Tips for Skiing on a Budget

Confessions of a Frugal Ski Mom

We all have our talents, I can look at a piece of gear and tell you exactly when, where and how much I paid. I can tell you if I paid too much, how much I can resell for or who I plan to gift it to when we’re done. Gear head is an understatement.

I’ll wash, organize and store it for years. My children are 8 and 5, we’ve moved 14 times in their short life. We started businesses, lost jobs, moved abroad, and moved home.

Kids having fun on chair lift swing outside lodge.
Those smiles are worth it!

During this time, I have gathered and given away an incredible amount of gear. My man will tell about the bins he’s carried around the country. It’s a way of life but it’s also a little out of control.

He finally admitted to me just this season that my crazy was worth it when we made it back the mountain fully kitted after giving it all away the year prior.

How crazy are we? We evacuated with our ski gear with just minuets to spare. Turns out having the headspace to ski while evacuated wasn’t an easy task. But skiing is life.

Skiing is important to my family not because we’re adrenaline seekers or we’re talented or super competitive (we’re not). It’s important because it keeps my family active and outside from November-May. We’re a team on the ski hill.

Affordable Ski Passes for Kids

Start at a Sledding Hill

You don’t need a lift ticket to learn how to ski or snowboard. Bring some used gear to a local sledding hill and work on just getting used to walking around, staying balanced and clipping in and out.

Tiny toddler practicing in park
Playing in the park in a $38 Burton snowsuit that lasted 2.5 years, $1 thrift store beanie, $25 board and $20 boots.

Buy Single Day Ski Tickets

There were several years we simply couldn’t afford regular tickets. We skied just the beginner lifts at Loveland Valley (a small local mountain) for two full seasons. A $25 adult lift ticket was doable because my kids could ski free.

It takes time to build strength for a full day of skiing, half-day afternoon tickets and discounted days were also great opportunities to ski for under $50 a day.

We also hit up free days at other local small mountains. For example, Howelson Hill has ski free Sundays.

A snowboard strapped to a backpack with kids on bikes in background.
I attached a plastic Burton snowboard to a backpack on the way to sledding hill. They loved to share with other kids wanting to learn too.

Season Passes

Once we covered basic expenses, ski passes became a part of the budget. I make sure to get my money’s worth!

Check local programs for free kids passes. Many school districts hand them out for either 4th or 5th grade. Due to the pandemic, kids got two years this year in Colorado. There are also east coast ski clubs and free ski nights at smaller hills. Programming varies depending location.

Pack Easy-to-Eat Food

Packed lunch doesn’t need to be extravagant. My dear dad packed pb&j (from the same jar), a bag of lays or can of Pringles, an apple and a Diet Coke for ten years. We ate fast food on the way home. It wasn’t great but we got out there.

I’ve been known to stop for fast food but I’ve gotten much better at packing healthy, simple lunches for my crew on ski days. My kids have eaten on the mountain three times in their forty or so days skiing.

Kid eating lunch in back of car

We pack our camping stove and store soups and chilli’s in thermoses. My teammate Rita breaks down her Best Tips to Use Your Car as a Base Lodge for Skiing. Several of my teammates rave about this Stanley Adventure Crock (3 quarts).

Buying food on the ski hill or really anything for that matter is to be avoided at all costs. If you do find yourself buying food, remember to use pass discounts. Even better bring a business friend and figure out how to write it off for taxes (only slightly kidding).

At the very least, look for food in the nearest town, not at the resort. I store extra bars, gummies and Stinger Waffles in my bag in order to prevent unnecessary food expenditures.

Scoring Affordable Ski Gear

There are two types of ski gear: clothing and equipment. Last year we moved to England and gave away almost all our gear. I started this year with just jackets, a few gloves and one set of ski pants.

Little kid overwhelmed with skiing

In years past I have bought everyone’s skis and boards used well in advance from either Play it Again Sports or off Facebook Marketplace.

Buying Used Vs. Season Rentals

I found my youngest snowboard for $25 and her boots for $10 off Facebook marketplace. I spent another $400 on rentals for the rest of our family.

This hurt as I know I could spend that on used gear and resell it at the end of the season to essentially break even like I’ve done in years past but after an international move, I wanted to keep it simple.

Season rentals aren’t my first choice for frugal skiing but they are better than buying new and good for growing kids.

Be sure to shop around for the best rental price, there could be a difference of at least $50 per person depending on location. The further from the ski hill, often the cheaper the rental.

Teammate Amelia buys discounted new gear that can be passed down to several children, check out her tips for finding Affordable Family Ski Gear.

Rental Discounts

There are several front range rental shops that will bundle their rental package with a discounted season pass to a local hill. This is a great option for families looking to ski just one resort or just learning to ski together as a family.

Discounted New Same Price as Used

I search Ebay, Amazon Warehouse and Poshmark for highly discounted new clothes on some of my most trusted brands. I’ve learned anything from Reima, Burton, Helly Hansen and Patagonia will most likely get the job done and last at least 3 kids.

“When the kids were little I would SCOUR ebay…save searches for the next couple sizes up for each kid in brands that I know make quality gear.  I always appreciate used gear that is “pre-stained” because it’s typically cheaper and we give zero cares about things looking new as long as they function well.”

Teammate Jessica

Did Someone Say Free?

Old skis and snowboards are fine for beginners as long as they a functioning properly.

When shopping used gear, always make sure boots clip in, bindings clip and buckles snap closed. Scan the base of boots. If they are too worn, they won’t clip in properly.

Also look at the bottom or base of the board to make sure you don’t see any core shots (deep marks or scratches) that might need to be repaired with epoxy.

Ask Lots of Questions

I’ve learned to be very picky about used clothing, making sure to ask questions about use and washing styles. Of all the epic deals I’ve found, I’ve also been burned and have learned to go slow and look over gear throughly.

Sharing is Caring

I also give away a lot of gear. Being a frugal ski mom is a full time job. I spend at least once if not twice a week browsing thrift shops, sport consignment shops and Facebook Marketplace.

I often find really nice stuff that won’t work for my own kids, it’s really good karma to grab it and pass it on to a kid/mom who might really appreciate it’s quality or function.

Warm kid on sledding hill
This little outfit was gifted to Ari, then we gifted to my teammate Jessica who is searching for the next child to gift.

Persistence is key, I found my youngest’s brand new Smith Mips helmet for $2.50 at Sierra Trading post. The manager told me it was my day, it was!

Amazon Warehouse is a gamble. Sometimes the product is exactly as described and sometimes it’s a completely different product.

I’ve hit the jackpot like when a $33 damaged Burton one-piece snowsuit comes brand new in a different color and in the more expensive model with a retail value of over $200.

When I started writing about gear I dreamt of pro deals from my favorite brands. Now I’ve reached this goal and I’m too cheap to pull the trigger because I know I can find the product barley used for 70% off retail instead of the 40% or 50% I’m being offered.

We’ve entered a whole new level of frugal at this point. There are times I regret not pulling the trigger, especially for items for myself. There are drawbacks to my madness.

The Returns Game

When I complain about our families impact on the environment my husband lovingly calls me “boxes” to remind me just how much I purchase and return to Amazon.

My frugality trumps my love for this planet. When you have exactly what you want, you hold on to it forever but if it’s not love then we say our goodbyes quickly. I’m not as crunchy as I aspire to be.

Mom and kids waiting in lift line.
Both one piece snowsuits were under $40, my jacket was $20 of FB and my pants were REI Garage Sale $99.

Affordable Ski Lessons

Lessons are fantastic if you can swing them. Smaller mountains offer bigger discounts. It also varies by state and country. In Colorado, lessons are very expensive even at our local hill but my friends tell me I can drive to Utah for much cheaper, longer and “generally better” lessons.

We hope to check out this option next year but more so because we love to travel. With gas, time and hotel, I’m not sure a trip would be cheaper.

Her first time night skiing in a double patched 2nd season Patagonia jacket on Christmas.

Affordable Ski Lodging

Ski lodging is a post unto itself. I’m pretty sure my husband was an original follower of The Points Guy. He only speaks SPG (Marriott) points so I can only give limited intel on scoring cheap deals on ski hotels.

We rarely stay on the mountain but if we do it’s because we dumped all our points. There is only one SPG hotel on our Ikon Pass. Thus, every year we stay at The Sheraton in Steamboat.

Night skiing on Christmas Day isn’t a bad rebound from selling it all and moving to Europe and back home again. The points are accumulated through work travel and we are grateful to spend them together on the mountain.

We go in our group rentals and have our eye on van life as well.

Family in a hot tub at a ski resort
Fancy gear or fancy vacations, what matters is that were having fun together!

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Ski Gear

It’s rather silly to spend so much time gathering gear only to treat it poorly. Taking care of your gear takes practice. Learn to wax your own board, use the proper detergent like Nikwax Products for Improved Gear Performance and patch holes and stains to extend the life of a product.

We love Noso Patches as they are bright, playful and effective. When it’s time to part ways, take pride in passing on a piece of gear that has been respected and cherished.

Everything we put in our ski backpack with patched coats, snacks, toys and crafts.

I had a pair of North Face softshell ski pants for 12 years. I bought them at an REI attic sale for $12. Totally thrilled. Finally retired them this year because they had a large hole in the but, and they were not windproof anymore.I just ordered something to replace them (I’ve been wearing rain pants over baselayers so far this season). 

My replacement is a pair of Eddie Bauer ski pants for $25 I found used on Gear Trade. Yes, I’d like a nicer, new shell pant with vent zips, but they’re pricey, and I got new ski boots this year.

Teammate Rita

Commit to finding the gear, take pride in caring for your gear, make a conscious choice to gift or resell that gear to make way for new gear. Check out teammate Sarah’s Ten Tips for Family Skiing on a Budget for more ideas on how to save money on the ski hill. Good luck team!

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Skiing on a Budget

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  • Jen Gardner, a Colorado native is passionate about exploring and preserving nature. When not hiking, biking or skiing the Colorado Rockies with her family (and alone!), Jen enjoys traveling the world with her husband and kids. Diagnosed in 2006 with 3 cranial cavernomas (weak blood vessels in the brain that hemorrhage creating benign tumors), Jen has made it her mission to live life to the fullest. She writes about her journey getting her kids outside despite sickness on a blog called Gone With Groms. The better the gear, the longer and easier it is to stay outside, so Jen has made it her mission to find the best gear for outdoor families.

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