How Denver Locals Ski on the Cheap

Denver locals skiing.

No matter how you slice it, skiing and snowboarding can be pricey pastimes. The costs of flights, baggage fees, lodging, equipment, lift tickets, dining, and transit start piling up like fresh snowfall. So how does a ragamuffin like me make her way onto the lifts? Proximity and frequency. The closer you live to the mountain and the more often you go, the less expensive each trip becomes. Denver, Colorado is fortuitously located just a day trip away from a variety of world-class ski resorts, putting the hobby more within reach for its denizens. Here’s how my commoner friends and I afford high doses of skiing and snowboarding fun on entry-level incomes:

Season passes. If you walk up to a lift ticket window of almost any ski resort on a weekend, you’re likely to pay over $100 for the day. Multiple-day passes or weekday passes might trim that figure slightly, but not by much. Most Denverites find it more worthwhile to buy a season pass, which will pay for itself after five or six days on the mountain. The most popular season passes among Denver locals are the Epic Pass (covers Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin and Keystone) or the Rocky Mountain Super Pass (covers Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Steamboat, and Monarch).

Vacation Rentals. Denver is within two hours of most major ski resorts but I-25 traffic can turn that into a very long day trip, especially on the weekend. Ideally you want a place in the mountains to crash for the night in order to string a few days together. You can find great last minute deals on vacation rentals including condos and homes for the weekend. Season-long rentals are also available and can be great for large groups of people.  For example, 10 to 15 people can split the season-long lease on a 4 to 6 person condo, bringing costs down to around $150 per person per month. They’ll reserve their dates on a shared calendar and invite friends when there’s extra space. As a guest, I’ll pay a $20 or $30 guest fee. I just bring my own air mattress and sleeping bag and join the winter-long slumber party!

Denver gear swap sign.

Gear swapping. The specialized gear involved in skiing and snowboarding is pricey enough to break any leisure budget. Luckily, Denver is a robust marketplaces for used, overstock and closeout gear. If you’ve lived here long enough, you probably know about Sports Authority’s annual “Sniagrab” sale, REI garage sales where returned items go for cheap, and the gear swaps at Wilderness Exchange. You’ve probably found a gently-used gems on Craigslist or a thrift store. You’ve probably discovered online bargain sites like SteepAndCheap and The Clymb. If you’ve lived here long enough, you probably haven’t paid full price for any of your outdoor goods.

Free parking lot shuttle.

Carpooling. With the major costs of lift tickets, lodging and gear diffused, the next expense to tackle is transportation. A trip from Denver to any of the major resorts costs me up to a full tank of gas. While solo days have their appeal, I don’t like to be an SOV. It’s more cost-effective to ask around for a carpool or post in rideshare forums online. Also, resorts usually offer a choice between paid parking and free parking with shuttle service. You can probably guess by now which one I generally choose.

Lunch packing. I simply refuse to pay ski resort prices for cafeteria-style food. An $8 slice of pizza that’s been sweating oil under a heat lamp all day? No thanks. I’d much rather pack a bagel sandwich in the cargo pocket of my snow pants and stock up on the freebie granola bars at the base to get me through the day. I’ll save the dining money for dinner in town, where fast-casual options mean a more-for-your-money meal to finish off the day