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7 Best Ways to Actually Go Skiing for Cheap All Over the U.S.

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These days, ski season is right around the corner. After a devastating knee injury at the end of last ski season, I am eager for 2024. However, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I no longer live near some of the most beautiful ski resorts in the world. This automatically means that costs will increase for us Midwestern travelers. I can now empathize with many of you as we try navigating how to travel on a budget and ski for cheap. The truth is that skiing for cheap is never really cheap, but there are surefire ways to cut costs and make it affordable. 

Travel Guides Colorado Skiing: Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Tips for Skiing in CO

How do people afford to go skiing? 

If you’ve seen How to Get Rich or read “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi then you’ll understand the point I’m about to make. Sethi is a financial expert whose philosophy is to spend money on the things you love and cut costs on things that you don’t love. Therefore, to afford skiing, you must love it and be willing to spend on it. Loving it makes the spending worth it. 

Tossing around the word “rich” can feel deceiving I understand that, so I assure you that I am by no means rich. Sam and I make an average amount and still manage to make skiing part of our lives. We probably spend on the higher end of this scale as we intend to ski out West for most of the winter. While the average skier probably plans to make one or two big ski trips a year. That makes us experts in this arena as we have learned some extra tips and tricks that will help you master skiing for cheap. 

How much does skiing usually cost?

You may not like the answer to this question because it does depend. From my experience, skiing out West can cost an arm and a leg with day passes peaking around $250/day. On top of that, you may be traveling from out of town and need a place to crash. You can typically predict the costs of passes and stays based on the popularity, size of resorts, and quality of skiing. Again, my experience comes from out West, but I imagine some New England ski resorts have similarly high prices while Midwestern resorts are the most affordable. 

Beyond passes and accommodations, ski gear can be another large cost. Think back to the philosophy of spending money on something you love. If you plan to ski often, then investing in some ski gear is probably more worth it than renting. Once you buy it, ski gear tends to last. If you’re more of an every-so-often skier then renting is probably just fine. On average for adults, skis can cost at the very least $300, not including bindings. Boots are typically another $100+, and you’ll also want to purchase poles, goggles, a helmet, and ski clothing. When all is said and done ski gear alone can cost you thousands. Unless you decide to try skiing for cheap like me…

7 Tips to Master Skiing for Cheap

1. Find Budget Ski Gear

My first pair of skis, boots, and helmet were purchased off of Facebook Marketplace for a total of $175. I used all of this gear for 2 full seasons before I decided that I really liked skiing and wanted some better stuff. So if you’re just starting out, I recommend this method of purchasing used gear (if you can be so lucky to find boots and bindings that fit just right). Another option for beginner skiers is to purchase a package from a rental shop for the entire season. This will be the best bang for your buck if you plan to go multiple times. It’s also more efficient as you always have the gear with you and won’t have to make reservations for each resort you visit. 

Finally, know when and where to buy. There are always major sales at the end of the ski season in April/May and I tend to luck out on at least 1 item. Use sites like Steep and Cheap, Backcountry, Evo, and of course, REI. If you’re in Denver, check out my guide to finding cheap athletic and outdoor gear.

2. Purchase Epic or Ikon Passes

Just as ski gear tends to be a large upfront cost, so is purchasing the Epic or Ikon Pass. It may not feel like you’re skiing for cheap, but in the end, you save an absolute fortune. Epic and Ikon passes are “multi-mountain” ski passes that give you access to several resorts. Remember how I mentioned that one day of skiing out West can cost up to $250/day? That’s $750 for the weekend while purchasing an Epic Local pass costs $700 for the entire season with access to resorts all over the country. There are even more flexible options from 1-7 day passes to purchase at cheaper rates. Both passes also offer several payment plan options. An Ikon pass tends to be a bit pricier than the Epic but offers very similar flexibility and access to over 50 resorts both nationally and internationally. 

**As a word of caution, be sure to look at restricted resorts and dates (typically holiday weekends) for each type of pass and decide which is best for you based on your trip ski itinerary. 

3. Plan as Early as Possible

This is a general rule if you want to know how to travel on a budget, but especially if you want to make skiing for cheap a reality. You have to plan well in advance. For starters, Ikon and Epic Passes go on sale in March and are at their cheapest. From there, the passes increase in price periodically throughout the summer and fall until they’re sold out. Price increases are also true for traditional tickets and passes at resorts. The earlier you buy, the cheaper they will be. 

If you’re already an expert in budget travel, then you know that booking stays early tends to pay off. Not to mention, there are many more options available and you can be pickier about the balance between budget and comfort. Finally, booking rental gear in advance is cheaper. Resorts appreciate reservations and you’ll avoid long wait times for day-of rentals. When renting gear for the season or from a third party from the resort, be sure to book early. It’s only October and Christy’s Sports looks to be sold out for all-season rentals in several locations. 

4. Avoid Holiday Weekends and Ski During the Week

Not only does this reduce your time in crowds and increase your time on the mountain, but non-holiday weekends are always cheaper. I know what you’re thinking…this tip for skiing on the cheap means I’ll have to take more time off from work. That’s probably true, but at least you’re using PTO, right? Anyway, passes and stays tend to be exorbitantly higher for weekends like MLK and Presidents Day while the cheapest prices are found Monday-Friday. Other than skipping the holiday weekends, consider heading out West in December or April. The downside to this option is less snow and fewer runs open, but it is a way to plan skiing for cheap. 

5. Visit Smaller Resorts and Ski Areas

There are several places to ski for cheap in Colorado. Check out this list from On the Snow which includes spots like Loveland Ski Area, Ski Cooper, and Wolf’s Creek. They also have a list of the cheapest ski resorts across the U.S. While these places may not have the same amenities as the larger resorts, they still offer some impressive snow and skiing. Out-of-towners really won’t know the difference. Many of these spots are also close to other ski resorts so you can visit the luxurious bases after your day on the mountain. Skiing at smaller resorts also provides more flexibility for cheaper stays. So maybe there aren’t any ski-in, ski-out options but who can afford that anyway? 

6. Stay Outside of Major Ski Towns and Commute

While I definitely don’t recommend staying in Denver when you go out to ski (the traffic alone can ruin all your trip). There are smaller mountain towns along I-70 that help you skip traffic and save on resort prices. The areas of Frisco, Silverthorne, and Dillon, Colorado provide cozy mountain town amenities and are just a short drive to many of the major resorts in CO. Utah skiing is probably the most accessible for travelers with a 40-minute drive (without traffic) from the Salt Lake to Park City. This way, you can find a cheaper stay in Salt Lake and commute without much hassle. Of course, the downside to this option is less convenience and earlier wake-up times to snag a parking spot. But hey, we all know you pay for convenience. 

When you stay outside of a resort, be sure to explore public transportation options. In my experience, most resort towns have a robust public transport system and this can help make your day more convenient and reduce parking costs.

7. Go With a Group

Another staple if you know how to travel on a budget. Traveling in groups and splitting costs can significantly reduce total spending on your trip. Large Airbnbs with beautiful kitchens encourage more nights of cooking and staying in. In addition, you can split rental cars, the cost of food, and other essentials. This does not have to be a big group by the way. Even going in a group of 3 can be enough to split a hotel room. Tight spaces aren’t really an issue as you’ll spend most of your days on the slopes and just need a place to shower and sleep. 

Because I didn’t grow up skiing, I remember wondering if it was even possible to go skiing for cheap. I always considered it a privileged leisure that was out of my budget. When I moved to Colorado, I definitely did not expect to ski. With Sam’s help, I found ways to make skiing on the cheap a reality. I hope I’ve also convinced you that it’s possible to make skiing work within your budget. Now, get to saving and planning. Ski season is right around the corner!

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