As Leap mentioned a few weeks ago, I love skiing. It’s my favorite winter sport, but I don’t love how expensive it has become. Lodging, lift tickets, clothing, equipment and food can take a toll on this frog family's budget. Gone are the days when I could flop on a couch or floor with a large group of friends sharing one condo. With a family of four to outfit and feed, skiing and snowboarding costs pile up quickly. Being the savvy travelers that we are, though, we frogs have a few ways to help make family ski vacations more affordable. Of course, we're going to share them all with you, and we'd love it if you'd share yours as well. Drop us a line in the comments below!
Our Tips For Saving On a Family Ski Trip
While the best time to book a ski vacation varies based on a few different factors, generally it's best to book hotels and flights by early fall for the ski season. You can find even better deals in July and August! And you definitely want to visit as early as you can if you're going during the holidays — Christmas, New Year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President's Day and spring break. Plus, it's the best way to guarantee availability at the most popular hotels. in the season.You definitely will not save by waiting until the last minute during those times. Occasionally more deals will be available later in the season, but mostly during non-peak times.
Buy lift tickets in advance and buy for multiple days
Just like at the theme parks, the most expensive place to buy a single-day lift ticket is at the resort each day. Many resorts use demand pricing, so lift ticket prices can be adjusted based on expected crowds. For the 2019-2020 ski season, we are selling the 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-day and unlimited Epic Pass. (Get it before the season gets underway.) you can use the Epic Pass days all at one ski resort or spread out at several ski resorts throughout the season. We are partnering with some of top resorts in the U.S. to bring you discounts on hotels (which can be bundled with lift tickets for more savings), rentals and more! For many of those resorts in Colorado, Park City and Lake Tahoe, you'll get an even bigger discount the more days you plan to ski.
Before you purchase, look for kids ski free deals or packages that include lift tickets with lodging. And, of course, if you will be skiing at one resort a lot, invest in a season pass. The most affordable way to snag a season pass in advance at the end of the previous season or during summer and fall. Prices peak once the season is underway. Some resorts stop selling season passes altogether after a certain number of ski dates have passed.
Another way we love to save on lift tickets is to get free lift tickets. How is that, you ask? At some ski resorts in Lake Tahoe and Colorado, you can receive a free lift ticket the same day you arrive by plane. (Some ski resorts offer free night skiing instead or another free lift ticket on your departure date!) Check out these ways to save on a Lake Tahoe ski trip and ways to save on a Colorado ski trip for details and more tips!
Buy ski school lessons in advance and buy for multiple days
Just like lift tickets, you can save more by buying your lessons in advance online. You'll also save the more days you buy. If you've never skied before, what we ski pros call "never evers," we generally recommend three days of ski school. This is also when most resorts start offering discounts.
Celebrate your service and status
There are usually discounts for children, students (through college), and members of the military.
Acquire free tickets for kids
When shopping for lodging, look for deals that offer kids ski free.For example, at Keystone, kids ski free at some lodging locations. Some resorts allow tadpoles under 6 to ski for free with a ticketed adult. Is their lift ticket included in their lesson? Be sure to check all these things out before you pre-purchase lift tickets for the froglets. If you have an elementary or middle schooler, find out about special Passport programs (usually for kids in 4th, 5th, or 6th grade but some allow for kids in 3rd or 7th grade to participate) that 10 different states have for kids to ski for free. The ages vary, and you usually have to enroll in advance. Some Passports offer other discounts as well.
Check to see if newbie skiers can save or "never evers"
If you are a beginning skier or a "never ever," and you'll be spending more time in the beginner ski areas (cough...Leap), you might have the option of packaging your lesson or lessons with a restricted lift ticket. If you don't think you'll be heading up the mountain, this can be a more affordable option. We have even more ways to save on a first-time ski trip.
Save on rentals
Reserving equipment in advance or renting offsite can save a lot of money. Nobody likes to arrive at a resort and start the day waiting in line. Undercover Tourist has hopped into ski rentals to help you save money and time. You can pick up your gear at the ski resort. For convenience, you can collect it the day before you ski after 3 p.m. (4 p.m. at Heavenly). Renting your equipment at the ski resort can save you on baggage costs from flying with skis at the airport.
The benefit of onsite ski rentals is that everything is at the resort, and you can leave it all there at the end of the day (some offsite rental places also offer drop-off options). You can swap out equipment that is not working for you. If your tadpoles are in lessons, you may be able to leave rental equipment overnight so you do not have to schlep it back and forth. This is a nice benefit, if you've got little ones, so do keep that in mind.
If you are driving to your ski destination, you may be able to save by renting closer to home. We rented Tad a helmet at our local sporting goods store by our home for $6 for the entire weekend. The daily rental price at the resort was $20 per day! Even renting just down the street from the resort can save you both time and money. If you do rent offsite, check and then double check that BOTH boots fit and everything works before you leave the offsite location. I speak from experience here, folks.
Shop for lessons
If you have beginner skiers, many resorts offer some deals for first timers. Lessons are most expensive in January, which is the official “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month.” We have found lessons to be much less expensive toward the end of the season and especially cheap in July—yes, people in California can ski until the 4th of July on years with great snow pack. Take an inexpensive summer lesson to boost your skills … the next ski season is just around the corner! NOTE—I'm a California native frog, which is where the theme park and skiing thing comes from. My season skiing pass was as precious as my Disneyland annual pass.
While private lessons are generally more expensive, most resorts will allow you to book a whole family or some siblings for the same private lesson. You'll also get more personal attention than you get in groups. An all-day group lesson does double as daycare! Some places bundle lift tickets with rentals and lessons. If your family is more experienced, try a mountain tour. A guided tour can help you gain some insider tips from a local skier and perhaps discover some runs less traveled by, and that can make all the difference. If you have anyone with special needs in your family, ask the resort about adaptive lessons, which can help people of any ability learn to ski at very affordable prices. (Adaptive lessons often include lift tickets, rentals, and a Buddy Pass for another family member). Read on for more tips on saving money on ski lessons.
Explore airline credit card baggage check discounts
I love the consistency of using my own skis and boots, but it costs money to check them on the plane. If you are flying and checking your equipment, you might inquire about airline credit cards. Some cards offer free bags or credits for checked luggage. It might be worth upgrading to the higher-level card to get some bonus air miles and credits that cover the cost of checking your equipment. A set of skis combined with a separate small boot bag does count as only one item. Check with individual airlines for all their skiing equipment rules. Here are more ways to save when flying to Colorado and to Lake Tahoe.
There are also ski delivery services that will ship your skis to your destination.
Avoid travel during peak times
If you ski during winter break or President’s weekend, you will pay more for peak lift tickets and lodging. If you can travel during an off-peak time (like any time in January that is NOT the weekend and week of Martin Luther King Day) you’ll be able to save money. Prices also generally go down in spring. I love some sunshine during spring skiing while avoiding cold fingers and flippers.
Save on breakfast, lunch and snacks
If you have a kitchen (or even a mini fridge and microwave in your hotel room), you can save a lot of green by shopping at the grocery store and eating in. Avoid going out for breakfast. You can cook eggs and bacon or oatmeal in a microwave or eat cereal. Get some plastic baggies and make everyone peanut butter sandwiches to keep in their jacket pocket. We each keep a Snickers — don’t judge — or granola bar in our jacket pocket for an energy boost we can eat on a lift. You can fill Camelbacks with water to stay hydrated on the mountain, saving money by not buying bottled water or other beverages in the lodge.
If you are staying in a ski-in, ski-out location you can pop back "home” to make your own lunch and warm up in comfort. Nothing makes a PB&J or turkey sandwich taste so good as knowing you are saving money by not shelling out more than $80 for a family pizza lunch.
Do not miss out on free snacks at your ski resort. We've hopped on by for free cookies after skiing at Beaver Creek and free s'mores at Northstar. Ribbit ribbit! You may be ble to snag some free samples of new granola bars and energy bars at ski resorts.
Look for après ski deals
If you want to eat out and save the most green, hit up the après ski happy hours. We know from experience that everyone is starving after their days on the slopes. Luckily most ski towns offer plenty of après options that can tide everyone over 'til dinner. Sometimes these heavy snacks double as dinner.
Save on clothing
We recommend buying secondhand clothes or renting ski clothes, especially for the kids. Borrow from neighbors or look for hand-me-downs. Kids grow each year and it can be expensive to completely re-outfit them for each trip. Stock up at end-of-season sales or ski swaps. If you happen to be in Park City, UT, the Christian Center of Park City Boutique has used high-end ski clothes for low prices. It is definitely worth checking out!
Choose a resort with free activities
You can save on entertainment by taking advantage of free family entertainment. Are there fireworks, craft times, playtimes, dance parties, trivia nights, live music playing or carnivals? Is there a heated pool or spa? Be sure to take advantage of those free après ski activities. Does the condo come with sleds or snow toys? It is great to ask these questions in advance so you can plan some free family fun off the slopes.
Look for more free activities
Yes, it hurts me to even say this, but we always plan at least one non-skiing day, and possibly more depending on how many days we plan to vacation. This keeps our frog legs fresh for more skiing and gives us a chance to experience more of our destination. In Breckenridge, we plan at least one day of sightseeing around town. In Vail, we did a free snowshoeing tour with the Nature Discovery Center at the top of the mountain. And if you wait until the afternoon, you can take the Eagle's Nest Gondola up for free!
Following these tips for saving on a family ski trip to help make your trip more enjoyable and even make your dream ski vacation a reality. By planning ahead and being budget-savvy, taking your family on a great ski vacation will all be downhill from here — in a good way.
Do you have any tips for saving on a family ski trip? Share them in comments below! And if you're looking for help deciding how to choose a ski resort, check out our new ski planning page! You can get a jump on saving with discount ski hotels, car rental, lift tickets and more at popular family ski resorts with your little green buddies at Undercover Tourist.
Related: We're Hopping Into Family Ski Vacation Planning