Ski vacations are wonderful for many reasons. Good exercise, beautiful scenery, and lots of time to bond over epic falls and hot cocoa. And there’s no better feeling than the hot tub after a long day of tearing up pow.

The only thing that makes it not-so-ideal? The cost. For one person, the costs of a ski vacation are high, and for a family, they can be prohibitive.

I worked at a ski rental shop in Breckenridge, CO, for three ski seasons, and it always pained me to tell people their total bill. I’m an avid skier, however, and I think that skiing is one of the best ways to spend a vacation.

Agree with me, but can’t handle the costs? Here are 10 ways to save money on your next ski vacation.

View of the mountains in Breckenridge

A sunny day in Breckenridge, CO.

1. Do your research

It’s crazy how many people just show up without passes purchased, rentals reserved, or anything planned. Though that’s generally how I like to travel, that’s going to lose you a lot of money on your ski vacation.

Unless you have your heart set on one resort, check out the websites of different ski resorts online and see what kind of packages they’re offering. Sometimes, you can save money by booking your lodging, lessons, lift tickets, and rentals at the same time.

2. Purchase a season pass

But, you say, I’m only going for a week. Why on earth would I buy a season pass? Well, at some resorts, it’s going to be cheaper.

For example, the Vail Resorts Epic Pass gets you unlimited skiing at 12 resorts across the country — as well as five days in the Alps! It’s an INCREDIBLE deal. If purchased before November 24th, it costs $729. Or, you can get a Summit Pass, which allows skiing at Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Breckenridge for $479. There are several other pass options, as well. When compared to the daily lift ticket cost of $100 at many mountains, you’re saving loads of money.

Riding up the lifts.

Riding up the lifts.

3. Try a different mountain

Maybe you’ve always gone to Vail, and you’ll never go anywhere else. Yes, Vail is one of my favorite places on earth, but have you tried Wolf Creek? Nationally, it’s not as well-known, but locally, it’s loved for some of the deepest powder in the state. And the lift tickets? About 30% cheaper. Research other, lesser-known mountains, and you may find yourself some great deals. (Powderhound is a great place to start.)

Enjoying a powder day in Vail.

Enjoying a powder day in Vail.

4. Go in the off-season

Resorts are packed during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the entire month of March (spring break). The best time to go is in January or February. Not only are conditions ideal, but you’ll save big on accommodations (hotels will often offer last-minute deals trying to fill their rooms) and your precious time. Standing in the lift line is no fun at all — and not what you’re paying big bucks for. Time your vacay wisely, and you’ll enjoy empty mountains and lower prices.

A beautiful (and empty!) day on the slopes.

A beautiful (and empty!) day on the slopes.

5. Borrow or rent gear

The equipment needed to ski can cost a small fortune, particularly for people who live in warm climates and don’t own any cold-weather gear. If you don’t go skiing often, or if you have kids that are growing, it’s crazy to buy jackets, snow pants, hats, mittens, and goggles. Ask your friends and family if they have any winter clothes you can borrow — there’s bound to be somebody with winter gear that lives in your area.

No dice? You still have two options. 1. Wait until you get to the resort area to buy gear, and buy it used. You’ll usually be able to find a thrift store or ski-gear specific consignment shop that offers great deals on used winter clothing, and for far cheaper than you’d buy it new. 2. Rent clothes from a ski rental shop. Though nobody will rent you goggles, you should be able to find pants, jackets, and helmets.

Ski bums are a friendly lot!

Make friends with the ski bums!

6. Get as far away from the mountain as possible

Though the advantages of a ski-in/ski-out condo are obvious, you’re going to pay for them. Many resort towns offer free shuttles from farther locales to the mountain. Right now you’re saying, “I don’t want to waste any time getting from my hotel to the mountain,” but in reality, are you going to be skiing every day from first to last chair? Doubtful.

If it’s a matter of going on the ski vacation, or not going at all, then you should choose to stay a little farther away. Especially if you have a family, renting a house or condo is a great cost-saving alternative.

You also want to rent your skis as far off the mountain as possible. Again, there’s convenience in renting your skis on the mountain, but that’s going to be the most expensive option.

In Breckenridge, you can rent your skis on the mountain for $36/day, or you can rent them a few blocks over for $25/day. In Frisco, which is less than 10 miles away from Breckenridge, they’re $18/day. For a family of four on a week’s vacation, that’s over $500 in savings.

Snowboarding in Colorado.

Yeah, you want to be here.

7. Talk to the employees

Ski bums are a thrifty lot. They’re making minimum wage and subsisting off of ramen and PBR. If anyone knows where the deals are in a ski town, it’s them. They can point you in the direction of cheap grubs, and most definitely, happy hours.

Even better, make friends with them. As a former ski bum, I can attest to the fact that they’re a fun and friendly group, and by hanging out with them, you’ll get the local, unadvertised beer prices.

8. Find ski/snowboard instructors on Craig’s List

The cost of lessons has shot through the roof. At many mountains, it’s over $400 for a private half-day lesson. That’s insane. Remember how I mentioned the hungry ski bums earlier? Well, guess what? They need money, and they’re likely to be great skiers or snowboarders.

Though you can ask at your rental shop, employees might feel strange brokering deals there, and their schedules will already be set. It’s better to advertise on Craig’s List a few weeks ahead of time. You’re bound to find an awesome instructor at half the cost.

Ski instructors, at your service!

Ski instructors, at your service!

9. Cook dinners & pack lunches

Food in ski towns is expensive. Food on the mountain is even worse. It’s SO simple to pack lunches, and it will save you lots of money. Whether your accommodation has a kitchen or not, you can pack sandwiches or Cup o’Noodles for lunch. If you have a kitchen, even better; make dinner, as well.

Downtown Breckenridge, CO

You’ll find plenty of fun stuff to do in a ski town!

10. Don’t ski every day

Though you’re obviously going to a ski town to ski, that doesn’t mean you have to ski every day. Many resorts offer “3 out of 5 day” lift tickets, or something similar. It gets a little tricky with rentals, but just talk to your rental shop beforehand, and you should be able to work something out.

You won’t be bored, as mountain towns have plenty of other outdoor activities that are less expensive, such as ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. Both your body and your wallet will thank you.

What’s your favorite way to save money on ski vacations? 

This guest post was written by Susan Shain, who’s been working seasonal adventure jobs and traveling the world since 2008. Want to earn money, have fun, AND travel the world? Sign up to receive updates from her blog, Travel Junkette.

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13 Comments

  1. Julio Moreno

    I always knew skiing was more expensive in the Alps, but I never imagined it would be THIS much. I am not a pro and am not picky about where I go, but I just bought a season pass in South Korea for 100 USD. I’d love to ski here some day though!

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  3. Angela (@angelatravels11)

    One thing I found when researching places to stay in Whistler is be CAREFUL of SCAMS through Craigslist. Do not paypal money or wire money. Airbnb actually had some reasonable places. To add onto keeping costs down, I would say rent with as many people as possible. We also plan on bringing crockpots. Who doesn’t like a cheap, hot meal after a long day of hitting the slopes?

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