Skiing On A Budget: 100 Ways To Save Money On A Ski Vacation
Written by Robert Shirk • Nov 26, 2015
We put together the most comprehensive list of money saving tips on the internet for your family ski vacation. Hopefully we can help you and your family think of some new ways to get the most out of your time on the slopes this year.
Deals & Discounts
1. Book Early
Book early. Book everything early. This is the easiest way to save a lot of money, and you will have something to look forward to. The sooner the better!
2. Use Your Credit Card Points
Save up your credit card points and be sure to check flights. If you are buying a bunch of new gear for the trip or booking lodging yourself, then make those purchases first if you get miles on your card.
3. Be An Ambassador
Mountain ambassadors are those cheery folks who stand on the side of the hill passing out hot chocolate vouchers and trail maps. And guess what? They also ski free. If you're planning a vacation longer than two weeks (or a few shorter ones over the entire season), look into working in exchange for a free pass.
4. Use A Tour Operator
Great tour operators know the mountains, know the towns and have thought of all the details you haven't. Thousands of times. Most of all, they love skiing and will help you put together the ideal experience at a reasonable price.
5. Look For Promotions
Don’t have time to check for discounted lift tickets every day? Sign up for email lists, such as Liftopia's to know when they are running a promotion. If you really want to leverage the internet, do a bunch of searches for lift tickets and pay attention to the ads you start seeing. Google will do the work of bringing advertisers to you, and they are often eager to promote new discounts.
6. Bring Your Student ID
Are you or one of your kids in college? Make sure they have their student ID. Most resorts offer discounts for students so be sure to take advantage of these deals.
7. Bring Your Military ID
Same goes for the military, so be sure that you or anyone in your group brings their military ID.
8. Remember Senior Discounts
Seeing a theme here? Check for senior discounts and don't pay full price if you don't have to.
9. Check Daily Deal Sites
Take a look at the big ones, such as Groupon or Living Social. They won’t help you much when you are ready to book, so start checking when you are still in the discovery phase as a big discount could help you decide on which resort you want to book.
10. Find A Package Deal
Package deals are a great way to save money, whether you are on a budget or luxury trip. They are tailored to a wide variety of needs by resorts and tour operators who know how to plan a ski trip and can include everything from lift tickets to rental cars and a back massage. Added Bonus: They did all the hard work and research for you. Years ago.
11. Check Local Listings
Some of the smaller or more remote ski towns don't participate in Craigslist, Groupon, or other major selling/trading/deal sites. Look into the resort town's local version for posts about lodging and local deals.
12. Use Regional Airports
Why fly to a major airport and rent a car when you are staying a step, a walk or a quick ride right from the slopes? Avoid the cost and you are paying yourself to save time.
13. Travel In January
Holiday travelers are back at work so prices go down a week or two after the new year. Conditions should be great and there will be fewer skiers on the mountain. Added bonus: more lodging options are available (just avoid Martin Luther King Weekend). Check out our January Deals!
14. Travel Mid-Week
Flights, lodging and lifts are generally cheaper. Also, fewer people on the slopes….and more lodging options!
15. Stay Slightly Away From Slopeside
Ski-in/ski-out is great, but you'll find cheaper digs a short drive away (or at least some more square footage (with a hot tub and a kitchen).
16. Visit Smaller Resorts
The big resorts are great and they know what they are doing, but such a high level of service comes with a price. There are, however, great low-profile options in most ski regions from British Columbia to Colorado to New England. A bit of research can save a lot of money and lead to a great trip. These mountains often have a more down-home vibe and smaller crowds.
17. Ski In Spring
Spring skiing is about fun, sun, and sweet end-of-season deals on food, gear, lift tickets, and lodging. If you can get to a resort during the last week of the season, you'll pay much less for your total vacation than prime-time vacation periods. And you'll score an epic tan.
18. Fly On Holidays
Airline prices plummet on the actual days of Christmas and New Year. Scope out flight tickets for these days if you are set on a holiday ski vacation but still want to save.
19. Use Miles on Partial Tickets
Got enough airline miles for part of the ticket? Try booking one flight to a major hub, then a separate flight to your final destination. You'll be able to use your miles on one full ticket, and pay a minimal price for the other.
20. Use Public Transportation
1. It's usually free, or very cheap. 2. You won't have to deal with parking fees. 3. You'll meet people who can give you the inside scoop on great deals and events going on in town.
21. Get An Airline Credit Card
If you don't have one yet, or want a new one to cash in on the extra points deals, apply for a new airline affiliated credit card. Most offer thousands of points/bonus miles for sign-up and spending a specific amount within the first 2-3 months, so get it now, book your whole vacation on it, and get enough miles to fly free for next time. Planning ahead, people, and working with the system!
22. Travel As A Group
Big groups get big discounts, especially if there are a few dozen of you. This is not always feasible, but even smaller groups can benefit from group discounts. Look for condos, house rentals or suites with plenty of rooms. You will save per person per night, and can often find deals that have added goodies from resorts that want to attract groups of skiers.
If you just want to find the best lodging, check out our Lodging options!
23. Stay Local
Skiing in the Rockies is great, but don't overlook local mountains if you live in the East. You will save a lot on flights and travel time and still have a great ski trip. Live out West? Look for hidden gems in your own state before feeling that you need to travel far for the best skiing.
24. Save On Bag Fees
Hauling gear on airlines is expensive. Make sure to look at baggage fees for each airline if you are planning to show off your sweet new gear.
25. Use Flight Comparison Sites
26. Include Rental Cars When You Compare Flights
...And cars, and trains and anything else that gets you to the mountain. As user-friendly as airline booking sites can be, the process is often frustrating enough that you just want to book the cheapest flight with a convenient time. Don’t. You’re working hard planning the trip so keep an eye on the details.
27. Cater to Interests
Sometimes you need to weigh your options, and it helps to know what your family's priorities are. If you know the kids will dig the heated outdoor pool, book the hotel with the outdoor pool. If they'll be so stoked about snow they just want to sled after skiing, stay slopeside. These things might cost more in the beginning, but you'll save a lot by not having to book up all the free time with an array of expensive activities.
28. Explore All Lodging Options
Hotels are great, but they can get pricey and may not fit your needs. There are plenty of other options, such as Airbnb and VRBO, but be sure to check out Mountain Reservations (link). They specialize in renting you ski lodging directly from the owners. You can get a great price and stay in something more comfy and lived-in than a hotel room.
29. Book Lodging With A Kitchen
Hotel room, condo, private home, whatever! See if there are options that allow you to cook. By going shopping you will have a bigger budget to upgrade to a lodge with a kitchen….and maybe a hot tub.
30. House Exchange
Why not? If you have digs in a desireable place, and someone else has them in a ski vacation place, check out some reliable house swap websites and look into a good ol' fashioned trade.
31. Work Exchange
If you can take 2 weeks or more for vacation and you want to get a more integrated experience of the place, look into work exchanging at a hostel or nannying for a private family to get all the perks.
32. Book The Dorm
Okay, we've gone over all sorts of lodging options, but be sure to look into additional options within lodging options, like dorm beds in hotels. They're not as common as other options, but they will be the absolute cheapest option for low-maintenance folks.
Different slopes for different folks. Although you may pay more for lodging, this can be a way to save money if you know what you want from your vacation. If you just want to ski and relax slopeside, this can be a great option. It saves time and a bit of hassle, and you can head home each day for gourmet lunches.
34. Keep It Clean
Look, we get that you might want to party hard on your ski vacation, or your kids might be the kind who get so buzzed up on unlimited hot chocolate that they run around buckwild. Just be sure stuff doesn't get broken, or stained, or ruined in any way. Vacation rental properties will bill you for damages or extra cleaning services, and the costs rack up quickly.
35. Go Grocery Shopping
This is an easy way to save a lot, especially if you are traveling with family or a group. Stock up on snacks, water and PB&Js for when you are on the mountain. If you have a condo with a kitchen then plan your dinners as well. Added bonus: more bonding around the table.
36. Buy In Bulk
If you're shopping at grocery stores, head to the bulk sections first for deals on local granolas and snacks, and the cheapest prices for vacation-friendly foods like rices and pastas.
37. Pack Your Lunch
This small tip can save a lot of money, especially if you are traveling with family and your kids are the type of freeloaders that don’t put in a shift at the plant after soccer practice. Packing a lunch means you won't pay $8 for curly fries or have to bump trays in the cafeteria. Added bonus: no hangry children or additional complications. A sandwich on the lift is easier than coordinating the appetites of a group having fun on the trails.
38. Bring Your Own Water
Ever noticed how expensive water gets when you are a captive buyer? Like movie theaters, ski resorts upcharge for everything, and you could spend $4-5 on water. Pack away a Nalgene or invest in a Camelback. Added bonus: water when you need it, not when you can get it.
39. Do The Lunch Special
Lunch specials often feature entrees for about 30% off dinner prices for same-size portions; if you're set on trying a specific restaurant but don't want to do the whole wine and dine dinner out thing, look into a tasty and affordable lunch instead.
Yeah, you read that right. If you don't want to drop $6 on a lunch-time beer, head into the general store and snag a PBR pounder for half the price.
41. Ask For The Bar Menu
Many restaurants have dining-room seating and bar seating, but chances are if you ask for a bar menu even though you're seated in the dining area, they'll give it to you. If a hearty salad or burger is all you need, a bar menu is your best bet.
42. Get 2-For-1 Entrees
At the very beginning andveryend of ski season, restaurants may be offering 2-for-1 dinner entrees as a way to get more people in the door. So if you happen to be in town in the (almost) off-season, you could eat amazing food for half the price. Just be sure to tip on what the entire bill would have been!
43. Rent Your Equipment In Advance
A lot of resorts offer discounts if you book in advance and are renting for a few days. Be sure to check their website or see if they are part of a package.
44. Have Kids Share Gear
If you travel with multiple families with young kids, note that not every kid will have to ski every day, and they can easily share clothes/gear by switching off.
45. Borrow Equipment
Ask your friends, neighbors and family members if they have equipment you can borrow, and look past skis and snowboards. Do you really need that fancy new North Face jacket for three days on the mountain? Better off looking cool in your dad’s Orlando Magic Starter Jacket from 1993. If the old rag does not keep you warm then the extra cash burning a hole in your pocket surely will.
46. Check Your Gear Before Leaving Your Lodge - Especially Accessories
It is hard to forget your skis, but easy to misplace a glove. Resorts will offer easy access to any accessories you forget, but at a steep price. If you are like most people, skiing without a pair of goggles is not an option. Take the time to make a checklist for you and any forgetful people in your group and to run through it before you leave.
47. Double Check Your Gear
Seriously. Make a list and go through it. If you are on a family trip for a long weekend, someone is bound to forget something, leading to wasted money and an unneeded pair of snowpants.
48. Discount Department Stores
Don’t overlook discount stores such as Marshalls and T.J. Maxx, even if you are set on getting hip designer gear. You can often find designer jackets and gear at steep discounts, especially if you look in early fall or late spring.
49. Shop Online
Make a list of what you need and find the best prices online. You can scour snowsports focused sites, such as skis.com, but even sites like Amazon carry great products at reasonable prices.
50. Ski Naked
Don’t ski naked, I just wanted to get your attention. Check your list again! If you are annoyed by the third reminder but remember to check your list then I am happy we helped. If you are annoyed at the ski shop when you are buying Timmy his third neck warmer, then I just want to say….go with black. It's classic.
51. Rent At A Local Shop
Don't overlook the local ski shops. You can find rates that are cheaper than the resort and avoid a crowded rental area. You can also get some good advice there that you may not get on the mountain, so a trip into town can be well worth it.
52. Go Vintage
Need pants and a jacket? Not if you go onesie. Check around local thrift stores, eBay and online shops. You may look a little silly, or fratty or maybe even cool, but you are on vacation. Have some fun.
53. Rent Ski Clothes
This one may sound a little out there, but it is not as if you are renting used long johns. If you are taking a trip to the Rockies or a high peak in the Alps you will need a sturdy jacket, but do you need to spend a few weeks pay for something you will wear once, or maybe once a year? Check your resort’s website and those of the nearby ski shops. You may be able to look great and save some dough.
54. Go To A Ski Expo
This can be one of the best ways to buy gear. In addition to being able to get discounts, you will find knowledgeable professionals that will help you find the right gear. A pair of well-fitting ski boots will last longer and save you from wear and tear on the legs. Check these out in late fall or early winter when the prices are the best.
55. Buy Second-Hand
Second-hand gear/clothing stores are the consignment treasure chests of ski towns. Everything is high quality, because it was previously owned by a local, and you'll get stuff at 50-70% off retail price.
56. Use The Hotel Gear
You'll definitely need to find some personal ski gear for yourself, but gear for other outdoor activities might be available for a small fee or even for free if you stay at a hotel. Check in with the concierge for snowshoes, sleds, and hiking poles before buying them at a store.
57. Use The House Gear
No hotel? No problem! Houses in ski towns are chock-full of sweet gear. The owners will remove stuff they don't want renters to use (or put it in a locked closet), but check in with the rental agency ahead of time to see if owners leave gear toys for renters.
58. Find the Demo Tent
During a handful of weekends throughout the season, companies will swoop in to sponsor a resort. You can often score great free food samples, swag, and most importantly, free 1-2 hour demos of skis: ideal if you want to try this season's gear without having to pay for it.
59. Pack Intelligently
Checked the weather? Good, now pack accordingly. Will you be warm on the coldest day and have that midweight sweater or jacket when things get a little warm? Do you have all the gear you will need? The last thing you want is to buy overpriced items when you are stuck on the mountain.
60. Get Hand/Feet Warmers
Ski gear is expensive, and if its extra cold you may be motivated to buy an extra shirt or sweater. Hand and feet warmsers in the boots/gloves can go a very long way to keeping you warm. Check out our favorites here
61. Get Discounted Lift Tickets Online
This one is easy: go to Liftopia, book early and save money!
62. Kids Fly Free Deals
Look for package deals that provide free flights for kids when you book a family ski vacation. Resorts and tour operators put these packages together to entice travelers and to help you save money.
63. Find Kids Ski Free Deals
Resorts love families, and many offer deals to lure them in. Look for kids-ski-free deals that include a free lift ticket for a child when an adult ticket is purchased. Don’t know where to find them? Don’t worry, we did the work for you so click here.
64. Half Day Lift Tickets
Although not always advertised aggressively, most resorts offer different lift tickets such as half day tickets. Do you need a full day of skiing on your arrival or departure day, or can you save a few bucks by buying a half day ticket?
65. Get Multiday Passes
Most resorts offer discounted pricing when you buy a multi day ticket. If you are skiing for three days, then book a 3 day ticket and do so as early as possible!
66. Season Passes
Look at season pass prices, especially for kids. It takes a long trip (or at least a few short ones) for the math to work, but this can seriously help lower costs.
67. Lower Mountain Lift Tickets
Beginner skier or just looking to cruise? Consider looking into lower mountain lift tickets, which can be half the price of a full ticket. Sure, you can’t access the harder terrain, but do even need to?
68. Find an Industry Friend
Right, easier said than done, but this applies to those of you who may already have friends working at the resort you're visiting. Chances are, they get some great perks, including half and full day lift ticket vouchers for guests. So it might be time to take a scroll through all those facebook friends you haven't spoken to in years and reconnect with the ones in the industry.
69. Don't Ski More Than You Want To
If you're going on a week or longer vacation, be honest with yourself: do you even want to ski all day, every day? Plan a rest day of off-slopes activities in the middle to make the most of your full-power ski days, and this will also save you a full day lift ticket.
70. Passports (not the kind you think) For Kids?
Be sure to get your "passport" (and not the one you need for trips to Europe). Many states (Pennsylvania, New York and Utah, to name a few) offer Passports for snowsports. These generally lead to discounted or even free tickets for grade-schoolers. Be sure to check out your state’s ski sites, or just google ‘ski passport _____’, the blank being the state you will be skiing in.
71. Share A Lift Ticket
Traveling with a child that you can’t take on the slopes? Swap days of skiing with your spouse. Mom can ski the first day and Dad can build a snow fort with the kids. Switch roles the next day and convene after skiing for family bonding.
72. Look For Local Lift Deals
Of course you should buy your lift tickets early, but maybe you are taking a spur of the moment trip for the weekend. Be sure to check out local shops and even gas stations, which often provide deals on lift tickets.
73. Go To Free Music
In nice weather especially, resorts often host concerts that are fun, family-friendly, and free. If listening to live music is more about the social atmosphere for you anyway, always opt for the free options.
74. Find a Kids Night Out
Babysitters are expensive everywhere, and in a ski town the going rate is at least $20/hr. Many resorts now have kids-only evening events that cost a fraction of that price, so plan you're big date night out accordingly.
75. Take Advantage Of Happy Hour
See if the resort or local bars have a happy hour. They often offer discounts to attract skiers. If you want to be on the last lift of the day then great! If you are just as interested in a drink or two with a fun crowd (or are looking to party) then skip that last run, post up at the bar and get warm.
76. Après Everywhere
Looking for a great après ski experience that does not bust your budget? Leave the resort and look for bars that are not frequented by travelers. You will save money, pick up the local vibe and maybe get some great tips and ideas from the locals. Buying a round could lead to big savings and some new friends.
77. Don't Pay A Cover Charge
Chances are, the most touristy bars featuring live music at night will have a cover charge. If you're really stoked on going, arrive an hour early before the bouncers start charging, and kick back with a drink to relax before the show
78. Find Community Classes
Off-slopes activities like snowmobiling and paragliding are awesome, but also costly. For budget-friendly options, look into "community" yoga classes, dance classes, art classes, and more. They'll be donation-based or just a few bucks.
79. Ice Skating
Switch it up with a low cost fun family activity. Lots of towns have ice skating rinks and its a fun thing the whole family can take part in.
80. Cross Country Skiing
Take a day off the slopes and get in a great workout! It is cheaper than having to pay for a lift ticket and will be a fun family activity.
81. Go To The Library
If you have youngsters, the town library will be your gem of a find: books, toys, and even playrooms are all there for an afternoon of entertainment, free of cost. Sure, there is a library in your town, but there is something about a new and unique setting that makes something old exciting again.
82. ...And the Museums
Ski towns have more to offer than mountain activities, and you can save by knocking off a day of lift tickets or by going to a museum rather than doing something more pricey. While usually not free, museums are a low-cost option for kids and adults alike. Many ski towns have rich histories of science and culture, and museums are often non-profits that want visitors to come learn so they make it affordable.
83. Learn From The Locals
The local ski bums spend more time on the mountain than anyone, and they have picked up all the local tricks. For example, they will know the shops that sell lift tickets for less than you can find at the resort. Make some friends and pick their brain. A round at the bar can lead to big savings elsewhere.
84. Shop The Lost-And-Found
If you lose a glove, goggles, or some other small accessory on your ski vacation, check the lost-and-found before you go buy something new. If it's not there, check with the person who runs the lost-and-found for items that could replace yours. Most of the stuff in there will never be claimed, and if you know something has been there for weeks or months, snag it, use it, and return at the end of your trip if you happen to uphold the highest of morals.
85. Plan Yourself
Who needs an experienced travel professional or a package deal? Well, lots of people, but if you know your way around a resort, have your own tricks to save money and have the time, consider booking everything yourself. And if you do have ideas we missed, email me here or tweet us @snowpak
86. Build In Quality Family Time
Sure, ski vacations are about having fun new experiences and taking advantage of all sorts of cool activities. But good old-fashioned quality family time is another way to bond while you're on vacation. Don't try to pack every last second of your schedule with organized activities. Try a family movie night, game night, or story-telling. It doesn't cost money, and it does pay in quality family connection.
87. Check Exchange Rates
For international travel, look into current exchange rates to see if this is a good time to get the most bang for your American buck.
88. Skip The Souvenirs
It's tempting to buy everything in sight if you're in a new place and totally love it. But if you don't have the budget to blow on clothes, gear, and trinkets, just skip them. Focus on filling up with great experiences instead.
89. Send A Postcard
News Flash from current travel trends: postcards are cool again. If you don't want to bother with gifts for family and friends but want to send a little somethin', send a postcard. It's thoughtful, cheap, and the perfect refrigerator decoration.
90. Tip Generously
Ski instructors, bartenders, valets...these guys and gals know the town and hear all the gripes and favorite experiences of travelers. They know what is great, what is overrated, and where to find the best deals. Most of them will give you an honest answer, but they can’t tell everyone about the local gem that is always fun but never crowded. Endear them to you the easy way: pay them! Who knows what magic they will muster.
91. Look For Mountain Ambassadors
Professional guides are great, but see if your resort offers tours through ambassadors. These are often passionate skiers who get rewards from the resort for providing tours to guests. You will get a great tour of the mountain without having to pay.
92. Rent Baby Stuff
It's true: you may not have to check a whole extra bag of books, toys, and gear for your baby or little ones. Hotels and babysitting agencies can often set you up with rentals of this stuff for next-to-nothing. Call ahead to see what you can get when you reach your destination.
93. Earn Your Turns
…As in, take a hike, or a skin. If you're an experienced backcountry skier, spending a day or two on neighboring non-resort terrain is free, fun, and an ideal getaway from the crowds.
94. Bring Your Prescriptions, And Back-Up
I know, this seems random. But if you're vacationing out-of-state, medical needs might be costly for out-of-network visits and pharmacies. Minimize potential cost by stocking up on whatever you might need extras of.
95. Be A Tourist
Local flavor and insider connections can save a lot and make you feel connected, but chambers of commerce and visitors associations are there to help locals businesses while serving you, the tourist. For the most part they exist to ensure people come, have a great experience and spend money along the way. Bask in your out-of-townness and get tips from those that work every day to make their town a great vacation destination.
96. Prepare for the Weather
Will it be cold? Probably, but will it be in the 30’s or hovering around zero at the base of the mountain? Don’t get caught with the jacket that worked last February if you will be in the middle of a cold spell. The last thing you want is to be miserable on the mountain, or forced to buy an expensive jacket at a steep markup.
97. Take Stunning Photos
…And sell them. Ski vacations often offer spectacular settings for landscape and lifestyle photos. If you have a decent camera and a knack for photography, take photos as memories and also as potential to sell to magazines or stock websites.
98. Write A Review
If you have experience in writing or blogging, find (or create!) opportunities to write reviews of hotels, restaurants, and resorts in exchange for discounted prices. Companies want good press, and it's not impossible to score some free lift tickets or a classy dinner in exchange for writing about the experience.
99. Research The Resort
There are a lot of great mountains in the US and Canada, which means as a consumer you have a lot of choice. Lift tickets range from $40 a day up to $130, and lodging can range even more. Make sure you pick the right resort for you and your family, as that is probably the biggest factor in total cost. You can see a list of lift ticket prices here
100. Have a Freakin' Phenomenal Time
It's the law of the universe: the vibes you put out into the world are the ones you receive in return. Set your intention of having a great vacation, on your budget, no matter what, and believe that it's what you'll receive. Go along, grasshopper. Let there be fun, and skiing, and deals!