Thursday, January 28, 2016

How we ski on a budget

We're trying to get 50 days of skiing or more in this season. Whenever I talk to others about how much we ski they say, "That's great! But skiing is so expensive". I'm probably not going to make any friends in the ski industry by saying how and why we limit our spending on the mountain, but when you're trying to spend 50 days or more at a ski resort - getting lunch at the cafeteria and rounds of beers at the lodge isn't realistic. This advice is probably best for someone who skis or wants to ski more than 5 or 7 days out of the year. But, if you plan a once a year ski vacation and you don't really care about the amount of money you're spending, then it's probably not worth it to continue reading. If you ski a few times per year and you would like to go more often without spending a ton, then here are some of the ways that we have managed to ski on a budget season after season without spending all of our money on one hobby.

1) Shop around for lift ticket deals
This year, we made the commitment to a season pass at Killington. We also opted to add on the new MAX pass knowing that we would be taking at least one trip out to Colorado to visit family and ski this year (more on cheap travel in a different post). The add on is going to save us more than a thousand dollars since we'll make use of at least 15 days on it compared to buying full price lift tickets at each of those resorts. Killington offers a discounted pass for ages 29 and below for $719 (2015/2016 season). At this point, I can't imagine walking up to the ticket counter and paying for a full price lift ticket, but I know people do it. This can run up to $149 for a day at large resorts! Sometimes more. But, you don't have to get a season pass in order to get a good daily rate. If you're flexible, you get to see a lot of beautiful mountains and get some good deals along the way. For east coasters, before the season starts (October-ish) you can keep your eye out for the Champlain Valley punch card. That will get you a day at ski resorts around the Champlain Valley including mountains in Vermont and New York. A few mountains, like Okemo, Jay, and Burke, offer deals for VT and NH residents on certain days with a valid ID. Check out Ski Vermont for other great options. Always plan ahead! You'll save so much money with a little due diligence on prices and many resorts offer a little discount just for buying your tickets online ahead of time.

^ Take a ride on the single chair at Mad River Glen when they have their roll back the clock day - $3.50 for a lift ticket!

^Making good use of our MAX Pass at Winter Park/Mary Jane

2) Hard gear 
There are a lot of benefits to owning your own gear if you plan to ski more than a few times a year. It's sooo much more comfortable and faster than having to swing by the rental shop (saving you time so you can get first chair!) Regular rentals really add up. If you rent skis and boots for 4 or 5 days, you've probably already paid for a pair of skis.  With a little bit of pre-season preparedness, you can scope out ski swaps or find last year's model (or even the year before), or lightly used demo skis for a couple hundred dollars. Unless you're a gear head, the technology isn't really changing fast enough for you to notice and pay $800 on this year's skis. If you decide to stay loyal to your local ski shop, see if they have any lift tickets to throw in with the purchase of boots or skis. They might have a 2 for 1 coupon or even better, I recently had a friend walk away with a free day of skiing with her new skis. Oh and DON'T FORGET YOUR HELMET! It's worth the money.

3) Soft goods
Whenever I see a pretty, new jacket that I'm convinced I have to have (usually of the Arc'teryx, Patagonia, or Mammut sort) my very wise husband reminds me "Fancy gear won't make you a better skier" or "you can't buy skills". Ugh. Okay. But, there are a few things that I would consider necessary: a warm jacket (if it's waterproof, even better), waterproof pants, gloves, socks that reach above your ski boot, long underwear or a base layer, and some goggles. I think it's worth investing the $15-ish into a neck warmer or protector of some sort, but that's up to you. You don't have to be the most stylish in order to have fun, but dress smart - it will make a cold or wet day much more comfortable. 

4) Pack your own lunch
Bring our own lunch and stash it in the car or under a bench. On cold days, we bring a thermos full of soup or warm food. Other days, we just pack a sandwich. We even do this when we're traveling. We spent a week in Colorado over the holidays, packing a lunch everyday. We bought a loaf of bread, deli meat, fruit, and some chips at the store - then hid it away for lunch time. You might think you look crazy making your own sandwich in the cafeteria (okay...maybe you do), but most locals aren't eating $8 bowls of chili with $7 sides of fries for lunch everyday so you won't be alone in your craziness. On sunny days, skip the cafeteria all together and eat in the parking lot if it's close by!

5)...and your own snack
Lately we've been packing a couple pieces of a nice stick of pepperoni and a few slices of cheese in a zip lock bag or a Clif Bar. We stick them in our pants pocket for mid-morning or afternoon. We also pack a few of these Nuun tablets. I've never skied anywhere that doesn't offer free water which is fantastic, but adding these sugar-free electrolyte tablets has been fun. When you're skiing hard and it's cold, you don't realize how much you are sweating. 

6) Make the most out of it
We've skied with people over the last few years that take one or two runs in the morning, then go inside for an hour. After that, they will ski another few runs, then hit the bar. Different strokes for different folks, but you're still spending quite a bit of money to sit inside. I don't really understand it, but part of me feels like this is what people think of when they say "skiing is so expensive". When all is said and done this ski season, we'll have probably spent $15-20 dollars/day of skiing. That's pretty good considering we get at least 5 to 6 hours of good skiing and enjoyment each time we go out and while the conditions in the east may not be the best so far this year, the resorts are doing a pretty good job cranking out the (wo)man-made snow so that we can get our money's worth.

^ Opening day at Killington - making the most of a few snow covered trails

and finally 7) a bonus tip - Pack your own beer! We probably have a beer or two in the lodge once per season as a treat. You didn't hear it from me, but a beer in the parking lot while you're taking your boots off is a highlight of a good day of skiing. Just don't get out of hand and ruin it for the rest of us.

So those are the ways that we try to save a little money while still getting out and enjoying a hobby that we love. Anyone else ski? What are some ways that you save money?

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