NEW! Gems Teen Pass on sale now | NEW! Gems Parent Pass on sale now

Limited Quantities Still Available!
Gold Pass

A Ski Bums Tips For Saving Money on the Slopes

Eldora Nov22 PowderDay TomWinter 012
Eldora Ski Area 

By R. Scott Rappold

When I heard recently that a writer for the New York Times Travel section wanted to interview me, I was shocked. 

She was writing an article on money-saving tips for skiers for a global audience, folks who probably think of posh, mega-resorts like Aspen, Park City or Chamonix when it comes to skiing. Me, I live in tiny Del Norte, Colorado. I mostly ski smaller, mom-and-pop ski hills.  I’ve never used a ski valet, flown for a ski trip or stayed in a slopeside condo. When I travel to ski I sleep in hostels or on friends’ couches. Ridiculous. 

But the more I thought about it, the less ridiculous it seemed. After all, who better than the ski bums of the world to offer such insight? We 1) ski a ton and 2) often don’t have winter jobs because they tend to get in the way of skiing. I skied 101 days last winter at 10 different resorts and my wife never had to threaten to take away my credit card. 

So you can pick up a copy of the Dec. 1 New York Times and navigate to page 2 of section D, or you can read on here, where I’ll spill my secrets for saving money when you ski. 

Visit the hidden gems

No matter where you ski, you’ll never be able to make more than one turn at a time, so why does it matter if you’re at a sprawling resort with 25 lifts and 4,000 vertical feet or a smaller hill with half a dozen chairs? You might pay less than half or even a third of what a ticket will cost at a larger resort. 

If you don’t have a season pass spend $30 on a Colorado Gems Card, which provides two 2-for-1 or two 30% off discounts at 11 Colorado ski areas. More info:

Ski a half-day

Unless the snow is extra-special I rarely have the legs to ski an entire day – and I do this all the time! The occasional skier may not be ready to ski from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., so why pay for it? Most resorts offer half-day tickets, usually good for the afternoon, for the budget-conscious skier. 

Don’t stay at the resort

Sure it’s nice to be on the slopes all day and ski right down to your hotel or condo. But it’s also nice to not have to take a second mortgage on the house for a vacation. I always stay one or two towns over from the ski resort to get a much better price when I do have to get a room. If I’m skiing Copper Mountain, I stay in Frisco. If skiing Aspen, I stay in Glenwood Springs. If skiing Telluride, I stay in Rico. 

Hunt the bargains

Many ski areas offer special discount days during the season. For example, Wolf Creek offers 13 “local appreciation days,” when everyone’s a local and tickets are $54 instead of $76. Ski Cooper has $30 Thursdays. Howelsen Hill has ski free Sundays. And Monarch Mountain is giving away lift tickets Dec. 9, 2019 in exchange for a canned food donation. 

Bring a picnic lunch

It’s easy to spend more than $20 a person buying lunch at the on-mountain restaurant. Or you could plan ahead and have the family meet at the car for a picnic lunch. Some ski areas even offer picnic rooms where you can store a cooler or plug in a crockpot. I like to bring a little cooler and stash it in the snow near the lift. It’s never been stolen and plus my ski friends know I’m on the mountain that day. 

Hitch a ride

New to Colorado this year is the Snowstang, a Colorado Department of Transportation bus service from Denver. For $25 you can ride to Arapahoe Basin or Loveland and back, or for $40 you can ride to Steamboat and back. The service starts Dec. 13 and operates on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as the Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents Day holidays. You’d be surprised how little traffic bothers you when you’re dozing in a heated bus instead of driving. 

Be realistic about your goals

Skiing and snowboarding are fun, but they’re also a workout. As I write this I’ve been skiing seven times and find my body is not yet in shape for three days in a row, much less a full week. So when planning a vacation it may be tempting to buy a 5- or 6-day pass, but if you only ski once a year are you really going to be able to take advantage and still walk later? 

Don’t rent equipment at the ski area. 

Many occasional skiers or vacationers find it more affordable to rent skis and boots, which is a good idea. Renting it on the mountain? Not always such a good idea. You’ll pay more than in town and plus you’ll spend half your morning in line, sweating profusely because you’re wearing 5 layers and the rental shop is heated to 80 degrees. Renting in Denver or wherever you launch the trip from will save time and money. 

Get a job on the mountain

I’m not one to advocate working in winter at all (though I do write the occasional story like this one) but if you must, get a job at the ski area. Most ski areas give employees a free pass and some will even let you take some runs on your break. 


Scott Rappold

R. Scott Rappold is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience, including 10 at The Colorado Springs Gazette, where he wrote about skiing, hiking, camping and all the things that make Colorado great. He is now a full-time ski bum who writes when he needs money for beer or lift tickets. He lives in Colorado’s beautiful San Luis Valley. Read more of Scott’s stories here