Ski trips often inspire wonder and excitement in many of us. After all, not much compares to a winter vacation in majestic surroundings.
Still, ski trips have the reputation of being a rather pricey indulgence. Between flights, lodging, equipment, and resort passes, spending time on the slopes can cost vacationers a pretty penny. However, if you're craving a slope-side experience, there are plenty of ways to go about it without breaking the bank. With some advanced planning and a few strategies, you can have a ski vacation without sacrificing any of the perks that come with it.
Timing Is Everything
Here's the good news: Prices never remain stagnant in the travel industry. The cost of flights, hotels, and lift tickets will fluctuate depending on supply and demand, time of the year, and even the day of the week. Keeping an eye out for deals is a good strategy for keeping within your budget on a ski trip. Many resorts offer low-priced bundles to attract visitors during off-peak seasons. Sometimes, however, purchasing each reservation separately may afford you the biggest savings.
When it comes to purchasing lift tickets, opt for the beginning or end of a ski season; tickets then are usually less pricey than the ones you'll pay for peak times surrounding the holidays. For example, a day pass to Vail in Colorado may cost $219 on December 26 but only $142 on the last days of the season in April.
If you look at the day pass prices for the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia, Canada, a ticket on January 1 will set you back $133 while one in April will cost just $98. It's also worth noting that window prices may be higher than online prices for day passes, so be sure to do comparison checks on Google before you make a ticket purchase.
If you're in for a longer trip or live near your chosen ski spot, buying a multi-day or seasonal pass may be the way to go. And, seasonal passes often come with benefits like preferred parking or discounts for resort stores, shops, and restaurants. It's even more important to plan ahead if you intend to purchase a pass, however. Some resorts stop selling passes by a certain date, so you'll be stuck with the regular day pass prices for the duration of the season.
Find the Resorts the Locals Love
Popular resorts like Whistler Blackcomb often draw massive crowds, but there are many lesser-known skiing spots that can afford you a similarly enjoyable vacation. Skiing spots with less notoriety often come with intrinsic benefits: lower ticket prices and lower all-around costs for accommodations, food, and equipment rentals.
Remember that $133 ticket for Whistler Blackcomb on New Year's Day? Compare that to ticket prices at King Pine in New Hampshire, where you'll pay just $35 for a day lift pass. In fact, it's not just at King Pine where you'll find such low prices. The Northeastern United States is an often overlooked area for quality ski vacations at a lower price point than resorts further west.
If, however, you have your heart set on a ski trip out west, try the Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Idaho and choose after-hours skiing. The resort offers what locals call Twilight Skiing for only $20/lift ticket between the hours of 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Pack Your Own Food
Your appetite can make or break your vacation budget. It's tempting to ignore the expenses associated with food. After all, eating at resort restaurants is part of the fun of a ski vacation. However, if you're on a strict budget, those resort prices can put a big dent in your pocket. The cost of meals on the mountain can add up quickly, depending on the size of your group and the length of your stay.
To save on food expenses, consider bringing your own goodies for your ski trip. Pack bread, sandwich fixings in a cooler, chips, and salsa. Or, if you're renting accommodations with a small kitchen, consider preparing one-pot skillet meals. You can even bring a slow cooker or Instant Pot with you. These appliances are a god-send for frugal vacationers. They allow you to complete meal prep the night before, toss in the ingredients before you leave in the morning, and head out the door secure with the knowledge that your dinner will be cooking while you live it up on the slopes.
Rent or Buy Equipment Away From the Resorts
You may expect to rent skis at a mountain resort, but there's a price to be paid for that convenience. Instead, choose a local shop off the beaten path. It'll give you a better shot at saving money on equipment rentals. An online service such as Ski Butlers will also provide some idea of equipment prices around your resort, so you can make more informed decisions when you shop at local outlets.
If you plan on skiing a lot, however, consider investing in new equipment. Extra expense upfront can mean savings for years to come. And, whether renting or buying, avoid choosing equipment based purely on recommendations. Instead, your choice should be based on your skill level and commitment, the type of terrain you enjoy navigating, and your budget.
Aside from your destination and the length of your trip, no factor has more potential to make or break your budget than the type of accommodations you choose. Surprisingly, there's great variability in pricing when it comes to lodging, from five-star hotels to rustic mountain-side lodges.
Whatever your preference, you can usually find inexpensive lodging further away from the mountains. Many ski towns have shuttle buses and public transit systems that can transport you between your lodging and the mountains. So, with a little time and effort, you can find accommodations that are both comfortable and inexpensive.