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 sights on the ski pass prices.

Skiing and snowboarding don’t come cheap, but for those of us counting pennies rather than ordering room service to our luxury ski-in suites, there are ways to lighten your costs. These 10 budgeting tips should see you hitting the slopes without having to sell a kidney.

1. Brave new territories

Yes, the big-name resorts are renowned for a reason, but venturing a little off-piste with your resort choice not only means less crowds on the slopes but also potential savings financially. Bargains can be found in far-flung centres that are often less accessible, but savvy skiers will note that some resorts within a snowball’s throw of the big-hitters offer similar terrain for a fraction of the cost; for example a day’s lift ticket at Cooper ski resort in Colorado is roughly half the price of neighboring Copper Mountain. Even amidst the well-carved ranges of Western Europe there are tons of great budget-friendly ski resorts that are equally as rewarding as the big names, you just have to be willing to branch out.

2. Perfect timing

To bag a bargain ski pass, find out when your destination’s off-peak season is, sleuth out the dates of local school holidays and, if possible, avoid the busy Christmas and New Year period. Picking your ski time is equally as important as picking the right resort, with ski passes usually cheaper at the beginning and end of the season (though snow cover can be an issue), as well as during the post-festive lull in January. Remember, no matter the time of year, there's always somewhere in the world you can ski.

A large group of skiers chill out on the snow at a makeshift ski camp in Sochi, Russia
Being a little thrifty with your apres-ski activities is one way to ensure you save money on the slopes © eWilding / Shutterstock

3. Choose your flight wisely 

Budget airlines can still have bargains, despite the seasonal 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. Though a topic of debate, booking your flight at least two months in advance is a good rule of thumb to get the best prices, and remember that flights can often be cheaper on weekdays.

4. Know your discounts

Plenty of resorts have discounts for early-bird ski pass buyers, students, disabled skiers, families, large groups, long stayers and over 70s – who, in a handful of resorts, including Grandvalira in Andorra and Timberline in West Virginia, ski completely free of charge.

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 neighboring resorts, so check with the tourist office and make use of them. Those who don’t mind sharing their personal space after a day on the slopes should also check out dormitory accommodation for additional savings.

A skier dressed in multicoloured gear heads down a slope near Val Thorens in the French Alps
Bargains can be found on second-hand ski gear, if you don't mind looking a little... flamboyant on the slopes © Colouria Media / Alamy Stock Photo

6. Package it up 

Rolling together your flights, accommodation, lift pass and equipment hire can – in some cases – result in some heavenly bargains. Check Ski.com, SnowVentures or SnowPak to see if you can save coin by opting for a package deal.

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, or, at the very least, time your visit with happy hour deals when drinks are cheaper. Alternatively, 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 sites like Gumtree and Preloved, which are sometimes cheaper than hiring for a fortnight. Plenty of over enthusiastic one-timers 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.

A skier launches into the air on the slopes of Chamonix, with snow-capped mountains beyond.
Signing up to work at a ski resort could mean hitting the slopes for free on your days off © Jakob Helbig / Getty Images

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, and a whole host of other enthusiastic workers. The pay can be extremely light, but in return you can often bag free ski passes, equipment hire and accommodation. Try Ski Resort Jobs, CoolWorks or Overseas Job Centre to start you off.

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This article was first published in January 2012, and most recently updated in September 2020.

This article was first published October 2019 and updated September 2020

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