How to ski for cheap

Jan 262012
Authors: Allison Sylte

Gas to and from Vail: $36.29
A one-day lift ticket: $102
A slice of pizza, a Clif Bar and a Coke in Vail Village: $18.72
An apres ski margarita at the base: $7.50
A day of skiing at one of the best resorts in the country?

Nope. Not priceless. Actually about $164.51, and that doesn’t include the cost of gear or lodging.

While skiing and snowboarding are heralded as quintessential Colorado hobbies, the truth is that they’re far from cheap. And that spells trouble for the average cash-strapped college student.

But there’s hope! For those of you looking to get a powder fix without tapping into your student loan money, here are some tips for skiing on the cheap.

Get by with a little help from your friends

The Beatles were right –– at least when it comes to finding cheap lift tickets, rides and lodging.

According to Jon Cass, the transportation officer for the CSU Snowriders, one of the easiest ways to find a cheap lift ticket is to find (or make) a friend with a season pass. Those passes often carry friend and family benefits, which can save benefactors more than a couple bucks.

“Be careful though. At some resorts, it only saves you like $10, which still makes your lift ticket pretty expensive,” Cass said.

This may be obvious, but once you’ve found friends with passes, make an effort to carpool. And be creative when it comes to finding places to stay.

“The Rabbit Ears Motel is a really cool lodging facility within easy distance of downtown Steamboat,” said Loryn Kasten, Steamboat’s PR manager. “There are two beds in the motel rooms, but there are also a bunch of cool couches that are basically beds –– you can easily fit six people in one room.”

“Once, when I stayed at the Summit Inn in Frisco, I stayed in a room with six beds and we ended up cramming 15 to 16 people in the room,” said Ryan Good, the secretary for the Snowriders. “It only cost $12 a night. It was pretty insane.”

Join the Snowriders

The CSU Snowriders, the largest club at the university with more than 300 members, offers $15 rides to resorts and perks on lift tickets and gear.

“It’s a good deal. You pass out in the backseat of the van, we do all the work and you get free Red Bull,” Good said.

Members also get three free belt waxes, 15 percent off of soft goods and half off of rentals at Christy Sports and 40 percent off at Icelantic Boards in Denver, on top of deals at other sponsors.

It costs $25 to join, and membership includes a t-shirt. To join, find an officer in the Lory Student Center Organization Office from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Plan early, don’t fear the Internet and bundle up

Most resorts offer some sort of a break on single day lift tickets if you buy them at least a week ahead of time, and season passes for the following year are the cheapest in the spring.

“We offer the lowest price guarantee on lift tickets when you buy seven days in advance,” said Austyn Williams, a spokesperson for Breckenridge. offers discounted date-specific lift tickets that are negotiated directly with resorts looking to meet sales quotes –– this means up to 90 percent savings at some resorts, as long as you’re willing to lock in to skiing on a specific day.

“By providing technology and tools that improve efficiency for resorts while maintaining value for consumers, we are shifting the model for lift ticket distribution to drive consumers online to purchase in advance,” said Liftopia CEO Evan Reece.

Sara Lococo, Vail’s spokesperson, recommends Vail’s Ski Free Stay Free offer.

“Purchase a minimum of two nights lodging and two days of lift tickets you receive the third night of skiing or riding free,” Lococo said in an email to the Collegian.

If you’re planning on buying gas for the drive up to the mountains anyway, members of the Snowriders say that the Shell Ski Free deal can’t be beat.

All it takes is the purchase of 10 gallons of gas, and customers receive a buy-one-get-one free lift ticket voucher for resorts like Copper, Winter Park and Loveland. The only issue is that the passes don’t include weekends –– meaning that skipping classes might be a necessity.

Don’t fear the backcountry

Backcountry skiing generally involves way more fresh powder, gorgeous locations, uses the exact same technique as downhill resort skiing and, for the most part, is entirely free.

Granted, it’s also way easier to die in an avalanche.

“Backcountry is definitely more dangerous,” said CSU Outdoor Program Coordinator Eric DeLuca, who advises that those interested in skiiing in the backcountry become versed in avalanche safety and awareness.

DeLuca recommends that anyone skiing in the backcountry at least have an avalanche probe, beacon and shovel, items that the Outdoor Program rents for $2, $4 and $2 per day, respectively.

Backcountry skiing also requires somewhat specialized gear, including alpine touring skis and skins, which allow skiers to glide up steep sections. For easier hikes, DeLuca says its possible to snowshoe up the mountain, carrying your downhill skis on your back for the descent.

Cameron Pass and the Montgomery Peaks are the top backcountry destinations among CSU students, according to DeLuca.

The Outdoor Program is offering an Intro to Backcountry Skiing Course on Feb. 18, and an Avalanche Awareness clinic on Feb. 20. More information is available at

Cross the border and don’t be afraid to go small

While most Coloradans are inclined to think that the behemoth resorts up I-70 are the only options when it comes to downhill skiing, there’s actually a little-known location just across the border that’s an affordable alternative.

Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area is located about an hour away, just outside of Laramie, Wyo. While it’s smaller than famed destinations like Vail and Copper Mountain, with only four chairlifts, it does have something that these resorts don’t have: $39 lift tickets.

“Snowy Range is actually a pretty cool little resort, that no one has ever heard of,” DeLuca said.

Echo Mountain, another small resort, is located 35 miles outside of Denver, and offers college-student discounted season passes for $149 –– less than the cost of two days at Vail and Copper Mountain.

Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte can be reached at

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