There’s been a huge outcry in the ski-osphere lately. Last week, Powdr Corporation introduced its Fast Tracks Pass, and people are NOT HAPPY about it. Well, according to social media, they’re not. Then again, people on social media are rarely happy about anything. So in case you don’t know what Fast Tracks is, let me fill you in: For an additional $49 per day (that’s the minimum charge), you get access to a special lift line on the most popular lifts at Killington, Copper, Snowbird, and Mount Bachelor. The pricing is dynamic, which means it changes according to days of the week, holiday periods, the color you’re wearing, the phase of the moon — whatever.
To be honest, this type of pass is nothing new. A number of ski areas have offered this sort of thing before. Sometimes it’s succeeded, sometimes it hasn’t. For example, Sierra-at-Tahoe sells fast passes daily or by the season. Bretton Woods gives members of its Club access to preferred lift lines. And Copper has offered some form of fast-access lanes for at least 20 years. Sunday River tested special access a few years ago, but blowback was so intense that it was dropped .
For the record, I’m not happy about the whole thing, either. It just feels….wrong. Sure, ski resorts have to make money. I understand that. Like everyone else, I want them to succeed. I like nice lodges, well maintained lifts, better snowmaking, and happy employees. These are the things you should get when resorts do well. But success also means satisfied customers, and this seems liable to produce the opposite. More and more, it seems that ski companies are tacking extra charges onto things that used to be free. For example, this season Mount Snow (VT) will charge for parking in 60% of its lots during weekends and holidays (go here to see how I feel about that). All of this may be fine for the ultra rich or the out-of-towners on vacation, but it’s not so fine for ordinary people and locals. Add onto this the fact that many of us have already plunked down a substantial sum for a season pass — with the intent that it would help us save money skiing — and that this was sprung on the public right before the season begins, and you end up with a clientele that’s royally pissed off.
I could go on and on, but instead I’ll direct you to an absolutely first-rate piece about this over at the Storm Skiing Journal. It pretty much says everything that I think about fast access lift lines, so let’s move on to address the topic that I really intended to talk about today: How to ski without paying a fortune (Obviously, Rule #1 is don’t buy a Fast Tracks pass). Because believe it or not, you can reduce the money you spend on skiing by doing a few simple things.
Here are a few tips:
• Bypass the mega resorts. Go indy. Granted there aren’t as many of these resorts as there were 30 years ago, but they’re still around. And yes, you can have a heck of a time skiing them at a lower price tag than you’ll pay at the Big Boys. For example, here in Vermont, there’s Magic, Bromley, Bolton, Northeast Slopes, and Cochran’s, to name a few. I spent President’s Day last season skiing at Ascutney, a community ski hill not far from home, and it only cost me $15. Yes, there’s only a T-bar, and no, it’s not particularly gnarly, but you can still have fun.
• If a big resort is really your cup of tea, then yes, buy an Epic or Ikon pass. Just remember: The earlier you buy, the more you’ll save. Prices have already gone up for this season, but next spring, hop on the pass train as soon as it pulls into the station. Prices are lowest then.
• But don’t limit yourself to an Epic or Ikon pass. There are other multi-resort passes available, too. The Indy Pass, for example, costs just $299 and gives you 2 days each at 80 resorts throughout the US and Canada (pre-season pricing ends November 30). The Mountain Collective give you 2 days at 23 destinations, with 50% off additional days. The New England Pass gives you unlimited access to Sugarloaf, Loon, and Sunday River. And the GEMS card in Colorado gives you 2-for-1 deals or 30% discounted lift tickets at 11 smaller ski areas in the state. These are just a few of the options available. Look around and you’ll find many more.
• Don’t forget to investigate special passes. Some resorts have special pricing for designated groups. Magic here in Vermont, for example, offers reduced-price passes for military, local teachers, local residents, and college students. Epic has military, college, and senior passes, and Ikon has them for nurses, college students, and military personnel. Check before you buy.
• Ski during the week. It’s cheaper and less crowded, and if you have to pay for lodging, you’ll also pay less. If your schedule can handle it, that’s definitely the time to go.
• Bring your lunch. This is something I do All. The. Time. Food at ski resorts can cost a small fortune. So bring your lunch, bring your snacks, and keep your wallet in your pocket
• Ski off peak: Holidays are prime time for ski resorts. Save money and avoid the crowds by going at off-peak times. Earlier in the season is less expensive, too, though snow can be unpredictable and usually only part of the mountain will be open. It’s a trade off, but if you’re willing to make it, you can save a lot.
• Don’t overlook ski swaps. I’m a huge proponent of ski swaps, where you can find new-to-you gear at low, low prices. We’re smack in the middle of swap season right now. A couple weeks ago I posted a list of many of the swaps you’ll find across the country. You can find it here.
• Shop end of season. If only new gear will do, then shop at the end of the season, when ski shops are clearing out their inventory. You can find some great deals this way. If you don’t mind something that’s slightly used, you could score big savings on demo skis when they’re getting rid of their demo fleets.
• Subscribe to a mountain’s email list. Or follow them on social media. Sometimes resorts will announce specials there that can save you money. So don’t miss out.
• If you have to rent gear, rent it off the mountain. It’ll almost certainly cost you less. And you won’t have the long lines you’ll encounter at the resort.
• Get a job at the mountain. One of the perks is a season pass. And with a worker shortage hitting the ski industry hard this year, many are upping wages, too. A win/win, if you’re so inclined.
I’m open to hearing about your money-saving tips, too, so if you have any to recommend, post them below!