How To:  Family Skiing On A Budget

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As a family of 5, we have always lived off of one income (often below the poverty level) and yet we have skied every season. Over the years I’ve had to get real creative to make this happen and along the way I have discovered how to save thousands of dollars when it comes to skiing with your kids.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Equipment and Clothing: Kids rarely wear out their equipment before they grow out of it and having gear that is too small or too big is counterproductive to your goal of passing on the passion. So how do you keep them in gear that fits?

  1. Full season rentals – Many rental shops offer package deals for season long rentals. This means you’ll reap the benefit of holding onto your child’s rental equipment all season long. If you’re going to rent, seasonal rentals are way more efficient than hitting the rental shop every time you head to the mountain. It’s also most often cheaper than purchasing equipment (even used) and you have the added benefit of walking out the door with gear that is already tuned, waxed and ready for the mountain. There’s only two downfalls to going this route: First, you don’t own the equipment so there is not handing it down or reselling it to purchase what you need next season. Second, eventually your children will need equipment that is better than what the rental shop can offer.
  2. Ski swaps – Any town within a 1 hour drive of a ski resort will usually offer a Ski Swap sometime in November or early December. A Ski Swap is an event where you can buy and sell used equipment and can find great deals from local retailers selling off the rest of their stock from last season. These events also serve as a fundraiser, usually for local ski clubs or teams. Because we love a good deal and are happy to know that our purchase will benefit others, we make it a habit to visit all the Ski Swaps in our local area. On years that we have gear to sell we pick one of the local swaps, drop off our gear for sale and shop at the swap ourselves. It’s a good year when we receive from our sales as much money as we spent on our purchases. My best advice for visiting a Ski Swap; get there early and go in knowing exactly what you’re looking for including size and/or length.
  3. Thrift Shops – Let’s just say I have found some screaming good deals at thrift shops, like a pair of children’s ski boots for $5 and brand new long johns (top and bottom) for $15. But, thrift shops can be exhausting because you have to visit them often to find what you’re looking for. It’s like a treasure hunt and some people find it to be fun… some do not. Do what works for you.
  4. Consignment/Re-sell Stores – Visiting these stores is similar to visiting a Ski Swap except they are open all season and usually have a smaller selection. Like a thrift shop, you have to keep an eye on these stores to find what you’re looking for. I find myself going to them during the middle of the season, when something breaks that we need to replace, like goggles or ski poles. Just like a Ski Swap you can sell your own gear on consignment and use the credit to turn around and purchase items in the store that your own family needs or take the cash and splurge for a treat next time you’re on the mountain!
  5. Cyber Monday sales – You will find us opting outside on Black Friday but, we take full advantage of cyber Monday. Perfect timing for any items we are still looking for by this time. Like the freestyle ski we picked up this year from REI at 50% off with free shipping. Cyber Monday deals are often 50%-70% off and almost always offer free shipping so this is a great time to buy those higher priced items, if necessary.
  6. Retail store promotions – Outdoor retailers often offer seasonal promotions or loyalty reward programs. If you take advantage of these programs to buy large ticket items, you can often get gear for free. For example, this season we wanted to purchase a new GoPro. Our local outdoor retailer was offering a two day promotion, for every $100 spent you received $20 gift card that could be used once the promotion was over. So we choose to purchase our GoPro from them along with a new snowboard for my husband that he could not find at a better price. This same store offers us loyalty reward points for every $600 we spend during the year. When all was said and done we walked away with $220 in gift cards which we used two days later to buy a used snowboard w/bindings for our youngest and two new pairs of ski poles for the older two. Score!!! Check in with your local outdoor retailers, ask about the promotions they will be running and sign up for their rewards program.
  7. End of the season sales – Most rental shops and many outdoor retailers offer screaming good deals at the end of the season. Rental shops are selling off old rentals so they can bring in new gear for next year and outdoor retailers want to get rid of their stock from the season. Buying equipment at the end of the season is easier on the budget than buying at the beginning, which tends to coincide with the holidays! There’s only one challenge to taking advantage of these sales, you have to guess how much your children will grow over the next 8 months if you are going to purchase gear that will fit them next season. Usually I’m a pretty good guess but, sometimes a serious growth spurt surprises me.
  8. Hand me downs – We love them and you should too! Re-use, recycle and hand it down. Hand me downs can come from siblings, or neighbors, co-workers or extended family. Put it out there that you’re looking for “XYZ…”and see what comes your way. Even more ideal is to have a local community of Mamas around you who are also teaching their children to ski and are happy to swap gear over the years. Even two families, with children of varying ages can benefit from an informal yearly swap of equipment amongst each other. One of our future goals here at Raising Little Rippers is to create an online platform that connects ski families all over the country and assists in the swapping, buying and selling of used children’s gear. If you want to stay in the loop regarding this endeavor, sign up for our newsletter so we can keep in touch.

Learning: Teaching your children to ski can be one of your biggest expenses if you allow it to be but, there are some great ways to save money in this area too.

  1. If you’re going to sign your child up for Ski School , the best way to save money is to take advantage of the price cut that comes with a multi-week program. Usually these programs are an even better deal if you register before the season starts (most often before September). If your child is more advanced and ready to participate on a team, like the Freestyle or Race Team, there are often scholarships available that will cover some, if not all of the costs involved. These scholarships are not often well advertised so inquiry may be required.
  2. Have a friend or family member teach your kiddos. You’re truly blessed if you know someone who is passionate about skiing and would love to teach your kids for you. Grandparents are especially fun to work with and getting three generations on the mountain is a true blessing. Or, maybe you have that friend who was a Ski Instructor in her 20’s and is teaching her own little’s to ski now. Reach out and ask if you and your kids can meet them up on the mountain and join in the fun. Offer her some babysitting as a thank you!
  3. Join us here at Raising Little Rippers and utilize the E-courses and tools that have been created just for you so that you can teach your own children like a pro. This growing community of like minded Mamas is on a mission to provide the virtual coaching that will empower you to afford ski lessons by doing it yourself. We see ski days as an opportunity for Mamas and their kiddos to bond and build a stronger relationship while having fun together and progressing on the mountain. You’ve got the skills…you just need the support. Find it here.

Tickets: Purchasing lift tickets for a family adds up fast. With the purchase of an adult ticket, young children are often free, which I love! Unfortunately, this also means that skiing gets more expensive as they grow. Luckily, there are a few ways you can stretch those dollars or even keep them skiing for FREE!

  1. Buy Season Passes! If you’re buying, the absolute best way to stretch your dollars is to buy season passes and commit to getting out on the mountain a minimum of once a week. Most resorts offer “early bird” discounts if you purchase your pass before a pre-set date (often in September) and some will even offer a “mid-week only” pass for extra savings. If you have the flexibility in your schedule to ski mid-week I highly recommend it. Not only can you take advantage of these extra saving but, you will enjoy having fewer people on the mountain which is ultimately safer for your child, especially on the beginner runs.
  2. The real money saver, if you have the time and energy for it, is to earn FREE season passes by working at your local Ski Resort. Every resort offers their own set of benefits but, the most generous of ski resorts will give your whole family seasons passes for just part time work, others require a full time commitment if you want a free pass for anyone other than yourself. All resorts tend to offer other benefits too like free lessons, rental equipment, lockers and discounts on food. The best department to work for? Ski School! If you are an intermediate level rider and enjoy working with people, especially children, you can be easily trained to teach lessons for the ski school. This department is fun and flexible for Mamas, usually only requires you to work 4-6 hours during the day and often includes a day or two that you show up to teach a lesson and there is no lesson for you to teach. You know what that means? Ride break!
  3. As your children get older they can participate in opportunities to earn their own season pass and team participation fees. Powdered Soul in Whitefish, MT is a great example of this. A non-profit scholarship program that teaches entrepreneurship and the importance of community service to children of all ages. Scholarships for Winter sports activities are given to children in trade for hours participated in the program. The City of Whitefish itself takes applications every year for their Volunteer To Ski program, offering 6th – 8th graders a chance to volunteer 20 hours of community service and write an exit essay in exchange for a season pass. If for no other reason, these programs are a great opportunity for children to experience the pride that comes from earning something for yourself. Most of these programs have very strict application deadlines that take place during the off season so planning ahead is necessary but, well worth the effort.

Other useful budgeting tips

  1. Carry chains instead of driving on snow tires. It’s way cheaper and better for the roads. If your chains are new, be sure to practice putting them on in your driveway before heading up the mountain. I promise you won’t regret it!
  2. Always pack lunch, snacks and drinks. Cafeterias are fun but, if you commit to visiting them for hot chocolate only, you’ll save enough money over the season to buy those new ski’s you’ve been dreaming off.
  3. Plan ahead to fill up your car at the least expensive gas station on the way to the mountain. Better yet, save the gas and stress of driving and look into taking public transportation. This is especially easy if you have access to a locker at the mountain where you can leave all your heavy gear.