Here are three facts about life in Colorado: The snow is white; the sky is blue; and the skiing is expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. If anyone knows this, it’s the ski bums of our mountain towns.
“A lot of people come here and drop $10,000 in a week for a family of four. But it’s a myth that you need buckets of money to do this,” says Miriam Hodgkins, a kids’ ski instructor at a Summit County resort. Incorporate some ski-bum wisdom into your plans this winter to reduce your expenses and increase your Rocky Mountain high.
Instead of dropping $500 on the newest skis, get your basics used. Mariah Elmore, a Telluride native, recommends checking out local sales for quality used gear. “My go-to is the local Ski Swap for skis, poles, and outerwear,” says Elmore, referring to Telluride’s annual KOTO Ski Swap (find more details about last year’s event here). Most mountain towns hold a similar community gear sale around November.
In addition to the pre-season sales, be sure to stock up at the end of each winter. The Wilderness Exchange in Denver holds an annual swap in May, and most shops will hold end-of-season sales.
If you can’t wait for sales, turn to consignment sports shops or Craigslist. Just be sure to inspect everything before buying, and if you’re going to splurge, spend money on the stuff that stays in direct contact with your body: gloves, boots, and helmets.
“Second-hand boots can be a total toss-up, and second-hand helmets seem sketchy. It’s worth it to spend money where it counts,” says Elmore.
Because the mountains are only a short drive away—even if traffic doesn’t make it feel like it—transportation costs for locals are much less than for out-of-staters. But if you’re truly broke, you might lack the wheels to make it up the hill. (And please, consider the snowy, windy mountain roads before driving your compact car up the mountains.)
While buses are gaining traction—especially now that the Department of Transportation (CDOT) has upped the Bustang schedule (traveling from Denver to the mountains on I-70 and north and south on I-25)—there’s nothing cheaper than a rideshare. Find people traveling your way by joining a ski meetup group through Meetup.com. A good ridesharer should pitch in gas money and be willing to take a turn behind the wheel.
Unless you have a friend with some buddy passes, tickets are going to hurt. Mitigate the expense by buying passes at the end of the ski season for the following year (as cheap as passes get) or by seeking out the smaller, off-the-beaten path mountains.
Some mountains under $110 per day for adults include: Arapahoe Basin, Crested Butte, Cooper, Copper, Eldora, Granby Ranch, Loveland, and Wolf Creek, amongst others.
If you’re heart-set on a more expensive resort, buy a week in advance to save on multi-day passes. Some mountains also offer discounts on mid-week ski days, if they’re bought in advance.
“Even cheap hotels can be expensive when you’re broke,” says Hodgkins, who recommends checking out Couchsurfing.com for the truly budget-conscious. “I started couch surfing in 2009 while planning a ski trip in Germany. I’ve done it in every continent except Australia since then. It’s a blast and a great way to have a local experience and free lodging.”
Hodgkins stresses that couch surfing is an exchange, not just a free place to crash. To increase your success with the service, have a complete profile for every member of your group, and message potential hosts with a reason that you’d be a good fit. Plus, bring a gift for the host or buy them dinner while you’re there. “You’ll still save so much money from staying in a hotel, especially because it’s a ski town,” she says.
Ski Bum It
To really ski for cheap, there’s always the full-on ski-bum lifestyle. Working for the resort—even if it’s only for as long as it takes to qualify for a ski pass—will make a big difference. In addition to instructors, resorts hire for retail, childcare, and food service. Plus, there are tons of locals-only events and deals to be had.
“It’s totally possible to go all-in,” says Hodgkins. “Finding a place to live is the hardest thing. A lot of resorts have accommodation for first-timers. But you’ll quickly find out the local tricks.”