As we were leaving for our last trip to Tahoe, I ran into a friend as I was balancing my rental skis on my head. “You’re going to Tahoe again?” she sighed. “You’re so lucky. I would love to go to Tahoe. I’ve lived in California much of my life and have never gotten the chance to go.”
One thing that’s always irked me is the statement “you’re lucky.” Sure, I’m fortunate that I had supportive parents who taught me to reach for the stars, blessed to be instilled with the persistence and drive to have built a career upon a passion I love above all else, and I have managed to do so in a way that affords me a bit of flexibility, but I’m also a firm believer that we all make our own “luck.” I’d venture to say this friend’s salary is nearly twice what SVV and I make a year combined. And while skiing is often referred to as a “rich man’s sport,” I’m here to tell you that if the two of us—two creative professionals living paycheck to paycheck—can make it work, so can she, and so can you.
With that said, here are a few tips on how we’ve afforded our snow addiction:
Buy a season pass. Obviously, if you’re only going to ski two or three days in one season, this doesn’t make sense. But most resorts offer killer deals on season passes if you purchase them before Christmas. (If you’re a slopes-loving couple, you could even give this to each other as your Christmas present.) Our cost? $379 for a full season. And it was valid at three resorts—Heavenly, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe—every day of the year except Christmas week and the Saturday and Sunday of MLK and President’s Day weekends. At Heavenly’s steep $92-a-day prices, we would have only had to ski five days to make our money back. Instead, We skied 12, running us less than $32 a day.
The fearsome foursome, ready for some black diamond action.
Go in on a cabin share. A friend invited us in on her rent-controlled cabin share in which we made a total of…wait for it…$307 per couple for an entire season. Or $153.50 for SVV, $153.50 for me. This bought us a designated week with the cabin all to ourselves, which we used when my family was in town for my birthday in February, and any other nights or weekends when someone wasn’t already using it, of which there were many. So not only were we paying less than $30 a night combined for a three-bedroom house, but my family got free lodging, as well. Sure, it may be hard to land a deal quite as great as we got, but I often see cabin shares or rentals on HomeAway and other vacation rental sites that are nearly as sweet deals. Look in the more affordable areas, like South Lake Tahoe in our case, and steer clear of the chicer ‘hoods (like Truckee or Squaw).
The icicles on the sides of the cabin could very well have been the murder weapon in a mystery novel.
Smaller is sometimes better, or at least cheaper. The big names—Heavenly, Northstar, Squaw—will, correspondingly, charge the most to ski. Some of my favorite spots are the smaller resorts outside the main towns like Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood, each of which is $20 to $30 cheaper a day than the biggies. And the facilities and trails are every bit as nice as the buzzier destinations.
Castle and Clipper are my favorite runs at Sierra, but Beaver is the most fun of the blues.
Ski midweek. Like everything else in life, lift ticket prices go up on the weekends. Take a day or two off work (you deserve it!) and hit the slopes when prices are lower and crowds are fewer. We love midweek skiing—in fact, we didn’t ski a weekend day all season!
Kari and me in front of a 12-foot snow drift after a big storm.
Buy your lift tickets online or at sports retailers prior to your trip. Most ski resorts offer discounted deals online if you purchase your tickets at least seven days in advance directly from their websites. We didn’t do so when my family was in town and were gobsmacked when we found out day-of lift tickets for Heavenly would run them each $92. Luckily, I had run to Sports Basement in San Francisco before we left town and saw that they sold lift tickets for many of the resorts at wholesale price; thus, I snagged three for $56 a pop instead of the $71 we would have paid at the resort. Similarly, I came across a number of deals across the Web (Google is your friend, people), such as Shell station offering a free Northstar lift ticket with the purchase of another adult ticket plus 10 gallons of gas (a $92 value). Also, if you splurge and stay at a resort lodge, many of them are having a hard time filling rooms and, therefore, are offering free lift tickets with stays.
Kari snowboarding for the second time ever…we even took her down a black diamond, and she killed it!
Seek out specials. We had only bought one day’s worth of Sierra passes for my family as we planned on skiing Heavenly the rest of the week, but wound up skiing multiple days there due to most of Heavenly being on lift hold because of the 90mph winds. Much to our surprise, Sierra offered “youth” discounts for “kids” up to 22 years old, so both my sister and Richard were able to ski for $20 off a day. Other resorts offer college-specific or senior citizen discounts, too; you just have to do a little digging. Plus, many sites such as Breckenridge Lodging regularly run deals or release unsold rooms last minute at much lower prices.
Richard, on the other hand, has skied is whole life and, while new at riding, is practically a pro.
BYOL. That’s Bring Your Own Lunch. Sierra-at-Tahoe is the only resort we’ve skied where the lunch was actually the economical choice (other than the crepe and hot dog carts at Northstar). At the bottom of West Bowl, SVV and I would buy a hulking burrito for $8 and split it (I can’t ski on a full stomach, so half was more than enough). Four dollars each for lunch isn’t bad. Otherwise, he wears a Camelbak and stuffs it full of granola bars, packs of Gu leftover from my races and Jolly Ranchers to hold us over until we get off the mountain in the afternoon.
Lunch with the Luna crew, plus our men (minus my poor overworked dad, who was CPA-ing it up back in Tennessee).
Build up your gear. This may not be cheap upfront, but over a period years, it will save you beaucoup bucks. I’ve slowly collected snow apparel since moving to California. The first piece of equipment I actually purchased beyond clothing was a pair of nice goggles a few years ago during a sale at Sports Basement. Last year, I got a helmet with a free $100 credit from Porter’s. This year, I bought last season’s Dalbello boots at Lombardi for $180. (Tip: buying the previous year’s models usually run around half of what the current model retail…and they hardly change at all from year to year.) I’ve spent around $150 a year on average for gear, instead of dropping a couple thousand bucks at once. It’s far less painful that way for my poor, dwindling bank account. At the end of this season, I might finally give in and purchase skis and poles. Most of the ski shops put all their remaining inventory on mega clearance in April before they close up shop for the year, so snapping up spring deals is where the money-saving can be found.
Snow bunnies at Sierra.
Rent your skis outside the resort areas. If you don’t have your own equipment, you’ll pay around $40 a day—sometimes even more—if you rent directly from the resort or in any of the shops at its base. Many sports stores in the closest city will rent you a package for half the price. I already own boots, so each time we’d head to the mountain, I’d swing by Lombardi Sports in San Francisco and pick up skis, bindings and poles for a total of $10 a day (and they don’t charge you for the day you pick up or the day you drop off). Similarly, we found a little shack in a parking lot on the on the main drag of Tahoe, Don Cheepo’s, that rented the same equipment I was getting in the Bay Area for around the same price. Plus, the owner and his wife are so delightful. I like to support local businesses, so I’ll be returning to Don’s for my skis on all subsequent visits…until I own my set.
This Colorado girl agrees with all of the above 🙂
All good tips. We wrote similar post about how to do Tahoe for cheap (http://jackandjilltravel.com/how-to-ski-tahoe-california-for-cheap/) — because, yes skiing can be expensive. But the mountain is calling :p
P.S. Love your ski outfit. Cute!
Another great way to get cheap gear is to hit up independent rental places or sporting goods stores at the end of season and ask if they’re selling their rentals. Often they’ll sell that season’s rentals at incredibly cheap prices to make room for the new stuff next season.
Great tip, Anne! I didn’t know that and will have to try to do this when/if I purchase skis this spring.
Love the article! I know Heavenly guarantees the lowest rate on lift tickets through their website if you purchase them 7 days in advance, like you mentioned. Here’s the link in case anyone is looking – http://snow.to/Xi62C . Northstar-at-Tahoe has something similar and they have a 4 day ticket called the Quad Pack that can be a good deal – http://snow.to/w3TCz
Thanks for the input, Daniel! Since I have the season pass I didn’t realize until our last trip to Heavenly when we were going to buy my family lift tickets online that they had to be purchased seven days in advance. But it was the week after President’s Day anyway, which is considered a black-out week at Heavenly anyway, so I bet they wouldn’t have let us purchase them in the first place. Lesson learned: Avoid weeks AFTER holiday weekends, too!
Great post! i love that you use the term “snow addiction” – because that’s what I call it! Headed to Breck & Vail this weekend and I absolutely cannot WAIT! 🙂
Looks like we’re just missing each other…SVV and I are heading to Keystone weekend after this one! Leave some good powder behind for us, will ya?
Love these tips! I know from experience that skiing can be grossly expensive, though I don’t do it often enough to know some of these tricks. So thank you–I will definitely use some of these next time!!!
Thanks, Emily! Glad to help =)
Awesome article! Love the cabin share idea! A few more ideas: for gear – ski swaps, usually in fall/early winter, especially great for kids! Sample sales – if you know any ski/snowboard company reps they sell their samples after they have shown them off to their shops – usually late winter-early Spring. Ski shows are also a good place to buy/swap. Early and late season riding -just like mid-week a lot of mountains will cut you really good deals on ski/stay packages just to get people to the mountain. Some mountains have a free “try before you buy” hour (usually the first hour the mountain is open) especially great if it’s the last day of your trip and you can get there early enough, you can take a ton of runs before people even get up to the mountain – for free! Some mountains have social networking sites like facebook and twitter, that promote offers to only their followers. Some mountains have microwaves in the lodges, so you can heat up your leftovers. If you drive to the mountain, pack a sandwich and leave it in the car – it usually stays cold enough! Most mountains have amabassador programs, and as long as you commit to being there a certain amount of days per season (usually 20-30), wear a special jacket, are friendly and dedicate your day to helping others find their way or picking up after their yard sales, you can get a free pass! OK, that was more than a few…but I’ve been on the snow since I was able to walk and have worked at three ski resorts : ) Had to share!
Oooh excellent tips. I knew nothing about these ambassador programs–will have to look into that before next season! I could ski 20-30 days a season =)
Ooh a post after my own heart! I am proof that you don’t have to be rich to ski a lot. I’m at 19 times for the season so far with plenty of spring skiing to come!
I always bring my lunch with me. The key is to bring something good (I typically bring leftover pizza – yum!) so you aren’t tempted to just buy something.
And I agree on someone’s comment about buying rental gearl. Or waiting till the early fall. I bought my whole alpine touring setup in September, when the shops were trying to get rid of last year’s stuff for about $850 (skis, boots and bindings). Originally is would have been about $1800!
Mmmm pizza. We need to take your advice: I get so tired of granola bars on the slopes, but pizza I could be down with!
Thanks for this advice – considering we’re probably spending next winter in Canada and have only seen snow on a few occasions, these tips are very helpful!
Oooh that sounds like a fun winter! I’ll be very jealous if you’re near Whistler; it’s meant to be some of the best skiing in all of North America.
X-country. Look for ski swaps pre-season.
Tell Ella she’s welcome any time.
I *really really* wish I was better at snowboarding. I *want* to be good but after going the second time and having a small celebration that I cleared the bunny hill, I think I’ve decided I need to invest in some lessons. Shaun on the other hand used to be a skateboarder and was tearing up black diamonds on his first day.
Lessons will definitely help! I only got really good this season, and that’s because I had one all-day lesson last year and one at the beginning of this winter. Before any lessons, I was terrified of a lot of the blues…now I fly down a lot of the blacks and it isn’t much of a challenge at all! A lesson or two, then repetition–that’s all it takes!
Very nice article.
It’s so true that people often confuse ‘luck’ with choices. Like you, I’ve prioritized travel and have made sacrifices so I can do it full-time. In contrast, a friend of mine recently came into a windfall that would easily support me for an entire year, or more. He’s using the cash to completely renovate his master bath. I don’t even have a ‘master bath’ and yet somehow I’m ‘lucky’ to be able to do what I’m doing. Go figure.
Spot on, Brian. From now on whenever someone says to me “I’m lucky,” I will respond: “I think you’re confusing ‘luck’ with choices.”
Yes, there’s a reason I don’t have a master bath either–or a house, or really any major possession other than my car (and my puppy)!
How I afford my ski addiction? Convince the people at Vail resorts to invite me on a trip!
Great tips – so true! I’m currently doing the “bulid up your gear” tips now, after my first trip to CO. Another great tip – borrowing clothes from other ski freaks!
Also, for the “Go in on a cabin share.”- this worked best for us during our stay in Breck. EIGHT Days = 350 $ in an amazing condo, and I know you can go for less. But think of how much we saved by having a kitchen and COOKING meals 🙂 Plus bringing snacks or taking the 5 minutes to walk down the mountain into town for a WAY chearper lunch!
Yearly ski trip, if not more, is in place for life. Next stop – BC and the Swiss Alps!
Story of our winter! Kyle bought a season pass in October, winning him a cheaper price. The mountain he picked isn’t the biggest or best in the area, but it’s 30 minutes from home, which means we can zip over after work for night skiing. Because I was just learning how to ski I did not get a season pass, however, between cheaper rates for night skiing and keeping an eye on specials, we never paid more than $40 for me to ski. Of course, the biggest money saver turned out to be buying me my own skis. We managed to get me the entire package (skis, bindings, and poles) for around $400 because we waited until late February when our local ski shop had everything 20%. (Also, my man-sized feet meant that I was able to fit into very small men’s boots, which just happened to be leftover from last year.) Oh, and like you, we NEVER ski on the weekends. Not only do they gouge you, but the slopes are usually much more overcrowded, and there are children EVERYWHERE. No, thank you.
Overall, you hit the nail on the head, but there’s one thing I have to add. There is one place you should never skimp on, and that’s acquiring a helmet. Whether you rent or buy, make sure you protect your skull, people!
Great stuff! I’m sad I missed the season this year…
And I completely agree, you make your own luck. 🙂
Was looking for your Heavenly vs. Northstar post and came across this one. Going to bookmark it! I totally agree on being irked by “you’re lucky”.
Some really great tips here, much needed if you’re ever visiting Norway (where skiing addictions run rampant). Personally I’m not an avid fan, but I like going on the trips anyway and the “sharing accommodation” point is heavily used. Great post this, thanks for sharing 🙂