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A lot of people stop skiing and snowboarding once they have kids. The logic seems reasonable: snowboarding is expensive enough when it's just you and your spouse; how will you be able to afford it now that you have a rug rats in tow? The truth is, the most expensive thing about taking your kids skiing is paying to go skiing yourself. Most ski areas make it reasonably inexpensive for kids to ski—even if it is only because they know you're coming along (and paying) too. The investment, however, is worth it. For one, it gets you back on the slopes again (even if it is mostly the bunny slope). Secondly, it gets your kids out of the house and gives the family something to bond over during winter days when they might otherwise be zoning out in front of Disney Jr. Most important, it introduces your kids to a culture and lifestyle that may just stay with them for the rest of their lives. The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was teaching me to ski, and I have a litany of friends who feel the same. Here are a few tips on how to pass that gift on to your own kids, without sacrificing their college education in the process.
There are something like 475 operating ski areas in the U.S. The vast majority of them are not big money, big amenity ski resorts that charge $100 a day for lift tickets. The terrain and snow may not be what you'd find at a destination resort, but they're perfectly adequate for an afternoon or evening with the kids. And for many Americans, particularly those in the Northeast, there's often one just a short drive away. At a local hill, you can expect to pay less than half what you would at a destination resort for a daily lift ticket. Some, like Abenaki Ski Area in New Hampshire, are ridiculously cheap ($5 for residents, $17 for visitors from out of town). Many also offer night skiing, and "flex tickets," where you can ski for four consecutive hours for even less money. Even Loveland, Colorado, which offers world-class terrain and snow just a little closer to Denver, offers ticket prices that are half of what you'd pay at the window at resorts just up I-70.
Start 'em young
Many ski areas don't charge for kids under a certain age. At places such as Snowbasin, Utah, and Killington, Vermont, kids 6 and under ski free. At Brighton, near Salt Lake City, and Mountain High in Southern California, it's kids 7 and under (with an adult ticket). Those that do charge often offer deep discounts. Crystal Mountain, Washington, charges $5 for kids 6 and under. The other bonus of starting them early is it gets your kids accustomed to skiing early. They'll pick up the sport faster, and you’ll save on lessons later on in life. (I still recommend putting them in a lesson at least once a season until they're able to ride most of the mountain).
Commit and buy a Season Pass
Once you've found a local place you like, you can reduce your cost-per-day greatly with a season pass. This also takes the pressure out of getting the most out of each day you buy a lift ticket (and possibly ruining the experience for you and your kids). Again, kids under a certain age are often free or greatly discounted. Most places offer a family pass discount. And though it seems like a large chunk of money, the price is in line with what you'd pay for other youth sports. A 6-14-year-old pass to Loveland, for example, is $169. A youth hockey team in Denver could cost more than $1,000, while an indoor soccer league will cost about $70 for seven weeks. The added benefit is you get to play, too. Research to see if any of the passes offered are part of a larger collective that provides free skiing at other resorts. Afton Alps, Minnesota, and Mt. Brighton, Michigan, for example, are included in Vail Resorts Epic Pass. A Bear Mountain, California, pass this year also includes Mammoth and June Mountain.
Shop around, shop early
If you do want to take the family on a trip to a destination resort, shop around and commit early. This may sound counter intuitive to former powder chasers, but you're also not going to be hitting the hostel or sleeping on your friend's couch. Many resorts offer "kids ski, stay, and rent for free" packages with a minimum stay. Many of these expire in the fall, though Aspen Snowmass offers a package that includes select weeks in March and April that doesn’t expire until February and March.
Shop at Ski Swaps
Until they are teenagers, your kids are going to outgrow equipment faster than they destroy it. This is the same for kids who are a little older than your kids. Shop at ski swaps, and you can get great deals on barely used gear that you can resell next fall, when you'll have to replace it anyway.
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