Ten Tips for Family Skiing on a Budget

The words skiing and budget don’t often appear together, and as a family living in a resort town, we know how expensive a day of skiing can be.

With a little creativity and pre-planning, we’ve figured out how to get out every weekend without breaking the bank. Here are my Ten Tips for family skiing on a budget.

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1. Ski at Budget Resorts

Small ski areas usually have close, free parking which means snack breaks and diaper changes can happen at the car.

There are some 500 ski areas in the country, and the majority are budget-friendly, smaller mountains. The amenities at these smaller ski areas won’t be the same, but if your kids are like mine, they don’t notice that stuff anyways.

The goal is to get your family outside having fun on skis without breaking the bank.

Most resorts have smaller, mom & pop ski areas, nearby. We live in Jackson Hole, which is an expensive mega resort, but we also have a great town hill that is often overlooked.

Snow King has zero lift lines, inexpensive day tickets, a free magic carpet bunny hill area, and parking so close you can keep the diaper bag and snacks in the car. Grand Targhee is nearby and is also much more affordable (and great for families!)

Smaller ski areas are often less crowded, which makes me feel way safer when skiing with my kids. One time we went mid-week to Pebble Creek, outside Pocatello, Idaho, and we were one of about 10 people on the whole entire hill! By 4:00, all the lifties knew my kids by name. 

My favorite thing about small ski areas is that many of them have a base lodge. I have the best memories of skiing with my family as a kid, warming up around the fireplace in the lodge.

My kids love it when we go to places with a base lodge and they last longer on the hill because we can easily take warm-up breaks.

2. Rent Equipment for the Season

Pint-sized gear comes with a full-size pricetag.

Even the smallest ski and snowboard gear comes with a full-size price tag. One of the best deals going is in the seasonal rentals area.

There are several ski shops in our town that offer a full kid ski setup (boots, skis, poles) for about $100 for the entire season.

And best of all, if your kid has a growth spurt and all of a sudden her boots don’t fit, you can swap them out for a bigger size at no extra cost.  

3. Purchase Lift Tickets In Advance

The most expensive lift ticket you’ll buy is the one at the ticket counter. If you don’t ski enough days to justify a full season pass, the least expensive tickets are going to be sold online, well in advance, for mid-week days.

If you find yourself at the ticket counter the day of, ask about standard discounts such as AAA, Military, Student/College or season pass holder at another mountain.

At most resorts, children under age 5 or 6 ski for free. And many places offer an inexpensive bunny hill or lower mountain lift ticket for an adult skiing with a child.

At Jackson Hole, for example, kids 5 and under ski for free, and an adult can buy a lower mountain lift ticket for $23 when accompanying a child.

4. Volunteer in Exchange for a Pass

So maybe your young kids can ski for free, but that means you still have to buy an adult ticket or season pass. Most jobs at a ski area will get you a free season pass, but if you’re a working parent, or you are home with young kids, you probably don’t have time to work as an instructor or mountain host.

Our mountain offers a 10-day pass for parents who commit to working a 2-hour shift on either Saturday or Sunday morning. It’s not a hard job; you greet parents dropping kids off at ski school and direct people where to go. 

Each ski area is different with their offerings, but it’s a great idea to ask if there are any programs that don’t require a huge time commitment, in exchange for a pass.

5. Wait to Ski Until Late Afternoon

All ski areas offer a half-day lift ticket that starts around lunchtime, but if you go later in the day, there may be even bigger discounts available. This is a great option if your kids are out of the napping stage and can rally in the afternoon. 

Many ski areas offer an inexpensive late-afternoon ticket starting at 3 pm, and paid parking is usually free by that time. Skiing later in the afternoon is less crowded and we’ve caught some amazing early sunsets this way!

6. Park in the Free Lot & Ride the Shuttle

Riding the parking lot shuttle is (almost) as much fun as snowboarding.

If you are skiing at a bigger resort, you can expect to pay upwards of $50 to park close to the lifts. 

Most mountains offer a free parking lot that is farther (sometimes miles) away, with a shuttle to the mountain. A free shuttle from town is another option, but I like to have the kids extra clothes and snacks close by in my car.

Let’s be realistic: sometimes skiing with kids just doesn’t work out, and the best option is to call it a day and go home. When that happens, it’s nice to be able to make a swift exit. 

When we get to the free parking lot, I dress my kids 100% ready to ski. My 5 year old is expected to carry his own snowboard, and I encourage my 3 year old to do the same.

I gear myself completely up, and wear a backpack with everything we need for the outing. 

When my kids were younger (like 2 and 4), I hauled them and their gear in a plastic sled or this amazing snow wagon. But now I make them walk on their own from the car to the shuttle. It’s not fast, but I allow us plenty of time to get where we need to go.

If they have to stop for a break, we do it. And they LOVE riding the shuttle – it’s the best reward for walking across the parking lot. 

7. Teach Your Own Kids to Ski

A little bribery goes a long way when teaching your own kids to snowboard or ski.

Full disclosure: Both my kids are in a 12-week local’s lesson program. I always sign them up in the fall and get the “early bird pricing”, and it’s a great, affordable way for them to learn.

But if that is not an option at your local hill, or not in your budget, teaching your kids to ski on your own doesn’t have to be painful. Here are some tried and true tips from the TMM Team:

8. Pack a Picnic Lunch

Lunch tastes better in these cool, compartmentalized Bentgo lunchboxes.

Last weekend, we decided to skip naptime and ski all afternoon. In an attempt to ward off a 2:00 meltdown, I coaxed my 3-year old to the cafeteria and bought her hot cocoa and a bag of Nut Thins. The total? $13.50!

Packing a lunch and snacks is an easy way to save money at the ski hill. I bought each of my kids these Bentgo lunchboxes  because for some reason lunch tastes better when it’s in its own little compartments.

My go-to ski lunch is crackers, salami, brie, carrots & ranch, and grapes. Two lunch boxes and water bottles fit easily into my backpack, and there are no spills or smells. 

On super cold days, I’ll bring macaroni & cheese or chili in an insulated container. Sometimes, for a real treat, I boil up a couple of hot dogs at home and put them inside an insulated metal water bottle (I use this Kleen Kanteen) with a little of the water from the pan, and they stay hot for hours.

For snacks, each kid gets a bar stashed in their pocket. I carry homemade gummy bears in my own pocket for bribery purposes (ok, I eat them all day too). They are surprisingly easy to make – here’s the recipe I use.

I also carry a gallon-size ziplock bag with jerky sticks and pretzel rods, which mittened hands can eat independently.

For snack ideas, check out TMM Rita’s Best Kid-Friendly Snacks for Your Adventures.

Sometimes we sneak snacks on the shuttle bus…sshhh, don’t tell!

9. BYO Hot Cocoa

Mini marshmallows are a fun treat to add to hot cocoa.

Don’t fall victim to the $8 cup of hot chocolate! An insulated water bottle will keep cocoa warm all day long. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s way healthier than the sugary stuff that you get in the cafeteria.

My fellow skiing mama, Lora, turned me on to this awesome hot cocoa recipe (the kids LOVE it, too!)

10. BYO Apres

Kids playing outside with their friends, parents socializing with other adults. This is how we apres!

After a day of skiing with my toddlers, I like to unwind with an adult beverage. But whether your apres preference is a hot cider or a hot toddy, both will cost big bucks at a resort establishment.

One way to avoid the high cost of apres is to bring your own. On days when I know we will stay after skiing (think sunny spring afternoons), I pack a few White Claw’s or Trulee’s in my backpack, and juice boxes for the kids (bring extras of both in case you run into friends).

Right now our mountain has some really cool ice castles that the kids love to explore, and it gives me a moment to unwind with a beverage while they play outside.

Sledding, hide n’ seek and snowman building are also fun options to keep your kids occupied while you have some adult time.

The Bottom Line

As a family of four who lives in a very expensive resort town, I know how expensive it can be to go skiing. But it doesn’t have to be. I encourage you to try out some (or all) of my tips and let me know how it goes!

Do you have tips that other families would find helpful for skiing on a budget? Comment below and we will add them!

Check out your fellow outdoor mama’s tips below:

  • Look into 4th or 5th grade “Ski Passport Programs” that provide grade-level specific free skiing
  • Purchase your season pass during the summer, or better yet, enter a season pass raffle
  • Purchase discounted lift tickets at local ski shops or grocery stores
  • Buy all your snacks and treats at a supermarket before heading to the mountain
  • At least one parent has to work at the mountain to get that season pass hookup
  • On a ski trip, book accommodations off the mountain for hugs savings
  • Shop the local thrift stores for good deals on outerwear, goggles and even skis
  • Shop the rental ski sales at the end, or the beginning, of the season
  • Travel with frozen pre-cooked meals so that dinner can be served fast & inexpensive after a long day
  • Give kids a daily allowance (like $5) for things like French fries or a treat at the end of the day
Shop the ski rental sales! -Amanda Krakker

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10 Tips for Family Skiing on a Budget

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7 thoughts on “Ten Tips for Family Skiing on a Budget”

  1. Great tips! I’m fortunate to live in an easy coast area that still has free resort parking, and the school group ski-school hands out free hot cocoa!

  2. We definitely hit the local little hill and pack lunches! Bob Ward sells their rental gear every couple of years and we stocked up on several pairs of $50 skis last time they did knowing both our kids would get to use them made it even more cost effective. We hit Play it Again Sports on Black Friday this year and their used skis were 60% off! Got Bennett a nice pair of Rossi’s. I’m pretty much a year round bargain gear shopper!

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  4. Great Ideas! Random question. What do you do about water? Do you wear a backpack and bring your kids water bottles and snacks? I’ve been doing that but man, those water bottles are heavy.

    1. Hi Jessie, I agree – the backpack gets so heavy with water and snacks and clothes and stuff! I use one of those collapsible water bottles (I think mine is Platypus brand – but there’s lots of options on Amazon). We just share one bottle…not the best as far as spreading germs, but it’s lighter than carrying 3 water bottles.

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