Planning a Ski Trip: Costs to Consider
Winter sports like skiing and snowboarding can be intimidating to newcomers. Acquiring what’s needed to successfully slalom downhill isn’t as easy as strapping on a pair of shoes and going for a run. You not only have to have the right equipment and know how to use it but you need access to a ski resort. Getting everything aligned can seem overwhelming. But with some planning, it’s definitely doable, even as a beginner.
Deciding where to go
Where you decide to ski is simply determined by your location and budget. If you live in an area where you can easily drive to a resort for a day trip and your funds are limited, you'll have plenty of options.
Otherwise, many resorts have airports that are an hour or less away, such as Tahoe. Other than the cost to fly, the only other downside of flying into your destination during winter is that flights often get grounded. Use discount sites to find winter travel deals. Costco and Triple A members may also have access to a number of skiing packages.
If some of the big-name resorts are outside your budget, look into smaller resorts that are less known. Many times, they are less expensive and are more desirable for beginners. Smaller crowds will allow you to get the hang of things without being pressured from the numerous people around you. For example, Arapahoe Basin in Colorado is half the price of Vail.
Choosing your lodging
Check with your desired destination for stay options. Mount Hood in Oregon has its own lodging compound, known as The Timberline Lodge (incidentally, this hotel was featured in exterior shots of THE SHINING). It also has cottages and an inn, for prices from $150 and up, with a variety of amenities including restaurants. Likewise, Sun Valley Idaho has its own hotel-like accommodations.
Other resorts, like Big Bear Mountain in California, don’t have their own dedicated lodge, but have partners that will rent you cottages and houses.
Many resorts offer deals that include a free lift ticket or two with hotel booking. Check their websites for current offers or check out various deal sites. Pay attention to any blackout dates.
Services like Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) or Air BnB to book homes and rooms are also possibilities.
Purchasing lift tickets
Even if you have your own equipment and don’t need a room, you’ll need a lift ticket. The cost varies by day. Weekends usually cost more.
You may be able to buy a lift pass the same day but buying online in advance usually gets you a discount of around 20%. Expect to pay about what you would for an amusement park: around $80-90 at peak season, depending on where you go.
Multi-day lift tickets and season passes end up costing less per day. Season passes cost from $300 to $500, depending on the resort and blackout dates. Figure out how many times you’ll want to visit. If you know you’ll visit five times, and a season pass is $300 while a day pass is $90, then you’ll be saving money with the season pass.
Also check into lift passes with restricted times. Night skiing is usually about half the price of day skiing. You can also get a morning or afternoon only pass at many places.
Some places offer lift tickets prices by age group, giving discounts to children or young adults into their 20s, as well as senior citizens. Others have the same price for pretty much everyone. It’s worth checking for these discounts, including military.
Obviously, you can’t ski downhill in your tennis shoes. You’ll need equipment. Expect to pay $400 to $800 for a pair of new skis. Snowboards begin at around $300. Then you’ll need the bindings, which are around $200, plus boots for another $200. If you don't own a ski wear, you'll also be looking into purchasing ski jackets, ski pants, base layers, goggles, gloves, and poles. All which add up to make skiing an expensive hobby — over a thousand dollars just for equipment if you buy new. If you're okay with used visit a local Play It Again Sports or keep an eye out on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
The least costly option—renting equipment.
Rental equipment packages, no matter the resort or state, hover around $40 to $50. This almost always includes boots and bindings, helmet, skis or snowboard, and poles for skis. At some resorts, they offer premium equipment packages for about ten dollars more. Some resorts also rent you clothing like jackets and pants.
You will probably need to buy your own goggles and gloves, which should cost you under $100 or maybe even under $50 for both (more, of course, if you want). You can get these online or at a local sporting goods store.
Before you arrive, check where the equipment rental place is. They’re usually onsite near the lifts, but some places have them off-site or someplace else on the mountain grounds.
Taking ski or snowboard lessons
Lessons are definitely worth the cost, because not only do they show you how to ski or snowboard downhill, they teach you important skills like how to stop, how to stand up off the moving lift, and how to avoid other skiers.
Group lessons are a great way to learn the basics of skiing or snowboarding. Resorts almost always have packages with a 2- to-3-hour lesson you can add to your lift ticket/equipment rental for another $30 to $40. Many lessons also allow you to skip the lift line, letting you get plenty of practice.
At the end of the day, ski trips can make for an expensive vacation. But once you own the equipment, you can expect for trips to be cheaper moving forward, unless you want to tackle the most popular ski destinations.