A vacation at a mountain ski resort can equate to serious fun in the outdoors… and a serious investment. You’ll be spending money — there’s no way around it. So before planning your next adventure, learn ways to plan your ski vacation on a budget.
You’ll learn which amenities and activities provide the best value and which can be skipped altogether. Below are the top values for and ways to save on your next ski vacation on a budget.
When to Save and When to Splurge
Accommodations: Stay Slope-Side
With some types of travel, your choice of lodging is nothing more than a place to lay your head at night. But where you stay at a mountain ski resort matters greatly and can impact your entire trip. Not only will you spend a significant amount of time enjoying your accommodations, you’ll also traverse back and forth to the lifts several times every day.
Location is key. Paying more to stay slope-side with ski-in, ski-out convenience will save you time and effort, increasing your enjoyment and vacation value. Likewise, choosing a condo or vacation home rental with a kitchen (and ideally, laundry facilities) will save money on dining. You will be minimizing your impact on the environment too by eating in and not driving to the slopes.
Lessons: Go Private
I’m going to take a radical stance: if you plan to include ski lessons in your vacation, go private. At first glance, opting for private lessons seems like an extreme indulgence. That’s certainly what I thought before experiencing them firsthand at California’s Northstar-at-Tahoe.
In truth, private lessons come with built-in value. You will receive individualized attention (during which you or your kids will learn far more than is possible in cheaper group lessons). Individual lessons also provide ski school line access which is a huge value on crowded days. Additionally, you will enjoy a personalized tour of unfamiliar ski terrain.
During our lesson at Northstar, our instructor was able to tailor our lesson to the type of terrain we were most interested in, playing tour guide for the mountain resort. On our own, we wouldn’t have discovered half of this large mountain!
What’s more, most private lesson packages are generally for up to four to six people for one price. Our private half-day lesson for our family of five added up to less than it would have cost for my husband and me to put our three kids in all-day group lessons, and we were able to spend more time together as a family.
Dining: Eat In for Most Meals
Most ski resort lodges have very good grub — or is it just easy to work up an appetite? Unfortunately, food on-mountain is also notoriously expensive. Because lunch for a family of four in a typical ski lodge counter-service restaurant can cost between $60-80 per day (we expect to pay upwards of $100 for our family of five), we opt to eat breakfast and dinner in our condo or vacation home.
Not only is it more convenient to purchase food on the mountain at mid-day than pack it in (renting a locker to store your lunch can set you back $10 per rental and lots of lost time), but we’re downright worn out after a day on the slopes, and more than happy to whip up something easy for the dinner meal in the comfort of our condo après ski.
If you want to bring that lunch cost down as well, bring bladder-style water bottles and fill them up at drinking fountains. Skipping purchased drinks can save a family as much as $8-10 per meal.
Lift Tickets: Opt for Multi-Day & Buy Ahead
After lodging, lift tickets will likely eat up the biggest chunk of your vacation budget. There are, however, ways to save. And there are exceptions to the heart-attack-inducing pricing. Most resorts offer reduced prices if tickets are bought online, and nearly all offer multi-day discounts.
Never, ever buy one-day tickets at the window the day of, if possible. Check for resorts, like Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor, that offer pricing on a sliding scale, calculated by how much of the mountain is open on a given day.
If you plan to ski more than five days, or plan to return at least once in the season, look closely at season pass options. Our local resort of Mt. Ashland, Oregon offers an unbeatable deal for spring skiers: buy a season pass for the following year, and you ski free throughout the current spring season!
Lastly, look at lodging-ticket combo packages, especially if you plan to rent equipment and buy lessons. Smuggler’s Notch of Vermont does this better than any resort I’ve experienced. Their ski-lesson-lodging-activity packages for families cannot be beat.
Tubing: Skip It
Warning: the following may be another unpopular opinion. Tubing at most ski resorts is not a good value. While the activity is fun — and provides non-skiers with a great way to spend time in the snow — tubing tickets are almost always overpriced. We were charged $30 per hour, per person at a major ski resort recently.
Instead, a small amount of research will almost always reveal a local (free or cheap) alternative. Check for area snow parks where you can cross-country ski or snowshoe for the cost of daily rentals, or ask lift operators or waiters where the best sledding is found.
Enjoy a Great Time on Your Ski Vacation on a Budget
It is possible to have a memorable ski vacation on a budget. Just follow these tips on where to save and where to splurge, and you will have a great ski trip without breaking the bank. Happy skiing!
Where do you splurge and save on your ski vacations?