Frugal Living – Skiing Story

Downhill skiing is a winter sport our family enjoys. We got started on skiing in the latter half of the 90’s but took a break for about five years until our youngest turned two. In 2003, we introduced the kids to snow starting with sleds and saucers. We went to Lake Tahoe five to six days a year during the period through 2010.

The obstacle to skiing is the lofty costs associated with almost everything connected to this sport starting with getting to the mountains. From the Bay Area, it is still over three hours to the nearest mountain.

Below is a rough estimation of the costs involved for a family of four (2 adults, 2 kids) to ski in the Bay Area:



ServiceCost per day
Equipment rentals$120 ($30)
Lift Tickets$200 ($70 adults and $30 for kids)
Food$160 ($10 average per meal)
Lodging$200
Transportation$25
Total$700


An expense total of $700 per day for a family is pricey from any angle! Adding to this is the one time expense for the rudimentary items such as ski-gloves, goggles, bib, thermals, helmets, etc. and operating cost spiral out of control very quickly.

When weighing skiing as a wintertime family entertainment option, we were well aware of these costs and started looking into ways to ease it. A sports store provides a sticker shock at well over $1000 a set explaining why a good percentage of skiers tend to rent them at the resort ($30 average per person per set). An alternative is to rent them at a retail store for $15-$20 per person per set. For a family of four, $60 to $80 per day on equipment rental is still expensive. We purchased complete sets (skis, boots, and poles) through a combination of sources such as Craigslist and eBay – most of the items were used and that kept the price in check. All said and done, the four of us ended up with full sets for just over $600 – obviously, a far cry compared to over $4000 for brand spanking ones. Additionally we purchased new ski-gloves, goggles, bib, and thermals for kids (the parents chose to use theirs from seven years back) – from after-season sales for a significant discount. Altogether, the entire purchase including the ski-carrier for the car came in at just under $900 – not an insignificant amount by any measure. Below is a summary of our expenses to purchase ski equipment:



Equipment TypeConditionPriceSource & Description
Head Skis (with Bindings), Nordica Boots, and Kerma PolesKidsUsed - Good$100Craigslist.
Atomic Skis (with Bindings), Tecnica Boots - no PolesKidsUsed - Good$90Craigslist.
Tomic T5 PolesKidsNew$15Amazon.com
Rossignol Skis (with Bindings)Women’sUsed - Good$120eBay.
Nordica Ski BootsWomen’sUsed - Good$50Craigslist.
Salomon PolesWomen’sNew$20Amazon.com
Rossignol Skis (with Bindings)Men’sUsed – Good$110Craigslist.
Rossignol Soft Ski BootsMen’sNew$125eBay.
Scott PolesMen’sNew$20Amazon.com
Roof Rack – Base Carrier – Honda CRV – OEMNANew$150eBay.
Ski Attachment for Car Carrier Honda CRV - OEMNANew$90eBay.





Availing of lift ticket coupons and deals add up to a significant amount in savings. During the 2005 to 2010 seasons, our lift ticket expense per person averaged about $15, made possible by pursuing deals whenever possible and skiing at areas with a family friendly policy – kid’s lift ticket prices are free or substantially lower than adult prices.

Food, lodging, and transportation are the other potential money guzzling areas. To minimize in this arena, we did day-trips and brown bagged our own food – if willing to leave before 6 AM it is practical to reach most of the resorts in the North Lake Tahoe area before lifts open (tough initially with the kids, but amazingly possible once they buy into the idea of a fun day ahead). Being early birds have several fringe benefits: lesser traffic, shorter ticket and lift lines for an hour or so, and fresh snow. By around 2 PM our energy level dips and we depart. This strategy has a few benefits: avoids having to ski when the snow has gotten harder and you reach home in good time.

A summary of our average costs of skiing using this strategy follow:



ServiceCost per day
Equipment RentalsNone
Lift Tickets$60 ($15 average per person)
Food$10 (coffee, snacks, etc.)
LodgingNone
Transportation$50
Total$120


Naturally, the total expense of $120 per diem for the whole family ($30 per person) is much more palatable. Below is a summary of our strategies that enhanced our skiing experience while minimizing expenses:
  • Avoid renting equipment at the resort. Instead, opt to either rent them from a near-by retail location or invest in a set (preferably used purchased at a large discount). The biggest bang for your buck is the time saved by not having to wait in line, with kids in tow, for the equipment – the wait-times can vary but is inevitably long as each set has to be individually adjusted to fit you. There are caveats: 1) for first-time skiers it is best to rent initially and figure out the various sizing details you will need. That will definitely enable you to make an informed purchase decision, and 2) the biggest discounts are usually available on outdated equipment. For example shaped skis were a big improvement and smaller improvements on this has been coming out every year. So, older skis that are not shaped are completely outdated and so do not buy them even for a throwaway price as you will end up being the only one in the slope using those.
  • Avoid reaching the resort well after the lines open – the first two hours after the lifts open are the busiest and enough can’t be said of the early bird advantage. This has the benefit of being able to enjoy skiing in fresh snow in addition to avoiding the lines both at the ticket booth and the lifts.
  • Scope out the deals available – vanilla ticket pricing at the counter is usually much higher compared to the price after discounts with coupons or other deals. Nosing around for what is available and making use of them are indeed worthwhile.
  • Minimize food and lodging expenses by opting for day-trips if such an option is possible.
  • Avoid storms and if snow is expected during the day. Although people tend to rave about powder snow, with kids overnight snow is just as good and for most of us that is what you really want…
  • Locate ski resorts that are geared towards families.
In summary, it is possible with a little effort for families to ski on a budget. Before our relocation to the South of India in the Summer of 2010, we managed to get rid of almost all our ski equipment for a slight discount from our purchase price through Craigslist, thus completing the round-trip of recycling ski equipment…

Related Posts:

  1. Frugal Living – Ten Great Gift Ideas for Frugal Families (Christmas Holiday Shopping Tips).
  2. Frugal Living – Skiing Story.
  3. Frugal Choice On Gifts - Giving Stock Certificates.
  4. Frugal vs Cheap – A definition to go by.
  5. Frugal Living - Top ten frugal living tips for families.
  6. Reducing Expenses.

Last Updated: 07/2016.

1 comment :

Jayadeep(JDP) said...

isn't staying away from expensive hobbies like skiing a better frugal thing to do ?

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