Why does it cost so much to get your fill of winter’s fun? It doesn’t have to if you’re armed with the right gear and
Maybe you skied in college and liked it: wind in your hair, sun on your face, sliding smoothly down the hill. Of course you liked it. And maybe this is going to be the year you pick it up again. Or perhaps your kids have been bugging you to come snowboarding with them (if you’re suspicious that it’s only because they want to see you fall, we’ve got news for you: You’re right).

Then you started adding it all up. Skis: $900. Boots: $700. Lift tickets: $70 per day. Yeah, skiing and snowboarding are fun, but you’ve gotta eat, too.

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be this way. “The ski and snowboard industry rewards people who do their research and buy early,” says Marc Peruzzi, acting executive editor of Skiing magazine. “It’s kind of like buying a car; there’s a price on the window sticker, but with a little effort, you can do a lot better.”

Actually, with very little effort, as we’ve already done most of the legwork for you. In fact, by the end of this article, you’ll be armed with the know-how to hit the slopes for a whole lot less than you might have expected.

Vail, Colorado

Vail on the cheap. Sounds like an oxymoron, huh? Not if you visit during the resort’s “preseason,” which runs between December 1 and 19. During this period, you can get a package that includes four nights lodging, three days skiing or riding, a group lesson, equipment demos, two dinners, and other goodies for as little as $97 per person, per night. Of course, this is based on four-person occupancy of a two-bedroom condo, so you’ll have to bring the neighbors or your kids. But hey, the more, the merrier, right? (800) 404-3535 or www.vail.com/seasonstarter

Killington, Vermont
With 200 trails and 3,000-plus feet of vertical drop, Killington is the East’s biggest and most varied ski resort. And, surprise! It’s also one of the cheapest, at least if you buy the five-day ski week deal, which runs Sunday through Friday, and starts at a miserly $57 per person, per night for lodging and lift tickets. Better yet, children 12 and under ski free with their parents during nonholiday periods on advance-
purchase lift tickets, and kids five and under ski free with a parent anytime. (877) 458-4637 or www.killingtonresortvillage.com

Snowbird, Utah
Though it’s not as well known as neighboring Park City, Snowbird offers tremendous variety in terrain and plenty of Utah’s famously fluffy powder. And, during early and late seasons (before December 23 and after April 4), you can ski and stay for as little as $95 per day, based on a three-day visit and double occupancy. During the height of the season, Snowbird offers four-day Mountain Weekend packages that include lodging, ground transfers, lift tickets, and a lesson starting at a still-modest $586 (about $146/night), based on double occupancy. (800) 453-3000 or www.snowbird.com

Whistler/Blackcomb, British Columbia
If you’ve been looking for an excuse to visit what is widely regarded as the best ski resort in North America (and the host city of the 2010 Winter Games), put away your binoculars. Between
January 5 and 31, you can get three nights of accommodations, two days of lift tickets, ground transportation from Vancouver, and — here’s the kicker — a three-hour snowmobile tour for as little as $355 U.S. (800) 944-7857 or www.mywhistler.com

Squaw Valley, California
Partake of Squaw Valley’s Extended Play Package, which starts at $518 (per person, double occupancy) for four nights of lodging and four days of lift tickets, and you should have enough spare change to try your luck at the slot machines, blackjack tables, and roulette wheels in nearby Reno. Or, just pocket the savings and soak up plenty of the Tahoe region’s California sun and stellar snow. (800) 545-4350 or www.squaw.com

The key to getting a great deal on gear is to buy in the “sweet spot,” where performance and price converge to create value. Typically, that doesn’t mean buying the least expensive gear you can find; you want stuff that will stick with you as you improve. Case in point: Atomic’s Device series, which is sold in ski/binding packages. Not only does this save you some green, it allows Atomic to design skis and bindings that work in perfect harmony. Our pick: The midlevel e:7 ski with 310 Device binding ($595; 800-258-5020 or www.atomicski.com). For snowboards, take a gander at Völkl’s soft-flexing, easy-turning Sensor, which boasts cap construction for durability and a wood core for lively performance and light weight ($249; www.volkl.com).

When it comes to kids’ gear, it’s tempting to go cheap; after all, you’ll be lucky to get a single season out of their gear before they’ve outgrown it. But not only does cheap gear make learning a
demanding sport that much more difficult, it makes it that much more dangerous. To help you keep your kids on the snow without sacrificing their college funds, ask your local shop about a lease program, which allows you to outfit your clan with high-end, well-maintained gear at a fraction of the purchase price. Local ski and skate sales are also a good source for bargains, but it’s important to know exactly what you’re looking for. Also, any used gear should be thoroughly checked by a professional technician before hitting the slopes.

From his northern Vermont home, Hewitt writes for a number of magazines, including Men’s Journal, Bicycling, Bike, National Geographic Adventure, Outside, Powder, and Skiing.
Skiing magazine staffer Marc Peruzzi shares his top tips for schussing on the cheap.

1. Shop for skiing and lodging packages. “Most resorts partner with local hotels to offer ski-and-stay packages. Depending on how long you stay and when you go, you can sleep and ski for well under 100 bucks a day. Sometimes even half that.”

2. Think spring. “Most people hang up their skis in mid-March, but that’s when he snow — and the temperatures — are the best. More to the point: Resorts will do just about anything to attract skiers at the end of the season.”

3. Don’t overbuy your equipment. “It’s really easy to buy high-end ski or snowboard gear that’s more than you need. New gear is so good these days that even the midlevel stuff offers plenty of perform-ance for almost anyone.”

4. Ski more. “It sounds like a sales pitch, but it’s true: The more you ski, the more you save. If you buy a season pass for $500 and ski 20 times, that’s only $25 a day.”

5. Save your vacation time. “If you can ski midweek, you’ll pay a lot less, whether it’s by the day, or by buying a midweek season pass. Plus, because it’s a lot less crowded, you’ll get more turns for your dollar.”

6. Ski half days. “With the new high-speed lifts, a lot of skiers find that four hours on the slopes is plenty.”