I’m a dirtbag ski bum. After growing up in ski towns, obtaining a ski industry degree, experiencing winters around the world, and working almost every kind of resort job offered, I have often struggled to survive on a budget. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, here are some of my sure-fire tips for surviving the snow season on a budget.
1. Get trail advice from restaurant staff.
In most slopeside restaurants, some of the best skiers on the mountain are serving your drinks and food. Bring your ski map to lunch and get pointed to the best areas you won’t get shown in the ticket office. Getting off the grid and away from popularized slopes will save you major bucks.
2. Buy your boots, don’t rent them. Rent skis, don’t buy them.
Your boots are your most important equipment. Buy them new, get them fitted professionally, and both your comfort and performance will improve. You’ll know it’s only your sweaty socks they’ve been stuffed with, plus luggage will be much easier to transport.
For snowboards and skis — cost, maintenance, transportation, and storage can be eased by renting. Most rental fleets offer high-end demo equipment for reasonable prices while their low-end stock is up to date with modern designs. You may find a model you love. If not, most rentals shops will let you bring them back the same day and try something else. Drop them off when you’re done to avoid the hassle of shouldering them through the village, rinse yourself, and repeat the next day. Tip: show up with a box of beer, and expect the best for cheap.
3. Ask for discounts, but be nice.
Whether It’s 10% off that cotton sweatshirt or a discount on overpriced lift tickets, feel free to ask. Be prepared, the answer may depend on how you’ve been perceived. Manners matter in small towns, so be kind and open to conversation, it will help your social relationships as well as your bank balance.
4. Remember names.
You’ll start to note a theme here: when you’re in a small community you need to be extra polite. You need to remember and note down people’s names. It’s easy when your lift operator has a name tag on her jacket, if it’s not, ask. Everyone you meet who works in a ski town will not appreciate feeling like a robot or number. When you treat them like an individual, they’ll do the same to you.
5. Ride public transportation.
Parking lots can be a hassle and can fill up fast. Avoid adding to the problem by leaving your car near a bus stop in town and catch a ride to the mountain. You can save yourself both gas and walking distance when you take a bus. It’ll even drop you off front row. Leave the spot you would’ve parked for the Ford Expedition with four kids to headache over and treat yourself to another beer instead.
6. Buy a season pass early.
Even if you’re only skiing for a few days a year, getting a full season pass at early season prices can cost you less overall than individual tickets. Pass holder discounts are also available at most mountain-owned establishments, including discounts for spouses and family.
7. Tip early to receive better service.
Whether it’s a box of cold beers (the official currency of ski town locals) to a rental shop employee, or two soggy twenty dollar bills slipped to a snowboard instructor, when you first start talking, tipping ahead of time will ensure better service or savings. Starting a business transaction by showing appreciation creates a higher standard for workers to live up to, giving them the feeling of returning a favor, rather than assuming the cheapness they regularly receive at the end.
8. Don’t buy new gear, check the local lost and found.
If you forget your sunnies, don’t waste the $200 for a new pair of Oakleys, instead, borrow from your nearest lost and found. Whether it’s a restaurant or rental shop, most slopeside establishments have their fair share of left behind gear. Some items are left for months and are easily given to someone in need. Others, with the chance of still being reclaimed, may be borrowed for the day if you leave contact information. Bring them back when you’re done.
9. Locals give the best dining recommendations.
Don’t waste money on a bad meal, ask where to go. Locals have eaten or worked everywhere in town. They’ll honestly tell you where’s good or what’s not, even when sending you to their girlfriend’s bar to give her more business.