By Kara Williams, on December 24, 2014

How to book a budget ski vacation

I won’t sugarcoat it: Ski vacations are expensive. Between lift tickets, ski gear, layers of warm clothing, food, transportation, accommodations, and fun winter activities such as tubing, sleigh rides, and snowmobile tours, the cash outlay for a ski trip can add up.

That said, there are plenty of ways to cut costs on your next ski vacation—whether it’s with a group of friends, your special someone, or your entire family. Here’s how.

Book your trip at the very beginning or end of the season. In the United States, the beginning of the season is just after lifts open (often around Thanksgiving), and the end of the season is in April, just before the lifts close. Lift tickets and hotel rates are much cheaper when it’s not peak season; rates soar the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day weekend, Presidents’ Day weekend, and mid- to end-March, when most families have Spring Break.

Check out smaller resorts. Some of the big-name ski areas also carry the heftiest prices. Avoid the crowds—and sticker shock—by researching more off-the-beaten-path ski areas. In my home state, such smaller properties are dubbed Colorado Gems.

Buy lift tickets ahead of time. If you walk up to the ticket window once you arrive, you’re looking at spending upward of $100 or more for a one-day adult lift ticket at pricey resort areas such as Aspen and Stowe during the regular season. However, most United States ski areas have cheaper online pricing if you buy in advance. Also look at multi-day ticket rates. Typically, the per-day price decreases with the more days you cover on a ticket.

Full kitchen at Breckenridge’s One Ski Hill Place

Rent ski and snowboard gear. If you’re flying domestically it may be cheaper to rent skis and poles (or a board and boots) than to pay excess baggage fees both ways. And if you’re planning on taking skiing or boarding lessons, check out your resort’s package deals that combine lessons and gear-rental fees.

Book lodging with a kitchen. This is where my family and I have saved hundreds of dollars over the years. Instead of booking standard hotel rooms, we try to stay in condominiums with full kitchens. We also bring fixings for healthy, filling breakfasts (typically bagels, eggs, and bacon), as well as snacks for the slopes and drinks for après ski, so we don’t have to eat out for three meals a day. I did a quick Expedia search for lodging in Vail, and discovered the Montaneros Condominiums and the Simba Run Vail Condominiums. Both of these seem like exactly the kinds of places we like to stay. (Note: You can filter Expedia results by accommodation type, including condominium resort, condo, apartment, and private vacation home.)

Viewfinder Tip: To get the best deals on lift tickets, compare pricing on your ski area’s website with discounted ticket sites, such as Liftopia.

Make a packing list. In the past, we’ve landed at ski resorts only to realize that one of us forgot to bring ski gloves or a ski jacket! Thankfully, in both instances, we were able to borrow items from the ski area’s lost and found, because this mama didn’t want to buy brand-new items from a pricey ski-gear shop. To avoid this scenario all together, make a list of everything you need for your ski vacation—including bathing suits for the hot tub, lip balm with sunscreen, and quality socks. Before you leave, double-check the list so you don’t forget any of those key items.

Seek free things to do at your destination. Activities such as snow biking, dogsledding, and sleigh-ride dinners will cost you. But if you’re looking for things to do on a day off from skiing or boarding, check out some of the freebies: winter hiking, sledding at a local hill, window-shopping in town, and engaging in scheduled resort events. For example, Keystone Resort in Colorado has free activities for families daily through the ski season, including cookie hours, scavenger hunts, and even a weekly parade.Opting for these kinds of activities can save you big bucks down the road.

How do you save money on winter vacations?