TACOMA (AP) — If I bought lift tickets at the ski resort closest to home for my wife, two teenage kids and me, it would set us back $264.
Sure, that’s cheaper than, say, greens fees at Chambers Bay ($75 each in December) or nosebleed tickets to a Seahawks game ($250 each, according to ticketmaster.com). But it’s also on par with two credits of community college, a car payment or heating a home for the better part of winter.
Skiing is an expensive sport, but I’ve been told by some in the industry it’s not necessarily the biggest obstacle keeping skiers off the slopes. The other biggie: Not having somebody to ski with you.
This makes sense. In fact, I’ve canceled plans to ski several times because friends couldn’t go. Why couldn’t they go? It’s too expensive.
It doesn’t have to be, of course, once you have your own gear. Most of the Cascades and Olympics can be skied for the minimal cost of an access pass ($5-$20 per car). Of course, you won’t have the luxury of a chairlift, you’ll have to pack your own hot chocolate, and you better have route-finding skills and avalanche training.
It’s definitely not for everybody.
But with a little planning, you can pretty easily save money at Washington’s ski hills. The ski areas are eager to introduce the sport to new skiers and make regulars out of those who already love the sport.
In fact, savvy skiers and snowboarders almost never pay full price. Here are 10 suggestions for pinching pennies on the slopes this season:
• BLACK FRIDAY AT WHITE PASS
Starting Black Friday (Nov. 27), White Pass is offering a lift-buster deal for inexperienced skiers and snowboarders.
For $149.95, skiers and snowboarders can buy a learn-to-ski package good for three days for two people.
“That’s $25 a day for lessons, rentals and lift tickets,” said Kathleen Goyette, spokeswoman for White Pass. “That’s pretty tough to beat.”
The deal is good for anybody ages 4 and older. The program uses the resort’s lower lifts for the first two sessions before graduating to the upper mountain in the final session.
South Sound residents can sign up for the program at Tacoma’s Sturtevant’s Ski Mart until Jan. 4.
The three-session program typically sells for $109-$155 for one person. White Pass unveiled the discounted program last season, and 640 people signed up. Of those, 390 were from Western Washington.
n BUY AN EDGE CARD
Thinking lift tickets are expensive in Washington? Then you’ll be floored by the prices at British Columbia mega-resort Whistler Blackcomb. A lift ticket is $100 (and that’s after the exchange rate), but don’t pay that much. Residents of Washington and Canada can purchase an Edge Card good for discounted rates at Whistler Blackcomb. Passes are good for one ($71) to 10 ($559) days, and additional days can be added at a discounted rate. The pass comes with other perks, including discounts at the resorts and a free day of skiing before Dec. 18. You have to move fast on this one, however. Edge Cards must be purchased by Monday.
n BE YOUNG
Crystal Mountain is expanding free skiing to youths ages 10 and younger. Previously, kids 6 and younger skied free. Fifth-graders ski for free at Stevens Pass and Mount Baker. Sixth-graders who were enrolled in the program at Mount Baker last season can take part this season. Free skiing for fifth-graders is also available at many ski areas in Idaho. At Mission Ridge, teenager rates ($45 instead of $55) are extended to those as old as 24.
Those willing to commit in advance can find deeply discounted tickets on liftopia.com. White Pass experimented with the website last season, and now “we’re embracing Liftopia,” Goyette said. “We don’t want price to be a barrier for people.” White Pass, Mission Ridge, Mount Hood Meadows and Whistler Blackcomb were among Northwest resorts offering preseason deals on the website.
• SKI FREE ALL WEEK
When it comes to deals, you can’t beat free. If you can get to the Chewelah area (north of Spokane) April 4-10, you can ski free all week at 49 Degrees North. The ski area ends its season with a free week that draws visitors from all over the state. Some of them even camp in the parking lot. The free week is underwritten by Toyota.
• MILITARY DISCOUNTS
Crystal, the Summit at Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass offer discounts for those with military ID. Crystal also plans to offer half-price tickets for military on Jan. 13, Feb. 4, March 4 and April 10. Find other discounts at militarymerits.com.
• GEAR PASS
You can pay $40 or more per day to rent skis at a resort, and buying gear doesn’t always make sense for growing kids. However, several places offer the opportunity to rent for the season. Sturtevant’s Ski Mart offers packages for children and adults for $160-$250. At the Summit at Snoqualmie, gear season passes are $89 for children 6 and younger, $109 for youths ages 7-12, and $129 for those 13 and older. The Summit also offers Nordic rental packages for $59-$99.
• SEASON PASS PLUS PERKS
A season pass is the typical way skiers and boarders can save. After all, the more you ski, the more you get for your money. The sooner you buy a season pass, the better deal you’re likely to get. Prices are at their highest now, but next season’s tickets go on sale before the end of the season at many resorts. And purchasing your pass late in the season can come with a nice perk. Many resorts allow you to ski the remainder of the current season free with next year’s pass. Sure, that’s not really a deal if you already have a pass for the current season, but more and more ski areas are also sweetening the pot.
A season pass at Crystal Mountain comes with a 50 percent discount off tickets at Montana Big Sky Resort, weekday tickets at the Summit and other resorts. Other discounts include free ski waxing. A season pass at Mission Ridge even comes with discounts on sky diving.
• SKI AT NIGHT, TRY SMALL HILLS
Bundling up and hitting the slopes under the lights will save you money. Night skiing tickets, good for six hours, are $42 at the Summit and $40 at Stevens Pass. Compare that to $64-$69 for eight hours of daylight skiing and you’re saving almost $2 per hour.
Also, if you venture east during the winter, consider visiting smaller hills. Ski Bluewood, a 400-acre resort near Walla Walla, is cutting its ticket prices to $39 from $47.56. The resort and its underrated tree skiing hasn’t offered lift tickets for less than $40 since the 2007-08 season.
• CHECK RESORT WEBSITES
Ski areas offer multi-ticket packages and other discounts online. Some even offer discounts for purchasing online in advance. And others offer short-term deals on their websites. Check before you go, because once you reach the slopes, deals can be as scarce as the snow was last season.