How to take the whole family skiing without breaking the bank

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Skiing is not a cheap sport. It requires a lot of equipment and, depending on where you live, travel. For families, the expense increases with each child, often before they can determine whether skiing (or snowboarding) is an activity kids really enjoy.

In an effort to nurture future generations of downhill riders, ski areas are increasingly offering discount passes to families with children, typically third through sixth graders (good ages, resorts say, to physically try a sport demanding) and, sometimes, to preteens and teenagers.

“It's tough having to spend a few thousand dollars to see if you like something,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, director of marketing and communications for the National Ski Areas Association, which represents resorts across the country. “This is a low-risk way to see if your children and family want to participate.”

Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade group representing 21 resorts in the state, began offering its Kids Ski Passport nearly 30 years ago to families with children in third through sixth grades, regardless of where they live. The pass, which costs $65, entitles you to four days each at 20 Colorado ski areas. This year, it introduced the new Gems Teen Pass for ages 12 to 17, offering two days each at 11 ski areas for $199.

“For us, some years, it's the difference between going skiing and not skiing,” said Joshua Berman, an elementary school teacher and author in Longmont, Colorado, who purchased the Kids' Ski Passport in the past for his three children. . Even using it only a few times each season, he added, “we've been able to get to the point where they love it.”

With their mandate to spread skiers among a variety of resorts, discounted children's passes (offered by state ski associations from Vermont to Utah) tend to appeal to families in their home states, although they are generally available to skiers from out of state and can be a good way to try a variety of resorts.

Utah has a long-standing program that offers discounted passes for schoolchildren and is also available to residents of other states. The Ski Utah Student Passport currently offers fourth, fifth and sixth grade students access to three days each at 15 resorts for $89.

In New York, the SKI NY Free for Kids Passport program for third and fourth graders gives holders two free days with the purchase of an adult ticket at more than 25 participating resorts, including Gore Mountain and Whiteface Mountain in Adirondacks and Windham Mountain Club in Cat Skills. It costs $41 to apply for the pass.

The $30 Ski Vermont Fifth Grade Passport gives pass holders three days each at 20 participating downhill ski resorts and one day each at 24 cross-country ski areas.

The Michigan Snow Sports Industries Association offers its Cold Is Cool Passport to fourth and fifth graders for $30, entitling passholders to three lift tickets or trail passes at 29 ski areas in Michigan. Some participating resorts offer discounts on equipment rentals and ski lessons.

With the Colorado Kids Ski Passport, Christy Sports stores offer two free days of ski equipment rentals for kids, including skis, boots and poles.

“That's another big part for us,” Mr. Berman said. “As kids get older, it's hard to keep equipment that fits them.”

If there's a ski resort you're interested in, it's worth looking for family-friendly deals on their website. For example, Sierra-at-Tahoe, south of Lake Tahoe in California, offers daily lift tickets of $60 to $65 for children ages 5 to 12, compared to standard adult rates of $145. Even teens and young adults, ages 13 to 22, get a break, with single-day tickets starting at $130.

As long as they plan ahead, residents of Colorado, Utah, Washington State and Canada can qualify for several days of free skiing at Vail Resorts-owned ski areas. Registration opened in the spring and closed this year in mid-October, so it's too late to get passes this season, but here's what to keep in mind for next year.

For children in kindergarten through fifth grade residing in Colorado, the Epic SchoolKids Colorado package covers four days of free skiing each in Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte. A similar pass in Utah offers five days in Park City to Utah youth. The Whistler Blackcomb Package is available for children in kindergarten through fifth grade in Washington and Canada and offers five free days at Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia.

Another opportunity to consider for next season: Through its Epic Pass, which offers access to more than 80 Vail resorts and affiliates around the world, the company has many age-based discounts. This year it stopped selling the 2023/2024 pass on December 3; For those who planned ahead, the pass for children ages 5 to 12 sold for $494 in November, saving almost $600 compared to the adult pass.

As with Vail Resorts, ski areas and associations use discounts to encourage advance planning.

“You can take a family ski trip at an affordable price, but you can't do it by walking up to the window,” said Sarah Beatty, communications director for Colorado Ski Country USA.

Its Gems Parent Pass, an add-on to its kids passes that allows parents of junior pass holders to claim two days each at 11 ski areas for $299, sold out over Thanksgiving weekend (the group declined to say how many passes were sold). But it still offers its Gems discount card ($48), which entitles parents to a variety of deals at 11 resorts, including two-for-one pricing on a single day of skiing, or 30 percent off a one-day lift ticket.

Prices may rise as the season approaches, so shop early. For example, the Ski Utah student passport was $69 all fall until December 1, when it went up to $89.

Please note that many passes and ski areas have blackout dates during popular school holidays, including Christmas through New Year's week and Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents' Day weekends.


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