Snowboarding or Skiing on a Budget
Big, front-loaded costs can easily scare newcomers away from snow sports. Here’s how to find lower prices on lessons, lift tickets and gear — at any skill level:
Some snowboarders and skiers zip down the mountain wearing thousands of dollars in equipment. That price tag can be intimidating to someone looking to break into the sport.
Don’t let the thought of expensive passes, boards, or skis keep you from trying something you may love; there are cheaper ways to dip your toes in the powder and see if you like it, before making a huge financial commitment.
If you want to try snowboarding: I think I can get you on the mountain for less than $350. For skiers, $315.1 This is all inclusive as well — lessons, gear, rentals, lift tickets, etc.
In the table below, “day 2,” represents the price you’ll pay for each additional trip to the mountain, provided you follow this guide.
If you plan on going more than 8 times during your first season, it’s cheaper to handle things in bulk; rent all your gear for the season, and get multiple lessons with a discounted pass.2
If you’re a parent reading this guide and looking to get your child started, you can go ahead and knock 20 bucks off your daily costs, and $100 off if you pay for the whole season up front. Kid prices are way cheaper.
This guide will also have cost-saving tips for those who’ve already tried the sport and are looking to get back into it.
You can probably save a few more bucks here and there. But if you go too much lower, I think you compromise safety and equipment quality. And that would violate my gear guide motto:
You Pay for Bad Gear Three Times
At your point of sale
When you suffer through equipment failure
When you replace it with something that’s actually up to the task
We are trying to purchase the absolute best gear we can afford, so that it will last you for years, if not a lifetime.
I respect your time and finances and know that this is an expensive world to break into, so I’ll be sure to point out what you can hold off on getting.
Some pieces of equipment are simply non-negotiable. Skimping out on these can result in life-altering (or ending) injuries.
You need a helmet. Buy one. Don’t rent. You don’t know what kind of damage, wear, and tear rentals may have taken. If you do insist on renting — i.e. you’re coming to ride on vacation and don’t have room for a brain bucket in your luggage — double check with the rental shop. Be clear you want one. Many rental packages do not include helmets.
The price range on helmets is pretty big. A low-end helmet is better than nothing. A high end helmet actually works miracles, allowing you to walk off blows that would have otherwise given you a concussion. If you go high-end, look for two pieces of tech:
MIPS — helmets with this tech have two protective layers moving independently from one another. This lets the helmet turn direct hits into glancing blows, and glancing blows into love-taps
Koroyd — Imagine if you stuck tiny plastic straws all over your head. When you slam your head into a wall, the straws crumple and absorb the energy. BONUS: it’s super light!
Companies will prominently advertise when their gear has these features. I use a Smith helmet with MIPS, which set me back about $250 at the time.
Even if you already have a helmet, you still need to be shopping around for added protection. You should be replacing your helmet after 5 years, or any impact that makes you think, “Wow, I’d probably be dead now if I hadn’t been wearing one!”
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Wrist Guards: $20-130 (Boarders Only)
A broken wrist sucks and can require surgery to fix. I wouldn’t ride without guards. As is the case with helmets, more money buys better protection. But some is better than none.
DAKINE Wrist Guards — affordable option: $20
A lot of people seem to give these good reviews. Fair warning: one reviewer (who still ranked these gloves very high) said her kid still broke his wrist wearing these. But there are still a lot of happy customers here. I used a similar model for years.
Level Snowboard Gauntlets with Biomex — my personal recommendation: $130
That price tag may seem high. But these guards are integrated inside high quality gloves. If you’ve read my previous layering guide, you know that a good pair of gloves can easily set you back $100. Plus, frozen fingers are one of the fastest ways to end a trip. If you’re in the market for gloves anyway, start with this option out of the gate.
These wrist guards also offer better protection using something called Biomex, and don’t interfere with your range of motion. You’ll forget you’re wearing them until you take a tumble.
But again, because of the price point, they may be something to put on your second-season wish list.
The sky is the limit to how much you can spend on goggles. This pair from Smith is sold at REI for about $30. Because there are some good entry-level options, I don’t recommend renting goggles.
Goggles are also a piece of safety equipment, since they impact how well you can see, and therefore react to hazards. A poor-fitting, scuffed up pair can actually be dangerous.
Wish List: Impact Shorts; $25—135 (Boarders Only)
AKA butt armor. This item will make your trip more comfortable, but isn’t 100% necessary.
When you are a novice snowboarder, you will fall on your backside often. When you are an expert snowboarder, you will still fall on your backside, just at higher speeds and on harder surfaces. As someone who’s sat out3 6 weeks of premium riding with a tailbone injury, I feel naked without these.
You can get cheaper ones, or even silly ones, if you’re just starting out. This $25-$35 price range will basically get you a pillow to strap over your tailbone. It will be bulky, you will feel it. But your butt will be cushioned.
I use Burton’s impact shorts. Their design makes them squishy until the moment of impact. Then, the foam hardens into armor, before softening again. You’ll actually forget you have these on, until you need them.
One important distinction: this (the Burton model) isn’t a good product for beginners. When you’re new, you’re mostly just bruising your butt. These seem designed to protect your bones from a season-ending injury, rather than shield you from any bruising. Your cheeks will still feel the sting of that crisp hard-pack.
Making the Best of Rentals
Luckily, you don’t need to buy a board, skis, or boots right away. I would actually go so far as to argue the skis/snowboard should be one of the last pieces of gear you purchase. This is especially true if you’re a parent reading this guide, and your kid hasn’t finished growing.
If you live in Colorado on the front range:
I personally do almost all my riding out in the Rockies. If you take a lot of trips to the Denver area: Colorado Sports Rent has the best rates I’ve been able to find. I’ve used them in the past, and the quality of their gear did not disappoint.
For an adult snowboarder, you’ll pay just shy of $300 for the entire season. This will include your boots, bindings, and board. Single day rentals for all the same gear will cost you $32. For skiers, prices are a bit lower at $220 for the full season. Day rentals will be closer to $22.
If you don’t live in Colorado, or on the front range:
Call a few shops before you make your decision. Don’t just ask their rates. Find out what their package includes, and what kind of gear they rent.
Some shops only rent low-tier equipment. That’s fine for beginners. But some places have intermediate or advanced options too, and may let you try out better quality gear to suit your riding style.
Avoid renting from the resort itself, unless you have some kind of transportation limitation, making it difficult to haul everything up to the mountains. The resort shop will almost always charge more.
If you don’t have the necessary cold-weather clothing like snow pants, a jacket, and gloves, some rental shops have packages that let you borrow these items too. Colorado Sports Rent, which I linked above, does make this offering for an extra $20 per day.
If you’d prefer to buy your own, I have you covered with this winter weather layering and shopping guide:
Getting Your Lift Tickets: $30—$100
When you’re a beginner, most mega-passes are total overkill. You’re paying for access to a lot of mountain that you don’t really need. Try it for a day first, and see if you like it. Here are some great options near the Denver Metro.
Loveland Valley: $50 tickets for adults. This gets you access to Loveland’s beginner hill, which is more than what you need if you’re just learning
Echo Mountain: $99 night or off-peak SEASON PASSES for adults. This will get you unlimited riding Monday—Thursday, or in the evenings. If you think you’ll ride more than once, this is a great option. It’s also the closest hill you’ll find to the metro
I’ve also extensively covered the effort to reopen Cuchara Mountain Park in Southern Colorado, which aims to offer another low-cost destination. Their single-day lift tickets will likely be somewhere in the $30 range.
If you actually are considering getting a full pass, check out this guide that Stuart Winchester put together, over on The Storm Skiing Journal. He’s sunk hundreds of hours into this project, and it has all the information you could ask for.
Getting Lessons: $180—$607
Everyone should take at least one lesson from a qualified instructor. Snowboarders should probably take a few more after that, simply because I think the sport has a steeper learning curve.
Because of this: I’ve included a bundle option for lessons. Keep in mind, these include your lift ticket cost, but not your rentals:
A-basin: $180, half day lesson + all-day lift ticket included
Loveland: $607, “The Three-Class Pass,” includes three days of lessons, plus a full season pass when you’re done
Once you’re a bit more comfortable, Echo Mountain has what they call “ambassadors” who can give you a few pointers on your technique. But they’re not a replacement for conventional lessons.
Snowboarding and skiing are expensive sports. But a lot of the high-cost products being pushed on you aren’t necessary on day one. You can almost always get a deal, if you know where to look.
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Snowboarding equipment is cheaper to buy, but more expensive to rent, I’d imagine because there are more skiers than snowboarders.
When you first get started, you won’t need access to the full mountain to practice. My “day 2” pricing budgets for a $50 dollar day pass to Loveland Valley, which will be plenty your first few trips. After a few days here, you’re going to want to access the full mountain.
If you’re 4 or 5 days in, and loving it, you may want to consider buying a multi-pack pass, or a full lift ticket. Loveland’s full mountain prices are $99 for adults, so this won’t jack up your prices too much.
My tailbone was bruised, so I guess I couldn’t really sit out the season. I guess I stood out the season?