ski resorts in Colorado.