Sunday, January 19, 2014

Raising Ski Bunnies on a Budget

I love to ski! Love, love, love to ski. I do not love, love, love how much skiing costs.

Skiing is one of the few ways that I can get out of my head and just enjoy myself in the moment. It gives me the opportunity to admire the beauty of nature and clear my head. And, as my family grows, it is quickly becoming an opportunity to share experiences with my children and create memories that will last a lifetime.

When my sisters and I were little, my dad would always say, "I want the girls to be better skiers than any of the boys they date." My sisters and I can definitely hold our own on the hill (them probably more than me) and now that I have the three boys, I can see where he was coming from. I want my boys to become little shredders. To be able to ski any mountain in its entirety with confidence and control. But, above all, I want them to feel the same way that I feel when I am out skiing. To achieve this, I need to get them out on skis as much as possible.

That being said, skiing is expensive. And the more kids you have, the more expensive it becomes. The equipment, lessons, lift tickets, lodging all add up quickly. But, there are ways to save some serious cash if you are willing to be a little flexible with your schedule and take some time to search for options. Here are some tips to affordably getting your little bunnies out on the slopes.

1. Ski mid-week

If you can figure out a way to head to the mountain during the week (not school vacation week, or a holiday week) you can save a TON of money. Maybe your kids aren't in elementary school yet, or are homeschooled, get them out on the slopes! You can find some great deals on mid-week tickets (check out your mountain's promotions). Your kids will have small, possibly even one on one, lessons at ski school and you may get the trails to yourself.

2. Look for mountain promotional packages

Most mountains run promotional ski and stay packages. Pay for lodging and they will throw in the lift ticket, free. Book ahead of time, and they will discount rates for rooms, condos, tickets, and lessons. Commit to staying for a certain amount of time, or on certain days and you can save tons of money. Even some holiday weeks/weekends will have promotional packages. Sign up for newsletters from area mountains so that you can stay on top of their promotions.

3. Buy multi-day tickets

Buying tickets for more than one day saves money off the daily rate. I know the sticker shock is horrific, $83 for a day of skiing doesn't look any better when you multiply that by numbers of days and more than one family member,  but it will shave dollars off your overall cost. I have seen a father drop over $1000 while buying 5 day tickets for his family. Be prepared!

4. Pre-buy lift tickets

Many mountains have e-tickets available (search your mountain's website) which locks you into a date, but costs less than purchasing them on the day that you are skiing. Yes, you run the risk of skiing on a wind-hold day (high winds = no lifts running) or on a below freezing, frost bite warning day, but odds are you will be okay, and save some moolah.

5. Search for deals online

Sites such as Groupon and Liftopia sell discount lift tickets and ski and stay packages. If you keep your eye out, you can get lucky and score a great deal!

6. Be flexible with where you ski

Smaller mountains usually have lower prices overall. If you just want to get the kids out there, then bigger may not necessarily be better. Yes, your ski day may be a little less exhilarating, but for a kid, one bunny hill looks pretty similar to the other.

7. If you have a mountain you love, suck it up and buy a season pass

Seasons passes are the way to go if you have one mountain (or a group of mountains owned by the same company) that you are devoted to. For our mountain, we only have to get in nine ski days to equal the cost of our season's pass. Nine ski days is nothing if you are planning on spending a school vacation week hitting the slopes. Most mountains also have options for seasons passes that may be cheaper, but include certain black out days. Pick what works best for you. SIDE NOTE: Some mountains also have seasons passes for ski lessons, or special ski programs to get your kids skiing faster. Do the math to see if it makes sense for you and your family.

AND check to see if your mountain has a rewards program. You can rack up major points based on what you buy at the mountain. For some programs lift tickets, lessons, purchases in stores and restaurants on mountain all count and you can apply points towards new equipment for your little cherubs (among other things). Bonus!!

Have an older kid? The best deal around is the seasons pass for college students. It is hugely discounted! I am not sure if they are trying to get that portion of the market out on the mountain so they will be sucked into the sport and bring their kids when they get older then spend millions of dollars at their ski resorts (wait a minute...) but if you can prove that you are a full time college student you can save! Part of me wants to enroll back into classes just to get the season's pass. It may be completely worth it!

8. Skiing in your state? See if they have a discount for locals

Sometimes it pays to be a local. Many mountains discount tickets on certain days for residents of the state. These opportunities can sometimes equal huge discounts. Keep your eye out for the dates and bring your drivers license to buy tickets for the whole family. Also, some mountains discount seasons passes for students who attend school in their state. For our favorite mountain, we will save almost $300 when we purchase our school aged son's season pass simply because he is a resident of the state.

9. Look for "healthy kid" programs

Maine has special ski programs that encourage outdoor play and exercise for certain age groups. For example, the WinterKids program gives middle school aged children access to free and reduced lift tickets (as well as other outdoor winter activities) to many mountains across the state.

10. Be flexible with when you ski during the season

If you can get the jump on the season or wait until the end of the season to hit the slopes you can save some money. Deals pop up around these times because mountains are trying to get skiers to the slopes when they may not have winter on their mind. Take advantage!

I know just how lucky I am to be able to consider us a "skiing family." The kids LOVE to go up to the mountain and I have had SO many chats with older parents on chairlifts who share how everything from the two hour drive north, to quiet nights in the condo, to spending the days on the slopes, helped their families bond and stay close throughout the tumultuous teenage years. (NOT looking forward to those years, BTW.)

The benefits of doing something you love as a family completely outweigh the costs of the sport itself. Yes, sometimes we have to decide which days to ski for the sake of our budget. But there are ways to make it happen as long as you are willing to look at all your options and make good choices.
If you haven't tried skiing out, try it! All I can say is one day out there could make you a believer.

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