BY: Lori Knowles
Six weeks on the road with two kids in tow skiing North American resorts last winter [http://snowsportsculture.com/the-funtastic-four/] taught me a lot about family ski time. Not the least of which: How to save money. If you’re headed for the slopes with your loved ones (and I hope you are, as I highly recommend it) — for a day, a week, even an epic six-week journey like ours — read on. Learn how to save on a family ski vacation … and still have fun.
My mother always told me the early bird gets the worm, and while I’m pretty sure she was simply trying to oust my teenage tush out of bed each morning, as a mom and a skier I’ve now got to agree with her. You’ll save up to 50% on your ski holiday simply by booking sooner rather than later. Ski areas have huge upfront costs — lifts, staffing, snowmaking — and they’re keen to get their dollars early. Case in point: Booking by mid-November 2016 saves you 42% at Whistler; a four-night stay at Tremblant booked by the end of November saves you 24%. Same goes for buying lift tickets. Do it in advance. The most you’ll pay for a day pass may be at the ticket office on the morning you’re going skiing.
Another sure trick to saving dough for the tow: Invest in a ski area loyalty card. The Escape Card ($75) at Alberta’s Marmot Basin, for example, promises to save you 50% off full day lift tickets for adults, seniors and youth… all season.
Multi-ski area passes are oh-so-popular this coming ski season. M.A.X. Pass. Mountain Collective Pass. Epic Pass. Canadian Lift Pass. Their numbers are mounting. The deal? For a single price (say $350 per adult) you get two to three days at each participating resort. Is it worth it? Yes … if your family—like mine—is intrepid. Last winter with our Mountain Collective pass our family of four skied Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Whistler and many major U.S. ski resorts over a six-week period for less than $1000!
Another way to save: Take advantage of Kids Free deals all over Canada’s mountains. Kids Stay Free. Kids Rent Free. Kids Ski Free. This season there are many promotions out there offering a free ride for kids 12 and under and sometimes older: I spotted an offer recently from Ontario’s Blue Mountain for youths under age 17! And don’t forget the SnowPass, which is the best deal around for kids in grades 4 and 5 (or if they’re 9 or 10 years old)!
Half the fun of visiting a ski area is treating yourself to good food. Quebec’s Le Massif is legendary for its fine cafeteria cuisine; what kid wouldn’t love a giant cinnamon bun at Sun Peaks? Indulge when you can while on vacation, but… plan to prep your own food, too. The advantage of the proliferation of slopeside condos at places like BC’s Big White is the size of the kitchens. Our family saved countless dollars flipping our own eggs and packing our own brown bag lunches while on our six-week ski road trip. Part of the fun is finding a cool hiding place your picnic basket on the slope, then searching out a scenic place to eat in the alpine. Another lunch-lady, money-saving tip: Buy your groceries before you get to the mountain.
Weigh Your Equipment Options.
This next tip will take some research: Sometimes it’s cheaper to take your own skis on vacation, sometimes it’s more pricey. Weigh your airline’s baggage charges against ski and snowboard rental fees; renting skis at your destination may very well be cheaper. Those loyalty cards we discussed earlier often include a rental discount. And remember: Kids sometimes qualify for complimentary ski rentals when accompanied by a full-paying adult. Added advantage to renting equipment: You can switch carving skis for big fat powder skis when it snows, and snows, and snows on the mountain.
I am the first to tell you skiing and snowboarding big mountain terrain is fantastic; every skier should try it. But… when selecting a place to spend your hard-earned March Break bucks on your family, choose wisely. Not all skiers are suited to bumps, trees, and double-black diamonds. Canada’s lesser-known ski areas may be cheaper and can offer a family plenty. When considering your family’s ski vacation options, research spots like Mont Sutton and Quebec’s Eastern Townships; Whitewater, BC; Nakiska, AB; or Ontario’s Calabogie Peaks. Don’t take on more ski area than your family can handle.
Last winter my family visited 10-plus major ski areas over a six week period and all of them had one advantage in common: mountain hosts. These volunteers are thoughtful, engaged, helpful, and dedicated to their home ski resort. Take advantage of their free tours and advice, especially on the first day of your ski visit. Did I mention it’s free?
What about the Fun Part?
It’s all fun. Eating. Sleeping. Skiing. Snowboarding. Road tripping. Riding the lifts. Watching your five-year-old ride through snowy fields full of bumps for the very first time. Skiing trails through the forest. Skiing and snowboarding is Canada’s winter family sport. We can all do it.
Lori Knowles is a Canada-based ski writer and editor. Her family’s six-week Funtastic Four ski adventure can be followed at http://snowsportsculture.com/the-funtastic-four/