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October 02, 2009

Skiing on a Budget

I am in the process of setting the annual ski budget and this brings up the annual posts regarding affordability of the sport and to a lesser extent, of the economy in general. First, let me tell you my "wish list" of things that I want to do this season:

  • Thanksgiving Trip to Wolf Creek
  • Christmas trip to Utah, probably mostly Brian Head with a side trip to Alta
  • MLK Day trip to either CO or UT
  • President's Day trip to Brian Head
  • Spring Break in Brian Head or Wolf Creek
  • Easter at Brian Head
  • 2-3 Day Trips to Sunrise and Snowbowl
  • Possible trip to Summit County for a couple days
  • Possible trip to Big Sky to see family that would include Jackson and some SLC skiing
  • Maybe another couple trips to Brian Head or Wolf Creek as time permits

Obviously, if money were no object and I had no job plus the kids could take off school, I would do all of this and more. As things are, I have to plan around school holidays and work schedules, plus a budget. Here is what I am doing to keep costs down and my recommendations for like-minded folks that want to get more bang for the buck.

First, pick a resort and buy a season pass. Here are the economics for most passes. The break even point on an adult pass is usually 7-10 skier days. There are couple things to consider about that. You want to make sure that you will get those days in ***at that resort***. A season pass alters behavior in that it reduces the cost at one resort and encourages you to go there instead of to alternative choices. It locks you in, so if you want to ski a bunch of different places, it may not be for you. But the flip side is that it effectively reduces the marginal cost of a skier day which may encourage you to go more often because all it costs you to go for that extra trip is gas and food.

Youth passes for tweens and teens are especially good deals. For instance, a 15 year old pays the full adult ticket rate of $45 or peak $52 at Brian Head. A K-12 pass for your high school or middle school student runs $219, meaning the break even point is 4.5 days.

Finally, on the pass front, Vail Resorts offers the Colorado Pass and better yet the Epic Pass that provide unlimited skiing at all VRI resorts for $599 adult. Break even point is an unheard of 6 days. Plus you get access to half a dozen premier resorts.

Next up, is gear. If you shop any other time than April, you are getting burned. Well, maybe February to April because in February they start discounting and you get the best selection, but in April a lot of stuff is gone but you get the best prices. That is the time to start looking for your gear.

Rough estimates on gear are as follows:

$400 Skis
$300 Boots
$200 Bindings
$150 Helmet and Poles
$1050 Total investment

Make the assumption that you are getting Demo quality gear and buy brand new. You can eBay things and cut this number down closer to $750, so we will use a mid-range number of $800. Most places a good Demo set runs $40. That puts the break even point for good gear at 20 days.

Now, you start looking at your investment and how to maximize the useful life of gear. I am a huge believer that the single most important piece of gear is a good fitting pair of boots. If you own your own boots, you can get a custom bootfitter to do formed footbeds and to even mold the plastic exterior to fit your foot. I bought a $600 pair of Nordica Beasts for $289 from REI on clearance five years ago and paid another $150 for bootfitting. So my investment was a little high at let's say $500 counting shipping and tax. I have roughly 60-75 days on my boots and they are still like brand new. I take great care of them though and that makes a huge difference. I have another set of boots that I bought in 2003 that my dad uses that have over 100 days on them. They were $200 brand new and are getting worn, but that is $2 per skier day.

Skis are a different story. Edges get banged up, bindings break, new shapes and styles come out. I have kept my powder skis since 2005 but they are 2004 models with four going on five seasons on them. I have probably 30-40 days on them, but including bindings, I paid $400 off of eBay. I bought another set of skis two years ago at a clearance sale at Sport Chalet and stripped the bindings off of my 2003 skis adding a new set of skis for $200. I got them 50% off of a half price sale in March. Bindings will last you until they are no long indemnified if you take care of them and that runs around 10 years.

Kids skis are the same way, but the price of a boots are usually around $100 and skis and bindings another $250. You get far fewer days on them so it often makes sense to do a season rental for $100 that most shops do before the season starts.

So back to my plans--

My budget is as follows:

$500 Lodging for 5 days at Wolf Creek
$1000 for Lift Tickets and food at Wolf Creek
$1200 for Season Pass at Brian Head
$2000 per day for Jake, Jackson, Jarrett and me per additional skier day not at Brian Head $250 x 8 days
$2000 for Gas $200 per trip x 10 total trips
$1000 for annual gear replacement / new gear
$8000 total ski budget

Not counting the condo expenses for the year. And not counting all the incidentals like food, snacks, etc.

Now we start cutting the wish list down and Wolf Creek is a $2000 trip. I really want to take a nice trip somewhere this season with Jackson as he has only skied at Brian Head and Sunrise.

Like I said, the economics of this are pretty rough in a recession, but I love the sport and have two kids plus Jacko so it is the price you pay. This puts us on pace to hit 20-25 days. That is a good target.

Posted by Justin at October 2, 2009 12:31 PM