More Green for the Hill.
Skiing has never been inexpensive sport. But over the past few decades, the cost of hitting the slopes has spiked. The reasons are myriad, including energy costs, insurance costs, and a more demanding customer base. The latter causes a sort of vicious financial cycle, where customers want more because of the high cost, which in turn prompts the resorts to devote more resources into the product, which drives the price up. But there are ways to take the edge off of your skiing bottom line.
Don't be Penny wise, and pound foolish
Right off the bat, I want to warn people about the temptation of bargain shopping blindly. The dollars you save now may be needed to replace inferior products much sooner than you think. Brands like Patagonia, Arc'Teryx, and, yes, even Kulkea, can come with a premium price tag. But you get your money's worth. My 16-year-old daughter is wearing a comfy Patagonia fleece that I got as a Christmas present from my baby brother Matthew almost three decades ago. Today, Matt is the Western Regional Sales Manager for Patagonia. He told me the company's simple mission statement – 'Build the best product.' – is the key to its success. "We challenge ourselves to meet the highest performance standards for the intended use: Backcountry touring, alpine climbing, etcetera," said Matt. "That means it has to be durable, functional and true to the sport, making it timeless by intent. If we deliver, the value is inherent – a wearable essential for years in the field." In short, money well spent today will pay dividends down the road. If you can find a premium brand at a bargain price, that's a bonus. Just make sure that the product you're buying will last, and the company will stand behind it.
Use what you've got
Skiers sometimes get caught up in the sport's "fashion plate" culture. Translation? People want to look their best on the slopes. And that means new ski outfits. However, the reality is that the outfit you're wearing to shovel the driveway is, in all likelihood, adequate to hit the slopes. That's not always the case (things like breathable/waterproof fabrics definitely have an advantage on the hill), but usually a solid winter jacket and ski gloves will do the trick. Add a pair of quality ski pants and a helmet, and you're good to go. (Clearly, the helmet is optional, but highly recommended.) If you don't ski that often, or are new to the sport, don't be bashful about borrowing the few extra items you need.
True story. Just a few years back, I volunteered to work at my local community center's annual ski swap. I was assigned to "log in" all the skis and other winter paraphernalia that people were donating, or selling on consignment. One woman of obvious means came in with a pair of beautiful, barely used Salomon X-Scream skis, in my size. She was donating them, happy to take the tax credit. Those skis never made it to the sales floor, because I bought them right then and there, and enjoyed skiing on them for the next four years. But it goes to show that there are diamonds in these swaps, if you're lucky and if you know what you're looking for. The same goes for bargains found on Craig's List and retail outlets like Play It Again Sports and Replay Sports. Ebay is another option, but remember that you're likely buying the item blind. Ask lots of questions before bidding.
Pre and early season sales
Used gear is only one rich vein for the vigilant bargain hunter. You can often find great deals on brand new gear that happens to be a year old. It's just like the automobile industry. Last year's models need to be moved to make room for the current models. To do that, dealers discount the older models. And those discounts are often pretty steep. I've found the best place to find these sales are ski-specific shops that are carrying a high-end inventory that they've already paid for. And, the fact is, the technology in ski and snowboard gear rarely changes dramatically from year to year. Usually, those changes are subtle, and can be merely cosmetic. That means you can buy equipment that's every bit as good, or very close, while paying pennies on the dollar.
Pre or early season passes
Equipment isn't the only pre-season special. The time-honored season's pass usually becomes available within weeks after the lifts shut down in the spring (if not earlier). There are, however, pros and cons to the season's pass. Obviously, the more you use the pass, the cheaper each day costs. And the earlier you buy the pass, the better the deal. But that also requires you to crystal ball the following season. If the stars align, and your schedule allows for regular getaways, Mother Nature cooperates with great snow (like last winter in New England), and you stay healthy, then the season pass can be an absolutely killer deal. But if any of those factors fall apart, and you start missing time on the hill, and the economies of scale start to work against you. A season's pass also often locks you into a certain resort, although more and more resorts are partnering to offer a transferable pass. A great example is the Colorado Gold Pass (coloradoski.com/gold-pass), which offers access to 20 member resorts. So if you like to ski at numerous resorts, shop around.
Discount tickets, and ticket packages
Let your fingers do the walking, employing the power of the Internet to find great deals on lift tickets. Check out sites like ski.com, liftopia.com, snow.com, and skicoupons.com. These offer a "happy medium" between season pass and "same day" purchases. These sites typically require at least a week's advanced purchase, so you'll want to double check the weather and the family schedule to make sure you're free. The reward is usually well worth the risk. Similarly, most resorts offer deals on their own web sites, though the savings can vary dramatically. Most also offer discounts for seniors (65 and older) and juniors (usually 14 and younger). When in doubt, call the resort directly. If you can get to the hill during the weekdays, you can grab even more savings.
Thinking ahead can also save you a few bucks on rentals, if you don't want to invest in your own gear. On-mountain rental shops are super convenient, but you pay for that convenience. And you don't always get the best variety to choose from. Check out your local ski shops, or even the shops near the mountain, for better deals and selection (remember, those mountain town shops need to compete with the resorts, and competition drives prices down). Some shops even offer "seasonal" rentals, which are similar to leasing a car. Keep the equipment for the season, return it in the spring. The best aspect of seasonal rentals is that you get to upgrade to new gear at the beginning of each season.
Smaller might be better
If you're willing to sacrifice a few amenities and some vertical, you can usually find much better lift ticket prices at smaller hills. For example, the legendary Jackson Hole resort in Wyoming charges $118 for an adult lift ticket, provided you purchase that ticket seven days in advance (expect to pay even more at the ticket window). However, right in the town of Jackson, the local hill, Snow King, charges less than $50, and even offers a two-hour rate. Sure, you don't get a tram or the same extreme terrain, but you can still make turns to your heart's content, and be able to afford dinner afterward. There are dozens of tremendous smaller hills throughout North America that offer a great experience at a fraction of the cost.
Brown bag it
Most ski resorts have seen the light, and have invested in their on-mountain dining options, offering better fare at better prices. But you can still save some serious coin by bringing your own breakfast or lunch. Brown bagging is a great alpine tradition, similarly, when you're shopping for a place to stay, scout out options that offer a kitchenette, which will allow you to skip the restaurant scene (which is fun, but potentially expensive). Enjoying a few "ready to bake" casseroles and adult beverages at your condo is not only a great way to spend time with friends and family, but can also represent substantial savings over the course of the ski season. And that leaves more discretionary income for actually skiing and snowboarding. There's a true win/win.
How to Buy Ski Boots.
How to Buys Skis.
Ski Gear Checklist (PDF Download).