Pointing the tips of your skis or the nose of your snowboard downward, pushing away from the top of the slope, and tearing off into a brisk white wonderland is one of the most exhilarating pastimes of winter. For this reason, getting to the top of the mountain during ski season can be a very expensive pursuit. That's why a preemptive strategy based on economic foresight and downright frugality can help you enjoy the pinnacles of wintertime recreation without overspending.
You can save big money on lift tickets through seasonal planning, advanced ticket purchasing, and choice of ski area, while smaller measures such as meal planning and procuring affordable gear can help shave down your overall spending.
Lift ticket prices vary depending on market demand. Traditional vacation times such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break and Easter see a surge in traffic to ski areas. As the customer volume swells, so do the lift ticket prices. Avoiding these times completely can save you hundreds of dollars in ticket fees.
Stick to early- and late-season ski travel: when slopes first open in late fall and are still open after the Easter holiday. If you live in an area with lots of colleges, pay attention to school schedules. A trip to the local ski area the weekend after finals may not be worth the price of gas. If your downhill velocity fix simply cannot wait, simply sticking to weekdays rather than weekends can make a huge difference in your recreational spending.
Regions that are home to numerous ski areas often see these businesses collaborating on multiple mountain passes. In this instance, it really pays to plan ahead — meaning that the earlier you buy, the more you save. Multi-mountain passes purchased in the spring for the following fall are an excellent bargain, and even if you purchase them in the early fall before the ski areas open, you can save a bundle.
High-profile ski areas are like popular brands of clothing: You pay for the name while elsewhere there is something of equal value that costs less. Summit and Pitkin Counties in Colorado are home to quite a few ski areas. A lift ticket for one day at the famed Vail Ski Resort can cost you in excess of $150 while a ticket for a day on the slopes at the nearby Ski Cooper will run you right around $50. If you sacrifice prestige for pragmatism, you can save enough to feed yourself on the cheap.
Accommodations and meals go hand in hand when planning a wintertime trip on a budget. Youth hostels and condominiums almost always win over motel rooms, especially if you are traveling in a group and during the middle of the week. Mid-week rates are always cheaper than weekends, and several people can easily split the cost of a bunk room or a condo and take advantage of the kitchen facilities to prepare meals for the next day's outing.
Skiing and snowboarding burn a lot of calories, so it's important to pack several sandwiches and snacks such as fruit and granola bars for each person. Meals at most ski resort lodges are grossly overpriced for the same reason that a candy bar in a movie theater costs three times as much as it does anywhere else: a captive audience drives no bargain.
Although you are surrounded by frozen water, it's best to bring a sizable bottle of water for each person to avoid dehydration. This will also save you money rather than paying mountainside prices. While you are planning ahead, you can assure yourself a good night's sleep before hitting the slopes by arranging for ski travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance.
If you are planning to rent your downhill gear, it is best to do it off-site. The closer you get to the ski lift, the more expensive the rentals become. Finding a sports shop in the town nearest to the ski area is the best strategy, as you can take advantage of off-site pricing while not being too far away in case the gear fails and needs repair.
Another strategy is to take advantage of clearance sales at the end of the ski season. Springtime means that leftover inventory that will be "obsolete" by the following fall must be moved out of the way. You can save hundreds of dollars on excellent equipment as long as you are aware that you are on the mountain for fun, not for a fashion show.
Plan ahead with practical, frugal strategy and the spoils of the mountain can be yours every year.