Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How to Choose a Family Season Ski Pass

Every winter the questions begin as families try to figure out how to make downhill skiing more affordable. The problem though is that if you wait until October or November to start planning for the upcoming ski season, you're often too late.

It's time to think about season ski passes for this coming winter

Frequent skiing is only possible if you have a season pass - and they are on sale at crazy early bird prices in September/October. Wait too long and you'll be paying $1000+ more for the same pass in November.

My family has chosen to ski at our local Nakiska Ski Area for the past several winters.

We used the factors below when choosing which season pass we'd invest in.

Which ski resort will you choose for next winter's skiing?

Factors to Look at When Choosing a Family Season Ski Pass 

1. Cost 

Let's be honest, if cost were not a factor, most of us would be driving out to Banff (or beyond) every weekend to go skiing. The reality though is that the big mountain resorts aren't in the budget for many families (mine included.)

We love to spend a few weekends at the big resorts each winter, but for our regular "weekend hill" we have to be practical. And when it comes down to the most important factor, there's only one thing that truly matters:

The BEST hill is the one you can afford, and the perfect resort is the one you can easily get to (often and regularly.)

Our "Perfect" Resort is close enough for first runs of the day!

For best pricing, you'll want to purchase passes when early bird prices become available. The deadline is usually late fall (though Nakiska always does an "early" early bird price sale earlier in the season.)

For my family, the decision has always been easy. We want to spend more time skiing (less time driving.)

Visit the resort(s) you're interested in to view current season pass pricing - and deadlines for early bird sales!

The right ski hill should be affordable and close to home

2. Distance

The questions below should help you decide which hill is ideal for your family (and hence, which pass you want to buy.)

  • Do you want to take the kids skiing on PD days? - Yes? How far are you willing to drive?

  •  Would you like go to skiing on a Friday afternoon when the kids get out of school early? If yes, you might want a hill that's less than an hour away (or right in the city.)

  • Would you like to go skiing in the morning or afternoon with a child who's in half-day preschool or kindergarten? (Hello, WinSport's Canada Olympic Park)

  • Do you ever go skiing mid-week by yourself after dropping the kids off at school? (With Nakiska, I can make school drop off and pick up, and still spend 3 hours skiing.)

  • Do you take the kids skiing for a day over school holidays while your partner is working? - If yes, how far do you want to drive for a solo ski day with the kids?

  • Do you want to take the kids skiing after school or in the evening? (Only WinSport in Calgary will allow you to do this.)

  • Do you plan to put the kids in weekly ski lessons or in a ski club? (If yes, do you want to commit to traveling out of town every weekend and spending two nights near the ski hill, or do you want a hill that's closer to Calgary for day trips?)

  • Is your chosen hill doable for day trips (or do you have to commit to spending a full weekend with accommodations added on?)

My favourite ski days last winter were the ones where we got out mid-week, close to home, and without crowded slopes. This will only happen again this winter if I choose a hill that's easy to reach on PD days, school holidays, afternoons, and even for an occasional "skip school" day.

WinSport's Canada Olympic Park is 5 minutes from my house!

3. Other Factors to Consider when Choosing a Ski Resort (and Ski Passes)

What are weekends like at the ski hill? It may be worth spending extra money on a larger hill if your "close to home" hill is crazy busy every weekend (and not enjoyable.)

Is there something at the hill for every member of your family? In previous years we've decided to get season passes for WinSport's Canada Olympic Park (in addition to our regular Nakiska passes) because my son fell in love with the half pipe, the jumps, the terrain parks, and the slopestyle course.

Reciprocal deals at other hills - Buy a Nakiska season pass and add two days on at another RCR resort in British Columbia. (Hello Fernie!)

Add two days at Fernie Alpine Resort to your Nakiska season pass

Could you buy a discount card instead and just go a few times/season without committing to a season pass? - something we're considering for the bigger mountain resorts that we'll only visit a couple of times/season.

Will you visit the resort often? Could you go to your fav. hill for a long weekend or do you plan to spend at least one weekend there per month? It's only worth buying season passes if you plan to ski at the hill regularly.

Does the season pass get you other benefits (discounts on tubing, discounts on food or ski lessons, etc.) 

Tubing is a fun activity at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park 

Does the hill offer activities in the summer as well? And do you get discounts for those? (Some hills offer free sightseeing and gondola rides in the summer for season pass holders.)

How many times per month will you have to ski at the resort to get your value for having a season pass? (I confess that I have had season passes in the past where I definitely didn't get my value.)

What is the parking like at the hill? Is it something you're willing to deal with at least once/twice a month (hopefully more?) I know for me this was a deal breaker for at least one local hill where I knew I didn't want to face this challenge every weekend.

Where are your friends skiing? It's fun to ski with friends.

Skiing with friends is always a lot of fun!

Are there blackout dates or restrictions? Some hills offer better pricing on season passes if you're able to ski mid-week. For us though, we need weekend access so we can ski as an entire family.

Do your children get any special deals this winter? Grade 2 students get to ski for $20 all season long at RCR resorts (Nakiska, Kimberley, Fernie, and Kicking Horse)

And, Grade 2 students get to ski for $40  all winter long at Lake Louise. 

Which hill feels like home? I've tried to convince a friend of mine to switch to Nakiska for years now but she insists that another hill feels more like home - and fair enough. This should always be an important consideration. You'll always ski more at a hill that feels more comfortable.

Find a hill you like and buy your season passes now 

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