The PIE family members are examples of those rare people who look forward to a New England winter with excited anticipation. 24” snowfall? Bring it on! Cold and windy? Wrap up! It might be fair to say that despite being New England residents for 18 years now, the novelty of having a true winter with lots of snow has not worn off. When winter hints at arriving, our thoughts turn to skiing.
Mr. PIE and I learned to ski as adults when we came over from the U.K. 18 years ago. The bug bit us hard, and we have only missed two ski seasons since then. Both years due to me being pregnant (you just don’t seem to be able to buy maternity ski wear!) The small PIE’s both had their first ski lessons at 3 years old, and are now very close to being able to out-ski Mum and Dad.
Needless to say, being able to continue our family hobby now and in Early Retirement is tremendously important to us. It’s also needless to say that skiing is a particularly expensive pastime. Day lift tickets in New England go for around $100 these days; and at the big mountains out West the prices are heading towards $150. That’s before you even start to think about gear, lessons, transportation and food.
So how does a costly hobby like skiing fit into the PIE family budget? Like everything else that we spend money on and budget for we are intentional in our spending. We’ve learned some tricks over the years and are now, even more consciously looking into the most cost-effective way to be able to do what we love to do. I’m going to share with you some of the tactics were have used to minimize our ski spending, and to get the most value out of what we do spend. This will cover both our local New England skiing this winter, and the trip we have planned to Jackson Hole in February 2017. If you’ve read much of our blog so far, you won’t be surprised to hear that many of our strategies involve some extensive planning ahead.
Here are the four areas I’ll delve into:
Jackson Hole Flights – Air Miles and Planning Ahead
Let’s first turn to our vacation to Jackson Hole in February 2017. We have skied there many times before, and if you’ve ever been to the area you’ll understand the tug the region can exert on you to return – again and again.
For our 2017 trip we have used United Airlines miles to cover the cost of 4 return tickets from Boston to Jackson Hole and paid the princely sum of $45 in taxes. Our United Airline miles were a combination of some travel hacking (Chase Ultimate Reward points and Chase United Airlines credit card) helped along by some accumulated business miles from Mr. PIE. We booked these flights back in April this year to maximize availability and choice. It’s worth noting that a quick search for today’s prices to Jackson Hole for four people comes out to $4,613. A definite win for travel hacking and planning ahead.
Jackson Hole Lift Passes – Shopping Around and Planning Ahead
It was a pure coincidence (or probably some clever targeted advertising) that I noticed an ad for The Mountain Collective Ski Pass in my Facebook news-feed last April. It seemed a little too good to be true as I clicked though and found what seemed to be a fabulous deal for the family’s Jackson Hole lift tickets.
The Mountain Collective offers a 28 day pass covering 14 ski resorts in the US and Canada. Back in April this year they were offering a great deal for the 2016/17 season. $379 for Adults and $1 for kids (yes, you read that right – $1!!) would give all four PIE’s:
- 3 full days skiing at a destination of our choice
- All additional days at 50% off ticket window prices (for a total of 28 days)
We quickly got online to compare this to buying tickets the traditional way – online at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort web site. Tickets through the Jackson Hole website would cost us $1,780 for 5 days skiing. Using the mountain collective pass would total $1,198, a saving of $582.
It’s worth noting that today the Mountain Collective pass prices are $419 for adults and $99 for kids, and includes just 2 full days followed by 50% off additional days. Another win for shopping around and planning ahead.
Lodging in Jackson Hole – Travel Hacking and Planning Ahead
The Jackson Hole lodging scene is expensive to say the least. On-mountain hotels such as the Four Seasons cater to the fur collar and perfect hair crew (do you even ski?!) with ski valet services and outdoor fireside cocktails (OK, the cocktails are good!) In town there are some more realistic hotel and motel options, but for a family of four finding a hotel with a reasonable amount of space and a small kitchen is tough. We’ve looked into various options over the years including VRBO condos and houses. We consistently come up with the same answer: The Jackson Hole Lodge.
The Jackson Hole Lodge offers small town house style family suites, with two bedrooms, small kitchen, 2 ½ bathrooms, washer and dryer and all the other amenities you’d expect to find in a condo. An added bonus is a newly renovated pool. They are simple, clean and functional – and most importantly very competitively priced even compared to a similar sized VRBO rental. Back in April we reserved our rooms for $1,597 for 7 nights. These suites are fully booked now, so if we were still looking for Jackson Hole accommodation we’d likely be paying more than that. We estimate around $2,100.
To bring the cost of our hotel stay down we’ll be using a total of $780 from some ‘fixed value’ travel credit card rewards (Barclaycard Arrival Plus and Bank of America Travel Rewards). Our hotel will cost us $817 for 7 nights. Another win for travel hacking and planning ahead.
Planning our next ski vacation while the snow was still melting on the ground from the previous winter, instead of waiting until the first flurries were seen for this winter, has saved us a whopping $6,433!
Local Skiing Lift Passes – Planning Ahead
But what about local skiing? We have a vacation home in the mountains after all, and as usual we intend to clock as many mountain days as possible this winter. This will be the third season that we have purchased season passes for our local mountains. Each time we have purchased them we have done so at the very lowest price for the year, and as you might expect, that’s while the previous season is barely even thinking about winding down.
We bought our 2016/17 season passes in March this year for the PIE family, at a total cost of $1,996. Today those same passes would cost us $3,596.
If we ski 20 days this coming season that works out at about $25 per person per day – a fantastic deal. However, we tend to think of our season passes as somewhat more than just a dollar value. Having a season pass allows us to ski for as much or as little of the day as we want without feeling that we have to maximize the value of a day pass. It gets us onto the mountain when conditions aren’t optimal and most other folks stay away. We’ve had some great ski days that we wouldn’t have otherwise paid for.
Local Skiing – Kids Equipment
As each ski season approaches we wonder what the best way to equip the Small PIE’s will be. Over the past three seasons we have picked up seasonal equipment leases for them. This includes boots, bindings and skis for the whole season for $175 each. The benefit here is that they get fitted correctly for new equipment each season. If they have a growth spurt during the season we can swap out gear at any point for no additional cost. We’re firm believers that proper fitting boots are the most important part of your equipment, and this has lead us to continue to lease instead of buying their gear. While a pair of skis should last a couple of seasons and be passed down from older PIE to younger PIE, we value well fitted boots over hand-me-down boots that are not quite right.
It’s hard to estimate the cost of buying skis and boots for the boys, allowing for handing down and possible trade in value. We have come up with an estimated cost that turns out to be pretty similar to leasing. The additional benefit of leasing is that the package comes with free season passes for the kids to another local mountain. That’s a value of $600 to $800 – a win for the lease and a pretty good reason not to start buying their equipment yet!
Local skiing – Mountain food
In our less frugal days we would have thought nothing of stopping by the ski lodge for hot cocoa, snacks and lunch throughout the day. As we started skiing more frequently and became more aware of our expenses it became obvious that we needed to change our habits. That’s to say nothing of the on-mountain food quality and options. A burger, bowl of chili or slice of pizza is OK every now and again, but this is expensive and not particularly good food. We could easily spend $40-$50 a day on family food at the mountain.
As you might expect, this has gradually changed and we are now pretty good at packing our own food for the day. A major player in this change has been the discovery of the Stanley brand vacuum flasks – thanks to a gift from my brother. We now regularly fill the ‘rocket’ as we call it with hot cocoa or homemade soup. We’re looking forward to using our new ‘mini-rockets’ this season too, filled with pasta, chili, or pretty much any warming meal you could imagine.
Skiing isn’t cheap. Traveling to awesome destinations like Jackson Hole isn’t cheap. If we want to continue our family hobby into early retirement all of these tricks and tactics will become even more important. We estimate that a combination of planning ahead, shopping around and general frugality has saved us around $9,000 over full price costs this coming season. Good thing too – we’re not planning on quitting skiing due to high costs any time soon!
What winter activities do you enjoy? How do you keep the cost of your hobbies under control?