Valerie Kavanagh used to think skiing was something only wealthy people could do.
When she lived in Long Island with her husband, David, ski trips meant driving through the traffic-ridden city and then north to upstate New York, where you had to stay in a hotel and pay for meals out.
It seemed like too much work and expense.
All of that changed, of course, when the family moved to Everett.
With Stevens Pass and other ski resorts much closer, the Kavanaghs took up skiing almost immediately.
Now they and their children, Brian, 12, Danny, 11, and Katie, 8, can ski most slopes – yet they haven’t spent their life savings or the kids’ college funds doing it.
Though new gear for kids is often only a third of the price of adult gear, it can still get pricey as children grow. It turns out, however, there are myriad ways to ski on a budget, and over the years the Kavanaghs have learned them all.
Their biggest secret is looking for ski deals all year long.
“If you really want to save money on skiing, the way to do it is to really think about next season when this season is just about ending,” Valerie Kavanagh said. “If you know your way around, you can do it without spending a fortune. The first season is the most expensive.”
Save some scratch and try some of these cost-saving tips.
Annual passes: Yes, if you want to cut costs, it’s already time to start thinking about the 2006-07 season. Buying an annual pass is like purchasing lift tickets in bulk, well in advance. Yes, you need to ski a certain number of times to make it worth it and, of course, there’s no guarantee of a great snow season. However, buying a pass on the heels of this season will likely help you get the most out of your investment come winter.
Consider this: During the 2005-06 season at Stevens Pass, an adult skier who purchased a pass by April 30 paid $497.56 (tax included) for a pass that paid off after 10 visits. Skiers who bought passes between May 1 and Oct. 31, however, paid $790.24 for a pass that paid off after 16 visits. Skiers who bought passes Nov. 1 or later (in season) were the worst off with a $909.48 pass, which paid off after 19 visits.
Cascade Crags, 2820 Rucker Ave., Everett, 425-258-3431; www.cascadecrags.com – rents and sells winter sports equipment with an emphasis on alpine touring.
The Hill Billies, 617 Croft Ave., Gold Bar, 360-793-0221 – rents and sells ski and snowboard equipment.
G.I. Joe’s, 519 Highway 9, Lake Stevens, 425-293-0707; 19310 60th Ave. W., Lynnwood, 425-712-9200, www.gijoes.com – rents and sells ski and snowboard equipment.
Mt. Pilchuck Ski &Sport, 10822 Highway 99 S., Everett, 425-353-3400, www.mtpilchuck.com – rents and sells ski and snowboard equipment.
Play It Again Sports, 19513 Highway 99, Lynnwood, 425-670-1184, www.playitagainsports.com -rents, buys and sells new and used ski and snowboard equipment.
REI Alderwood, 3000 184th St. SW, Lynnwood, Alderwood Village, 425-640-6200, www.rei.com – sells ski and snowboard equipment.
Sports Authority, 19800 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood, 425-712-0900; 505 SE Everett Mall Way, 425-347-8988 – rents and sells ski and snowboard equipment.
And why not invest in spring, rather than right before the wallet-busting holidays, especially if you have a tax return coming from the IRS?
Smaller deals: If all that sounds like too much, remember that most resorts have at least one good deal for newcomers as well as smaller packages to help you become addicted to winter recreation.
The EZ Ski/Ride 1-2-3 pass typically includes lessons, lift tickets and rentals, and is available at a numerous ski areas, including Crystal Mountain, The Summit at Snoqualmie Pass, White Pass and Stevens Pass, among many others.
Night skiing: If you don’t have a whole day for skiing, take advantage of rates that fall throughout the day. At Stevens Pass, lift tickets for adults are $46 in the morning. After 3 p.m., they’re $28. Similar discounts apply for children.
Rent in town: Unless you’re getting a special deal, don’t wait until you reach the ski hill to rent equipment. Resort rental shops are often crowded and chaotic and are usually more expensive than shops in town. Plus: Who wants to fill out paperwork for ski settings and boot sizes when the mountains are right there, waiting to be skied?
Season rentals, leases: Even if you don’t ski or snowboard every weekend, you can save money and time by purchasing full-season rental packages. This season at Mt. Pilchuck Ski &Sport in Everett, for example, rentals cost $15 per day for a child or $20 per day for an adult. If you rent used skis for the entire season, however, you’ll pay only $110 for children and $175 for adults, and you get to keep the skis at home for the season. Other places offer similar deals.
If you want to rent new skis or a new snowboard at Mt. Pilchuck Ski &Sport, you can lease – with the option to buy – for $169 (skis) or $229 (snowboard) for kids or $259 for adults (skis or snowboard).
Sales, clearance: Equipment and clothing, just like ski passes, are usually cheaper in the off-season. Watch for year-end sales and discounts now through Labor Day, when you’ll find steals on last season’s ski gear.
Used gear: Buying used is an economical choice for most families, said Greg Bauman, part-owner of Play It Again Sports in Lynnwood. At the store, he said, it’s possible to outfit a 10-year-old child with used boots, skis, a helmet and poles for about $120.
Kavanagh recently found three pair of used black Rossignol ski boots at Play It Again Sports, perfect for sharing among her children as they grow.
Old rentals: Kavanagh also watches for sales of old rental equipment at G.I. Joe’s, Sports Authority and other ski shops that typically phase out some of their rental fleets every few years. Such deals are usually sporadic and not advertised, Kavanagh said, so you have to be on the lookout between spring and fall.
Ski swaps, shows: Every fall, watch for events called ski swaps, usually held at noncommercial locations such as schools, where you can pick up used or new gear at reduced prices. You might also check out the Washington SnowSports Expo (www.onthesnow.com), typically held in October at Qwest Field, featuring a huge preseason sale as well as special events and vendors. Watch The Herald, www.nwsnow.org or skitiger.com for ski swap details later this year, too.
Gender neutral: If you have boys and girls sharing gear, you obviously don’t want to buy a pink helmet.
Katie’s white ski helmet, though covered in colorful flower stickers now, was once Brian’s and, before that, Danny’s.
Danny’s current silver helmet will soon become Katie’s.
“This one will have Barbie stickers on it in a few years,” Kavanagh said. “Once she gets everything, she decorates it.”
Food: Unlike movie theaters, ski resorts allow customers to bring their own food and drinks. You’ll have to store your snacks and lunches in lockers or in your car, but the effort will save you tons. You can buy a Luna granola bar, for example, at Trader Joe’s for 99 cents, but at Stevens they go for $2.25 each.
Facilities: Don’t overlook some of the perks your chosen ski resort offers, including areas to eat brown-bag lunches. In the Granite Peaks Lodge at Stevens Pass, for example, there are two microwaves and free hot water available for skiers.
When the Kavanaghs go night skiing they bring hotdogs and buns and use the microwaves to heat them up for a quick, inexpensive supper. They’ve also discovered free water fountains outside near the T-bar and rope-tow lifts, ideal places to get hydrated.
“We want to ski,” Kavanagh said. “We don’t want to waste time waiting for service.”
RV: If you have an RV, you can enjoy back-to-back days of skiing or snowboarding – and be the first people up the lift – by parking on site overnight, an option that is growing in popularity at Stevens Pass, along with RV parking season passes and coupon books.
Keith Hedman of Sammamish and kids, Jesse, 8, and Tia, 9, joined Greg Hudgins of Seattle and his son, Brett, 11, in an RV for a two-day trip.
Though the nightly weekend rate is $30 for parking with hookups, they came on Monday and paid only the weekday rate of $10 a night, not bad for a party of five. Plus, they had only a short walk to the ski area.
“It’s closer than the bottom lot,” Hedman said of the RV park, adding that they had a heated space where they could watch DVDs and prepare warm meals. “It was 65 degrees in there last night. Toasty.”
Reporter Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.