Skiing is considered a rich man's sport, but does it have to be?
Skiing and snowboarding are considered sports for the economic elite—enjoyed by the same people who "summer" in the Hamptons or the South of France. But it doesn't have to be.
If what you value is skiing itself (and not the deluxe resorts nor the snobbish appeal of the "scene"), there are plenty of affordable opportunities when it comes to hitting the snow. Here are tips on ways to save money when skiing, including purchasing equipment inexpensively, the questions of when and where to rent, and a tip on finding affordable food.
Getting gear without getting taken
One big reason skiing seems like a snobby sport is because, at least on first glance, simply outfitting yourself for a day in the powder requires a Rockefeller's bank account. $800 skis? $600 boots? $400 ski pants? $200 gloves? Yes, some people actually pay these outrageous prices, and they fork over these amounts once every year or two, to make sure they always have the latest, most fashionable gear and clothing. Does it make them better skiers? Do they enjoy themselves more? Not a chance on both accounts.
There is an old adage among ski gurus that the true snow-riding diehards are the ones with duct tape holding together some part of their gear (such ragged duct-taped individuals are likely to be the ones zooming by you in a blur). True powder hounds value their time on the snow, not their moment waiting in the liftline (which some consider the equivalent of a model's runway). They also know when, and how, to find quality ski equipment at the best prices (the less spent on equipment, the more they can spend on adventures in the snow, after all).
First off, think of ski or snowboard gear like cars. Each year, there is a new model, and rarely is there a big change from the previous edition. Just as a car still on the lot has its price slashed in the summer (when the newer models are released), perfectly fine ski equipment is sold at huge discounts if it has sat on the storeroom floor long enough. You'll find the best prices in the late spring and summer, when ski shops are looking to clear out inventory. At other times of year, ask a clerk if any of last year's equipment is still left over (holdovers may be hard to find; the new stuff is always displayed most prominently). This goes for skis, boots, poles, and boards, as well as ski pants, jackets, gloves, goggles, and all the toys that go along with winter sports.
Secondly, consider buying used equipment. The aforementioned fashionistas purchasing brand-new gear every year often get rid of their barely used equipment, and they might sell them off for next to nothing. (Apparently, they can't bare being seen with anything the latest models.) Many ski resorts and shops have tent sales in spring and summer, where the previous season's rental skis are sold off en masse. Barely used ski bargains also abound at swap meets, local newspaper's classified ads, and on the Web, at bidding sites like eBay (www.ebay.comHave an idea of what the going rate for brand-new equipment is, and then never pay more than half the manufacturer's standard price for used gear. It's hard for novices to know whether equipment has been seriously damaged, so bring along an experienced skier friend, if possible, to look over your perspective "new" gear.
You should just rent equipment, though, if you're truly testing the waters (frozen waters, that is), and want only to invest a bare minimum while scouting out the sport. I definitely recommend renting if you're a beginner (old or young), for three possible reasons: one, because they may accel in the sport and outperform their first pair of novice skis in a hurry; two, because beginners tend to ski seldomly and their skis may spend months, even years collecting dust; and three, because there's no guarantee that a beginner will enjoy the sport, and they may wind up giving it up entirely after a few tries.
Renting equipment may also be a good idea for young children. They'll outgrow their boots, if not their skis, in a season, sometimes quicker. But obviously if a family has more than one child, bought skis can be passed down from the older child to the younger child. For big families, buying inexpensive skis for kids is normally a good investment. No one needs the latest, most hi-tech equipment to enjoy skiing, especially not children. There is no problem with letting kids ski with equipment that is several years old. They'll still have a great time.Before renting, however, realize that buying used or discounted equipment may cost the same as three or four days of rentals. So sometimes it's worth it to buy equipment, even if you're only planning on using the skis, poles, and boots for a week's vacation. As for where to rent equipment, don't wait until you're at the resort. It's better to shop around. You can almost always find a cheaper place to rent ski equipment at a shop in town (in your town or the town right outside the resort), rather than on the mountain, where they know you have little choice but to rent from them.
Pack a lunch
One final tip: The food at ski cafeterias is never, never, never, ever a good buy. Prices for grub inside a ski lodge are usually on par with those at sports arenas or airports. Burgers for $8, candy bars for $2, and a bottle of Gatorade for $4 are not unusual. So do yourself a favor and pack a sandwich, some fruit, and a drink. If the idea of making a sandwich doesn't gel with your vacation, buy a lunch somewhere off the resort grounds and bring it to the lodge. It'll be much cheaper than the cafeteria eats, and chances are, tastier too.