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Where to Splurge and Where to Save on a First-Time Ski Trip

by Mommy Frog on June 10, 2019 Vail

There's no way around it, there are several “big ticket” items that come up on a family ski trip. If you are new to the sport, like my husband Leap, you may be wondering where to splurge and where to save on a first-time ski trip. As the family budgeter (and the family's seasoned skier), let me advise you on where to invest your money and where to save a little green. Some items are unavoidable and you need them, but I can help you find ways to save on even must-have items. I bring you my breakdown on splurge vs. save on a first-time ski trip.

Where to Splurge and Where to Save on a First-Time Ski Trip

Where to Splurge and Where to Save on a First-Time Ski Trip-familySaving money without feeling cheated is what I do best. OK, I'll admit I am great at saving time too! Anyway, let's hop to it and explore where to splurge and where to save on a first-time ski trip so you can stay on budget and still meet your needs. If you are smart about your savings, you family will be focused on the fun and won't even realize they're on a budget.

Lift Tickets — Save

You have to have lift tickets. There’s no way around that. But you can find better deals and even free lift tickets on a first-time ski trip. We love FREE!  If you have small fries, most resorts allow kids under 5 to ski free. At other resorts, like Keystone, kids ski free with lodging deals through Undercover Tourist. Plus, as we will get into under Lessons below, you might find that your lift ticket is included in beginner lessons. That makes those First Time lesson packages really attractive.

Where to Splurge and Where to Save on a First-Time Ski Trip-bunny hill liftBeginners who just want to ski the beginner “Bunny Hill” green circle terrain can save by purchasing beginner lift tickets until they are ready to move onto more challenging terrain. And if you do not see yourself as a full-day skier, you can purchase half-day lift tickets after 12:30 p.m. But half-day lift tickets are not that much less. Plus, the mountain conditions may not be as great as the morning, so use caution using that option to save. I find the freshly groomed runs easier to ski in the morning. Many ski resorts offer free half-day lift tickets for people who fly in that same day. We recently got free afternoon lift tickets at Heavenly after an early morning flight. What a hoppy day that was!

When buying lift tickets, purchase at least 7 days in advance and choose multi-day tickets to save over single day tickets. If you can ski during an off-peak time like early or late season and not near a holiday, lift tickets are much more affordable.

The best way to save on lift tickets is to purchase an Epic Pass before the season even gets started. The Epic Pass is good at Colorado and Lake Tahoe family ski resorts (as well as Park City and Whistler Backcomb). It can be used all in one trip or throughout the season. The unrestricted passes can even be used during holiday periods! The Epic Pass is the best way to ski without worrying about getting lift tickets or their high prices. The best prices for Epic Passes are usually the spring to summer before the ski season. ICYMI: Undercover Tourist is selling the Epic Pass for the 2019-20 ski season.

Lodging — Both

Our family tries to find the perfect balance in affordability and comfort when skiing. Having ski-in/ski-out access is certainly convenient — we love not having to get into a car. We are willing to go a little farther from the ski hill to save money. Getting off the mountain sometimes means  getting some more space, a quiet environment or a kitchen for cooking. Having a kitchen saves us a lot of money in food costs.

A quiet family hotel is better for us than a cheap college party hotel or one over the loud village bar. You see, we we’ve learned the hard way that we really value sleep on a ski trip. We do splurge on a location with a heated pool — that just leads to free entertainment. It’s fun to swim in a warm pool with snow all around us. Sometimes we share larger accommodations with another ski family and split the cost. Or if we know we will be visiting multiple ski resorts in the same journey, we might stay off the mountain and drive to a different resort each day.

Resort hopping is easy when staying near the family ski resorts near Denver or when resort hopping around the best Tahoe ski resorts. Having a multi-day lift ticket that is good at several resorts or an Epic Pass makes this lodging choice easier, especially in Colorado or Lake Tahoe. Again, timing is everything. You can score some great lodging deals early or late in the season and off-peak. You can get a jump on savings for ski hotels in popular family ski destinations when you book with Undercover Tourist. For savings, bundle rentals, lift tickets and rental cars with the hotel reservation.

Clothes and Gear — Save

Where to Splurge and Where to Save on a First-Time Ski Trip-clothes

It’s your first ski trip and you can definitely save on ski clothes. Borrow, accept hand-me-downs and buy used items. Your kids are growing, so it’s silly to buy them brand-new ski clothes. And you know you’re toadally going to love skiing, but what if it turns out it really is not for you? Try it out and see what you like about and don’t like about your borrowed clothes. That will give you a sense of what you like when you are ready to buy your own. You can rent certain ski clothes such as ski pants or a jacket.

Each year, shop for end-of-season sales and attend ski swaps to find good deals on ski clothes or equipment. Keep your eyes open at used clothing stores and garage sales. A good pair of ski pants and jacket and thermals will give you many years of use. Once you do invest, you’ll be set for a long time. Once you own your own skis or snowboard, you won’t have to rent any more. Your needs for lessons go down as you improve. You’ll learn tricks and tips for saving on a family ski trip and the best ways to keep your tadpoles happy and warm.

We definitely recommend renting equipment over borrowing so it is set up for your height, weight and skiing (or riding) style. Psst…You can save on equipment rentals through Undercover Tourist. If you are a beginner, skimp on the performance skis and stick with the basic rentals until your skiing skills catch up. The modern standard skis will suit your needs just fine.

Also, don’t pack a lot of fancy clothes or even a lot of clothes for a ski trip. You don’t need that new outfit for the trip. Ski towns are usually mountain casual and practical when it comes to attire. It’s cold and you’ll be bundled up anyway. You need boots for walking in ice and snow. You’ll be in ski clothes for most of the day so bring maybe one outfit for going out and the rest of the time you’ll want those flannel shirts or soft, warm and comfortable clothes. Since you only put them on for a few hours you can get by with multiple wearings. Don’t tell her I told you, but Mommy Frog loves to slip into her PJs and warm cabin socks after a long day of skiing.

Other Winter Fun — Save

Where to Splurge and Where to Save on a First-Time Ski Trip-tubeThis is a tough call. Yes, you want to have a great time both on and off the ski hill. Nobody wants to deny pleading little tadpoles their tubing fun due to price. But you can shop for discounts for fun activities like tubing, snowmobiling or ice-skating. Look for off-peak deals for fun that has a fee, but definitely find all the FREE entertainment you can first.

Peruse the events pages and itineraries to get an idea of free activities happening in town, at the resort or at the hotel. Our favorite free activities include fireworks, snow play parties, live music, and free treats at the end of the ski day like warm cookies or s’mores. We take advantage of free museums, game nights, and free snowshoe tours. These are available across many ski resorts and ski towns. Borrow a sled and make your own winter fun instead of paying to tube. The tadpoles love splashing in a pool and playing in the snow as a family as their favorite free ways to unwind after a day of skiing and snowboarding. You cannot put a price on soothing tired muscles in a hot tub or hot spring after a day of skiing.

Food and Beverage — Save

Do not invest in fancy meals on a ski trip, unless that’s toadally your thing. Our family prefers to kick back in comfy clothes and relax in our room or we go out to a family-friendly casual restaurant after skiing. If our accommodations come with a kitchen we make up easy meals like pastas, stews, chilis and soups. Good economical comfort food that warms the heart and the body...that usually leads to leftovers! My favorite! These foods just get better and better each day and the carbs in them help ward off altitude sickness. A pizza is also an easy way to make everyone happy.

Another way to save on a first-time ski trip (or 10th time ski trip) is to bring snack and food on the mountain. We pack sandwiches to take to the mountain whether we have a kitchen or not. The old PB&J works great at saving a family up to $100 on lunch vs. eating at the lodge.

On a recent trip to a Colorado ski resort, I was in too much of a hurry to hit the fresh snow to make my sandwich. I painfully regretted that $30 bowl of chili, side of fruit and water bottle. For less than the cost of lunch, I could have fed my family of four with two nights of homemade chili. The next day, I brought the sandwich and my own water in a small backpack. Many resorts also have free water stations, so take advantage of those or bring your own in a CamelBak or backpack instead of buying bottled water.

Another way to save is to look for happy hour specials or nightly dinner specials. We find that we get hungry but then fill up quickly with less volume in the mountains. Be careful not to over order. At breakfast you can serve up bowls of cereal, even in a hotel room, and drink the in-room coffee. Packets of hot cocoa are popular with the tadpoles.

Lessons — Splurge

Where to Splurge and Where to Save on a First-Time Ski Trip-lessonsLessons are not the place to skimp to save money. Invest in your skiing future by learning from the professionals and save your relationship with your tadpoles by having fun skiing with them but not being their teacher. You can, however, save money by booking lessons early. You can also save big by looking for First Time or Never Ever Ski Deals. The ski resorts are smart. They’ll get you to fall in love with skiing or snowboarding inexpensively. Then once you are hooked, the prices go up. But definitely take advantage of beginner packages that may include lift tickets, rentals and usually lunch for kids with full-day lessons. There are many early season and January lesson deals for beginners.

You can weigh the cost per day of single-day vs. multi-day lessons, full-day vs. half day, and private vs. group lessons for skiing or snowboarding. If ski school is also daycare for you so you can do some skiing on your own, then splurge on full-day lessons or childcare for the tadpoles. You’ll get a lot more skiing done if you don’t have to turn around quickly to pick up the kids. It surprising how quickly a half-day lesson is over.

Fancy Ski Resort — Save

Where to Splurge and Where to Save on a First-Time Ski Trip-less expensive resortFor your first few days of skiing, choose a less-expensive ski resort. You are not likely to need the most expensive resort to learn to ski. There are many great family ski resorts that are less expensive when it comes to lodging, lessons and lift tickets. For example, Keystone and Breckenridge are great family resorts that have a lower price tag than Vail or Beaver Creek. Heavenly and Kirkwood will save you some money on lessons and across the board compared to Northstar. They are all great resorts but you can compare lesson costs to suit your budget. Choose a resort with plenty of green runs to start out and work your way up to the more challenging runs. Here are some more ski school tips that will send you to the top of the class.

Transportation — Splurge

If you are heading to the mountains bring your four-wheel drive vehicle or rent one. Your rental car is not the place to skimp on a ski trip for several reasons. You need space for luggage and maybe ski or snowboard equipment. You need a car that can handle the icy roads and snowy conditions on hills and turns. Getting a solid 4-wheel drive is investing in safety. If you are nervous about driving in winter mountain conditions, leave the driving to a professional shuttle or driving service so you can relax.

Compare airport transportation with rental car cost to see what works out best for your wallet and plans during your trip. Will you be staying put or visiting multiple resorts? If you take a driving service you can usually take the free transportation for short trips to get around town. Ski areas like South Lake Tahoe, Breckenridge, Vail and Steamboat Springs have great free transportation systems for getting about the town and resort area.

When you are taking your first ski trip, your needs are slightly different from a veteran skier’s. The more you go, the more likely you are to be acquiring your own clothes and equipment. It’s not going to happen overnight.

Each year, shop for end-of-season sales and attend ski swaps to find good deals on ski clothes or equipment. Keep your eyes open at used clothing stores and garage sales. A good pair of ski pants and jacket and thermals will give you many years of use. Once you do invest, you’ll be set for a long time. Once you own your own skis or snowboard, you won’t have to rent any more. Your needs for lessons go down as you improve. You’ll learn tricks and tips for saving on a family ski trip and the best ways to keep your tadpoles happy and warm.

We promise it gets easier and less expensive the more you ski. You are starting an exciting adventure that will fill your family with many hoppy memories together in the mountains. Remember to bundle up outside and to bundle your expenses for the best savings on a first, second or third ski trip. Don't froget, you can bundle lift tickets through Undercover Tourist with lodging, rental cars and equipment rentals at top ski resorts.

We hope this guide on where to splurge and where to save on a first ski trip sets you up for a toadally great experience with many years of skiing or snowboarding ahead of you.

Hoppy planning!

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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