Between transportation, gear, lodging, meals and lift tickets, skiing and snowboarding can be an expensive hobby. But it also makes for a great (and healthy) family bonding experience. So how can you save some cash this winter on a family ski getaway? U.S. News rounded up some savvy ways for you to slash costs -- without sacrificing memorable experiences -- and plan an affordable stateside ski trip with your crew.
Pick weeks or off-weekends
National holidays, school breaks and weekends make for crowded resorts. Avoid planning a trip for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. weekend or President's Day weekend -- these are peak times for ski travel and that means higher prices for lift tickets and lodging. If you can swing it, opt for a mid-week trip or extend your stay through Tuesday for a long weekend getaway. You'll also find the best bargains at the very beginning of the season or at the tail end (think early December, and late February into March), though you'll have to take a gamble with the uncertainty of snow conditions.
Assess skills and resort amenities before choosing a locale
Once you've determined when you'll be shredding powder, figure out where. There are a wealth of impressive ski destinations in the USA and across the globe, but finding a mountain that best suits your family is key. You may want to wait on a trip to larger, more difficult (and thus, more expensive) mountains out west, in Canada or abroad in Europe until your children are older. Consider your kids' skiing abilities before you make a decision: Will they need lessons? Are they black diamond daredevils or bunny slope beginners? Other factors to weigh include lodging availability and resort activities. Kids and teens can get exhausted with skiing, so choose a spot that offers nearby attractions or access to free or cheap on-site amenities like an indoor swimming pool or an arcade.
Aspen, Colorado is a good pick for expert ski and snowboard families. It features several resorts, provides a plethora of accommodations and just unveiled a multi-million dollar children's center at Buttermilk Ski Area. Another top spot for advanced skiers and boarders: Park City, Utah, with three resorts, some of the top ski schools and the nearby Olympic Park. Beginner to intermediate enthusiasts who still want to ski out west can stick to mountains with a higher percentage of introductory trails, such as Keystone Resort or Loveland Valley in Colorado. Or, try smaller, family-friendly East Coast destinations like Pennsylvania's Seven Springs Mountain Resort, New York's Windham Mountain or Vermont's Stowe Mountain. These locales offer an abundance of alternate activities as well, such as kids clubs, snow tubing and ice skating.
Pack lunches and snacks
Either before you leave or once you get to town, visit the nearest grocery store to stock up on food and drinks for the duration of your trip. If you bring along small plastic bags from home, you'll be able to stow snacks like Goldfish and trail mix in your coat pockets for the slopes. Plus, if you buy sandwich fixings, you can pack lunches for the entire family and store them in a locker for the day or head back to your accommodations mid-afternoon to fuel up. If you don't pack your own snacks, prepare to spend $20 or more per person on burgers and drinks at the resort cafe or restaurant.
Take advantage of discounts, freebies and family packages
The earlier your plan your trip, the better deals you'll be able to find. Start with discount sites like Liftopia or GetSkiTickets.com, then check the resort's own website to see if you can get a discount (sometimes up to 50 percent) for buying lift tickets in advance. A caveat, however, is that these tickets are usually nontransferable and nonrefundable, so make sure you're fully committed to the ski vacation before purchasing.
Some resorts, including Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Durango Mountain Resort and Steamboat Springs in Colorado, Windham Mountain in New York and Big Sky Resort in Montana, allow kids to ski for free. (Arapahoe Basin is offering a no-strings-attached deal where kids 14 and younger can ski for free from Nov. 30 through Dec. 19 this year.) But tougher age restrictions and minor stipulations apply at the other resorts. Keystone, Durango, Windham and Big Sky require a stay in one of their accommodations, while Steamboat requires that adults purchase at least a five-day adult lift ticket for kids 12 and younger to ski free. But the savings can be significant: children's one-day lift tickets can run anywhere from $50 to $100.
Almost all ski resorts offer some type of family-friendly deal that will include lift tickets, meals, lessons and accommodations or some combination of those items for one set price. Check city or state tourism board websites and your resort's website to see if you can score a deal. Seven Springs' Winter Family Memories package starts at $309 per adult (based on double occupancy) and includes a two-night hotel stay, lift tickets, breakfast, one dinner buffet and extras like a snow tubing session, a round of mini-golf and a roller skating rental. Another bonus? Kids 11 and younger stay for free. Meanwhile, Windham Mountain's family packages include lift tickets, condo rentals, continental breakfast and a shuttle to the mountain. Ski.com, a ski vacation planning site, is another place to search for and purchase value lift ticket and lodging combination packages.
Rent equipment off-site or in advance
If you need to rent skiing or snowboarding equipment, do so at a winter sports store or rental shop near home or in town rather than at the resort to save some coin. You can occasionally get a discount directly at the mountain, but only if you reserve rentals far enough in advance. For example, purchase rentals at least a week in advance from Aspen, Vail or Park City and you could save up to 20 percent. (Deals do vary depending on how far in advance you secure rentals; purchase several weeks before and you can find even greater savings.)
And if you foresee plenty of ski trips in your family's future (say, at least one or two a year), consider buying your own equipment. GearTrade and The House Outlet offer deep discounts on both new and gently used skis, snowboards, boots, clothing and more.
See: Skiing in Summer? Trade your swimsuit for skis in these snowy destinations
About the author: Erin Shields is a Travel Editor at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, circle her on Google+ or email her at email@example.com.