Budget skiing: save money on the piste

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Winter sports rouse all kinds of exhilarating sensations: a fresh breeze rushing past your face, bright snow stinging your eyes, and the palpitations when you first set eyes on the ski pass prices. Skiing and snowboarding don’t come cheap, but for those of us counting pennies rather than tipping chalet girls, there are ways to lighten your costs. These 10 tips should see you hitting the slopes without having to sell a kidney.

1. Brave new territories. Consider alternatives to Europe’s well-carved Alps and head east. Bansko and Pamporovo in Bulgaria are at the low end of the skiing price scale and an excellent bet for beginners. Zakopane in Poland is a pretty mountain-nestled skiing hub with great value ski passes and bargains abound on Slovakia’s slopes. Sometimes you don't even need to venture much further than your original destination: over in the US, Snow King Mountain is much cheaper than neighbouring resorts, and a stone's throw from downtown Jackson. And at Badger Pass, novice skiers will be smiling at more than the beautiful views of Yosemite Valley - the lift passes are a mere US$42 per day.

2. Perfect timing. Find out when your destination’s off-peak season is, sleuth out the dates of local school holidays when the prices will spike, and bag a bargain ski pass. As an added bonus there’ll be far fewer miniature skiers to dodge on the slopes. (Frankly, their skiing competence makes us all look bad.)

Skiing in Schladming, Styria, Austria by nonanet. Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence (CC BY-SA 2.0).

3. Choose your flight wisely. Budget airlines still have bargains, despite the rush for flights to snowy climes, but don’t get spiked by extra charges to bring your skis or snowboard. If you have your own gear, consider an airline that won’t charge you to stow them in the hold: SwissAir, Virgin Atlantic and Air Canada all have reasonable allowances for sports equipment.

4. Know your discounts. Plenty of resorts have discounts for early-bird ski pass buyers, students, disabled people, families, large groups, long stays… In Morzine-Avoriaz in the French Alps, even car-pooling can land you a deal.

5. The higher you stay, the more you’ll pay. A hotel way up in the snowy drifts could cost you dear for the privilege of skiing right out of the door, but accommodation in the nearest town will be a much fairer deal. And don’t despair of the distance: many ski resorts have free bus transfer services to the nearest lift and to neighbouring resorts, so check with the tourist office and make use of them.

6. Package it up. Rolling together your flights, accommodation, lift pass and equipment hire can result in some heavenly bargains. Try SkiHorizon, Ski.com, SnowVentures or SnowPak for sweet deals.

7. Budget your après-ski. Who’s picking up the tab for those evening Jagermeisters?  Winter sports fans get brainwashed into believing that their steaming thimbleful of Glühwein is an essential part of the après-ski experience, even at 4 euro per glug. It’s easy to warm your cockles with DIY treats if you’re staying in self-catering accommodation, so give pricey cafes a wide berth. And why not put that snow-proof clothing to good use by having a picnic in the snow? Mountain views are a lot more appealing than tottering in your ski boots over a brasserie’s slippery floor.

8. Cost-cut your gear. Skis, boards, boots, jackets, waterproofs… there’s plenty you need and it doesn’t come cheap. Don’t wait to rent or buy your gear at the resort, where they have you in a vice. Plan ahead and grab second-hand bargains on Gumtree or Preloved, sometimes cheaper than hiring for a fortnight. Plenty of ex-skiers are keen to offload their seldom-worn ski boots for a pittance. Provided you aren’t too proud to ski in a neon patchwork ski jacket reminiscent of the 1970s, you can easily get kitted out.

9. Tinker with your timing. Shaving a day or two off your ski pass can save some cash, and you needn’t lose out on ski time if you know where to look. For instance, in the French Alps there are plenty of easy cross-country skiing tracks (such as around the picturesque Lake Montriond) that don’t cost you a penny to use - perfect to slice a day off your ski pass needs. And over in Hawaii, as long as you have your own ski gear (and a buddy with a four-wheel drive) you can ski Mauna Kea for nothing. Alternatively, get better value by booking a really long trip: a ski pass for the whole season works out far cheaper per day than a week.

10. Get a ski job. If long-term skiing is your dream, why not employ some good old-fashioned elbow grease? Ski resorts need chefs, cleaners, nannies, au pairs, lift operators, runners, hosts and a whole host of other enthusiastic workers. The pay can be light (and rather cheekily, some positions are largely unpaid) but in return you can get free ski passes, equipment hire and accommodation. Try Ski-Jobs, CoolWorks or Overseas Job Centre to start you off.

Anita Isalska is a writer and editor based in Lonely Planet's London office. Follow her on Twitter @lunarsynthesis.