Teaching your kids to ski? Check out these fun and easy hacks on how to save money in three key areas: gear, resort fees, and time.
As a family of four living in a ski town, we know how expensive skiing can be. From procuring the gear to getting lift tickets to buying snacks and gas, taking the kids skiing can put a huge dent in your budget. Add ski lessons to that equation, and there just won’t be much left in your wallet.
But our pre-parent years as dirtbags showed us that expensive things can be done on the cheap — it might take a bit more time and thinking outside the box. But if you have the desire and time, we have some tips that can help you make skiing affordable and fun for your entire family.
Teaching your kids to ski is expensive on three fronts: gear, resort fees, and time. We’ll cover tips for them all.
Finding gear for your kids can be overwhelming, especially because younger kids will outgrow things after one season (if you are lucky) or halfway through the season (if you are not).
Siblings make some of the spending easier because you can hand it down to the younger ones, but even a basic kids’ setup can run $300 and up. So, we suggest three alternative options.
Premium gear for learning is not necessary, and most basic kids’ skis and boots are adequate for learning even if they are several years old. If you have access to a town with a used gear shop, or if you use thriving ski-focused online classifieds like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, start there.
Start searching at the very beginning of the season, and check back often. Lots of gear tends to become available as similar parents find their kids have outgrown their kits over the summer.
If you’re lucky, you can essentially buy used gear the first year, and then sell it via the same shop or online marketplace. You can use that money to buy another used set — essentially never spending more than your initial purchase.
If you don’t live in a town with an outdoorsy population, I highly recommend checking out GearTrade. We have found some great deals on the site for ourselves and our kids. Buying used does take time to search, but it can save you hundreds of dollars in the end.
Find a Family (or Two) to Swap Gear With
Recently we found a few families with kids who are both younger and older than our kids. And so this season, we were able to hold our own little gear swap. This way, we all don’t have gear just sitting around waiting to be used.
Other friends we know share gear with another family because they have kids the same age and size, live close to one another, and have different schedules. We love this idea because it cuts down on the amount of stuff needed — and the gear gets double the amount of use at half the cost.
Rent a whole setup from a local ski shop for the season, and it works out to be a pretty good deal. Our local shop, the Powder House, rents a full kids’ setup for $199. This is a great option for parents who only have one kid, or who can’t find used gear and aren’t yet ready to make the investment.
When You Need to Buy New Gear
If you do decide to buy, we strongly recommend making sure that you buy both adjustable bindings and adjustable boots (like the Roces adjustable boots). While these are not high-performance options, they will allow even your prolific grower to get use out of the kit for several years.
Resort fees can add up fast. A one-day pass ranges from $100 to $150, depending on where you go. Multiply that by four, and your wallet can take a pretty big hit. To make it less of a shock, we offer some of our favorite tips.
Ski at a Lesser-Known Ski Resort
While it is super fun to ski at the well-known ski resorts, many times they are not necessarily the best place to teach your kids how to ski. Instead, check out the nearby lesser-known ski hills. You know, the places with only a few old-school chairlifts.
I grew up going to one of these mom-and-pop places in Alaska, and it was the best ever. I didn’t know any differently, and the runs were perfect for learning on. These places are often at least 30% cheaper than the more popular resorts.
Take Time to Research Deals
If your only option is to ski at the bigger resorts, then there are still ways to ski on the cheap — it just takes a little bit more planning and research. At our local resort, Mt. Bachelor, there is always at least one day a month that is free or half-off.
We are always checking the resort’s website to see what deals are coming up and then plan around those days. This month, for example, there is a ski for fun day, where a few of the smaller chairlifts are free for all to use. It’s on a Wednesday, but we are very OK with playing hooky from work and school to go up and have a family ski day!
Many resorts around the country also let kids 5 and under ski for free, or have programs that let fifth- and sixth-graders ski for free on certain days of the week. And if you or your kids are total beginners (like, you’ve never skied before), our mountain has a “ride and five” deal that gives you five lessons for $399, including a full season of equipment rentals and a pass that’s good for the entire season.
I have heard of many variations of this idea at other resorts, so while it does take some asking around and research, usually you can find some great deals out there.
Take Advantage of the Free Lifts and Magic Carpet Rides
When you are teaching your kids how to ski, you don’t really need much terrain other than a little hill and some hiking uphill power or, if you are lucky, a little lift. Many of the bigger resorts with ski schools have what is called a magic carpet and a little lift.
The magic carpet is another term for a conveyer belt that the kid stands on. The magic carpet then brings them to the top of the hill while you are either walking alongside them or are right behind them. For our son’s first couple of times getting used to his skis, this was super useful and fun. It was also free.
After he progressed out of that, we found two smaller chairlifts that were also free! I know that not all resorts have this, but it is worth looking into.
Volunteer or Work in Exchange for a Few Passes
If you have a few extra hours a week, resorts often offer a program where you can volunteer in exchange for a pass or two. At some resorts in Colorado, I know that after a few hours of directing traffic on busy days or being a guide for guests on the mountain, you can get a few free passes. And if you do it on a regular basis, you can even get a free season pass.
Bring Your Own Snacks, Hot Cocoa, and Après
This is kind of a no-brainer, but it is worth mentioning. Food at resorts is expensive and isn’t very healthy. I always carry a backpack filled with snacks, hot cocoa, and water. That way, whenever we want to stop and have a break, I have it all with us.
Our family favorites are burritos, grilled cheese sandwiches, and wraps. I make it all in the morning while I am cooking breakfast. For afterward, I pack a bag of yummy treats, squeeze packs, and other easy-to-eat finger foods for the drive down the mountain.
If you have the money, it’s probably easier to pay a certified ski instructor to teach your kid how to ski. However, if you are low on money but have a bit of extra time, teaching your kid how to ski yourself is fun, rewarding, and a great bonding experience. My favorite days of the week during the winter months are our family ski days.
Get Used to the Gear Early
As soon as you can, get your kids in their ski boots and on skis at home. Before we went up to the resort for the first time, we took a good amount of time getting our kids used to walking in their ski boots. They slid around on their skis in our yard — and even in our living room when we didn’t have enough snow outside.
If you are lucky enough to have a sledding hill close by, these are great areas to get your kid used to sliding downhill on their skis — and it gives you a great hill workout!
If you take the extra time to get them used to the ins and outs of their gear, you don’t have to do it at the resort. When they show up ready to go, you can take full advantage of the terrain and tools at the ski hill.
Instead of Thinking, ‘I’m Taking My Kid Skiing,’ Think, ‘I’m Going Skiing With My Kid’
I absolutely love this quote from Michael Rogan, a renowned ski instructor who has been teaching since 1985. He added, “Make sure you do the work to be happy where your child is in that moment, and really try not to take them where you want to go.”
This piece of advice has kept me in check (for when I want to go down a steep run) and has made me a better teacher to my kids.
We have seen so many parents on our local mountain taking their kids down slopes that they are clearly not ready for. They are usually attached to their parents with a leash, which lets the parents ski where they want to ski, but does not let the kid learn how to ski.
“While these backpacks can be useful for helping your kids down super steep sections or slowing them down in congested areas, they really aren’t necessary especially if you stick to the smaller hills where they can do most of it all on their own,” Rogan says.
We have so much fun with our 5-year-old and 2-year-old on the small learning slopes. Seeing their joy about going down “Marshmallow” hill or the little magic carpet hill all by themselves is so rewarding, we are not even thinking about the harder runs.
We try to always keep the focus on them, and as much as possible try to stay within their level and only advance when they show excitement for more.
Another great piece of advice from Rogan was to “pay attention to what the ski school instructors are doing with their students.” He added, “Take note as to where they take their students and how they are teaching them.”
Rogan noted, “If you don’t have the money for a lesson, but you do have the time, paying attention to how others are doing it is a great way to start teaching your child how to ski.”
Sleep In and Go in the Afternoons, After the Rush
When you are spending your time on the bunny hills and greens, first chair is not necessary. Also, first thing in the morning is usually both cold and icy, especially if it didn’t snow the night before. Not to mention, when you get a late start, you usually miss the morning traffic.
Every time we have aimed for an afternoon arrival, we always find a killer parking spot. And if you are buying passes for the family, afternoon passes are usually half off, which is great for smaller kids because they are usually spent after 2 or 3 hours of skiing anyway!
Where to Spend a Few Extra Dollars
When choosing where to spend our extra dollars, we spend it on items that will keep them safe, warm, and comfortable. We have bought our kids brand-new helmets, goggles, boots, and gloves. See our favorite picks below.
It goes without saying that you will need to find a good helmet for your kid. We love the Smith helmets for both ourselves and our kids.
They are comfortable, warm, equipped with MIPS, and have a goggle clip. Our favorite is this Prospect Jr Smith helmet ($130) because it has the “Grow With Me” dual-stage liner, allowing it to last for many seasons and many kids.
Good goggles are a must for kids. It protects their eyes from both the sun and snow. It also makes them feel more legit. Our son loves his Rascal goggles ($30) from Smith because they are comfortable and never fog.
We did try to look for used goggles, but all the ones we found were either scratched or fogged up instantly. After a few duds, we finally just decided to get them brand new.
Toasty hands not only keep your kid happier, but they also keep them skiing for longer. These mittens ($24) from Gordini are the warmest and easiest mittens to take on and off.
These adjustable Roces boots ($109) have saved us hundreds of dollars and a ton of time. The IDEA boots are the first-ever adjustable ski boot that, thanks to its patented 6-in-1 system, grows with your child’s foot, up to six sizes for each model!
One pair of boots can fit both our 2-year-old and our 5-year-old. At $109, these have been hands down our greatest investment.
Best Teaching Tools to Help Your Kids Learn and Have Fun
When teaching our kids how to ski, we have found that the top rule is to make it fun. If you are having fun, they are sure to follow suit.
After that, a few items are very handy, especially in the beginning stages. Below are a few of our favorite teaching tools that helped our sons go from always holding on to us to being little rippers after just a few runs.
Once your child can stand up and slide down on their own, you may want to attach a ski wedge ($11). You can also build this yourself out of bungees, clamps, and straps, although they can be purchased from as low as $8 to $15.
We were amazed at how well it worked for our son. Almost immediately, it taught him how to go between wedging and straight (or pizza and french fries). After a handful of runs with it, we took it off, and now he can do it himself!
The SkiRing ($35) is a great tool for getting beginners to keep their weight forward and keep the upper body quiet. If you pay attention at the ski hill, you may overhear instructors say over and over again, “Look up!” and, “Arms forward!”
The SkiRing looks like a steering wheel and is easy to hold — and you can see through it. When held up, it brings the child’s weight and eyes forward, which naturally puts more focus on their feet and ankles. It is also a great tool for pulling kids along flat spots or up the chairlift line.