How to Plan a Ski Weekend on a Budget

in Financial Planning by

I love skiing. I also live in San Francisco (hello rent!), love shoes, and sushi (are you seeing a theme here?). In order to contribute to my 401k AND keep up my hobbies, I have figured out a few tips and tricks to help control the rising cost of a ski weekend.

Here are the essentials:

Housing

Of course, the best way to save on housing costs is to eliminate them – save 100% and take a day trip. For the cost of gas and seven hours in a car, you can have a nice day skiing. Better yet, find a rich friend whose parents own a slope-side condo in Vail.

In the off chance that the slope-side condo at Vail is booked, my favorite way to spend a ski weekend is to rent a house with friends, preferably one that is close to the resort and with the bare minimum of necessary amenities: an outdoor hot tub. More people in the house often equates to a cheaper nightly rate (and obviously more fun).

I always begin my search on VRBO.com or Airbnb.com for weekend house rentals and of course, the earlier you look, the more you will have to choose from. That said, don’t give up hope with a last-minute trip; I have found amazing places within a week of my preferred dates.

Another advantage of sharing a house, as opposed to a hotel, is the access to a kitchen. The more meals you prepare and/or eat at home, the better you can control your overall food costs. Some houses come very well stocked while others take a BYO salt and pepper philosophy. You can usually count on a coffee pot (but bring filters), basic cutlery, flatware, pots, pans, and dull knife or two.

Food

When it comes to food, it is helpful to establish basic priorities for your ski weekend. If you want to prioritize waiting in endless lines for over-priced and over-cooked hamburgers, have at it, but I refuse! You can choose to eat at gourmet restaurants or slave over homemade delicacies, but I like my ski house meals simple, fast, and formulaic. Food is the easiest way to save money on a ski weekend and a little pre-planning goes a long way.

It’s worth noting that I do a lot of shopping and cooking before I head up to the mountains. Near the resorts, the food selection tends to be more limited and more expensive. Some people LOVE going to the grocery store on vacation. I am not one of those people.

My favorite go-to dinner is a loaded baked potato bar:

  • Baked potatoes or sweet potatoes – I bake mine at home during the week and a 10 minute reheat is perfect.
  • Chili – I make ahead of time and bring with me (recipe here) but buying cans also works.
  • Toppings: roasted broccoli, cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapeños, and Fritos.

Dinner is pre-planned, easily adjusted to the number of people and allows you to spend your après-ski time doing important après-ski activities, like drinking beer and going in the aforementioned hot tub. Bonus – it’s totally appropriate to eat dinner in sweatpants when you’re eating at home.

Final food tip: take the extra 15 minutes in the morning to pack a lunch while you’re making breakfast. Simple, fast and formulaic holds here as well – pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cheese stick, and package of fruit snacks. You may not win any cooking awards, but you also will not waste time and money eating mediocre food in the lodge.

Lift Ticket

Generally speaking, lift tickets will be the largest cost during your ski weekend and while there are deals to be found, there is no way to completely avoid the expense.

To begin, determine what kind of skier you are. Are you skiing every weekend with your friends, weather be damned? You need a season pass. Haven’t skied a day in your life? Buy a cheaper lift ticket that allows you access to the bunny slope and a few green runs. Are you there for the après ski scene and have trouble waking up before noon? A half-day ticket is for you.

Whatever you choose, remember that there are always less expensive alternatives to purchasing your tickets directly from the window at the base. A season pass is a great choice for those who ski throughout the winter and the earlier you buy, the cheaper the price. For the traveling skier, the $359 Mountain Collective Pass is a great option and provides two days at number of resorts across California, Colorado, Utah, and Canada. Any additional days at the named resorts are available at 50% off of the window price. If you are close to one of these resorts and are planning an out of town ski trip with friends, this is an unbeatable deal.

For the casual weekender the key is (yet again) to plan ahead. There are a number of lift ticket deals available to the public. Liftopia.com partners with several ski resorts and sells reduced-price lift tickets. Once the lift tickets sell out for the season, they are gone. Local outfitters such as Sports Basement (SF) partner with California and Nevada resorts to sell reduced-price lift tickets. The Tahoe Super 4 Pass offers 30% savings with no blackout dates on four days at Squaw/Alpine. Lastly, most mountain websites will provide around 20% savings for purchases two days or more in advance.

Gear

Now that you’ve rented the house, found a friend to do your grocery shopping, and reserved lift tickets online, the last thing you need to figure out is gear. There are two main categories to cover: the gear you’re wearing and gear you’re using (skis, snowboard, boots, etc).

To plan your outfit for the slopes, always check the weather and bring appropriate layers.
If this is your first time skiing, try borrowing clothes from friends who ski; I guarantee you know someone with extra gear. If your definition of cold weather clothing is a tracksuit or a snuggie, check with a local outfitter where you can usually rent the pieces you’re missing.

The gear you use is somewhat harder to borrow from friends due to the size-specific nature of ski and snowboard boots. Renting gear on the mountain is always an option, but they have a captive audience and can charge almost anything. I don’t recommend renting on the mountain unless you are a beginner. Resorts will often package a lift ticket and rentals with a lesson and the package rates are hard to beat. Otherwise, procuring your rental gear before you leave home will almost always provide the most affordable choice. For San Francisco locals, Sports Basement is the best bang for your buck and they don’t charge for pick up or drop off days. If you would rather rent gear once you’re closer to your destination, finding a shop in town (for instance, Tahoe Dave’s) rather than at the base will save you some money.

Lastly, if you don’t own one already, spend the extra $10 to rent yourself a helmet. Besides being on trend (everyone’s doing it!), the obvious safety benefit is well worth the money.

Let’s face it: Skiing is an expensive sport and the resorts are always eager to squeeze as much cash as possible from willing patrons. While some of the sport’s costs will be unavoidable, anything you can do to reduce the price of a weekend in the mountains will only add to your enjoyment. A cheaper ski weekend might even allow you and your friends to plan another trip – fingers crossed that the Vail condo becomes available. Until then, save money by practicing your swivel hips in the comfort of your living room.

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Abigail Frey

Abigail Frey

Abigail Frey is a medical sales consultant based in San Francisco. An East Coast native, she cultivated her love of the mountains while attending the University of Colorado in Boulder and has brought her enthusiasm for the outdoors to the Bay Area. Abigail enjoys practicing small-scale financial planning in her daily life and always packs a lunch.
Abigail Frey

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