Wednesday, October 17, 2018

How to Become a Ski Family (without breaking the bank!) - updated 2023

I think we can all agree that downhill skiing is one of the most expensive sports a family can choose as a winter activity. By the time you've purchased gear for another season and perhaps invested in seasons passes for a local hill, you're easily spending upwards of $2000.00 (and that's if you were on the ball and bought passes at early season rates!)

Chasing kids down the ski slopes is a great winter activity (if you can afford it)

While I probably won't share any earth shattering secrets in this story, I would at least like to attempt to get you started in the right direction with the following topics:

  • Gearing up and getting started

  • Choosing a local resort and getting seasons passes

  • Discount passes, ski cards, and lift pass savings

  • Day trip cost busters

  • Tips for planning an affordable ski weekend

  • Tips for stress free ski days

This story has been updated for the 2023 - 24 Ski season 

Gearing Up and Getting Started

This is the topic that's on everybody's mind right now:

"Where can I get skis and boots for my growing children (without buying brand new equipment every year - because who can afford to do that for recreational skiing?)"

Visit the Ski Swaps early Season for skis, boards, and boots

Visit Second Hand Stores for ski gear and outerwear 

Save money on ski gear by swapping with other families

Learn how to use Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace effectively 

Set up alerts with Kijiji 

When you search for something (youth downhill skis for example) you can set up an alert so that you receive emails with all new items posted. You have to be signed in to your Kijiji Account, but then, after you've searched for something, you will see "notify me when new ads are posted" on the left side of the page. This is your key to daily emails for all new items posted.

I receive emails each day, one per alert I've set up. 

Note, you may have to use a desktop computer to set up alerts if it doesn't work from your phone.

Why do they keep growing?
Follow search items with Facebook Marketplace 

When you search for something in the Facebook Marketplace, you can choose to receive notifications when new items are posted. You'll see the "notify me" icon at the top of the page. Click that. 

And speaking of Facebook, there are a TON of buy/sell groups that you can join if you're looking for second hand outdoor gear. 

In the Calgary area, check out the following groups:

Other Ways to Save Money on Ski Gear 

  • Buy Roces adjustable ski boots (they'll last your children multiple seasons!)

  • Buy adjustable ski poles and never have to worry about the kids growing!

  • Buy gear from stores that let you trade up each season (The Ski Cellar in Calgary has a great Junior Trade in Program)

  • Rent skis for the season from Nakiska with their Wings Program. (and if the kids grow during the season, just move up to the next size)

Becoming a ski family starts with good (but affordable) gear

Choosing a Local Resort and Getting Seasons Passes

So now you've got the gear, the next step is to get lift passes for your hill of choice. 

Below are a couple of stories I've already written on the subject: 

Midweek skiing at Nakiska Ski Area

For my family, we always choose to get seasons passes for Nakiska Ski Area, our closest mountain hill. This allows me to get out with my son on PD days, over school holidays, and maybe even on a half day of school some Friday. 

A few considerations to look at when buying a seasons pass:

  • Is the resort close enough to visit on PD days or school holidays?

  • What's the parking situation like? (Would you have to show up at 8am on a weekend just to find a parking spot?)

  • How busy is the resort on weekends? (unfortunately Nakiska does not have this one in their favour, but we ski a lot mid-week and on days off school.)

  • What will the drive be like for a weekend trip? (Can you visit as a day trip or do you need to add accommodations on?)

Beyond Nakiska we generally visit other hills as special weekend getaways or when there are promotions offered for them.

Mid-week ski dates with friends are super fun when you ski local!

Discount Passes, Value Passes, and Lift Pass Savings 

I don't know about you, but I almost need to create a spreadsheet just to keep track of everything happening at our local ski hills, special discount days, promotions, where to buy the cheapest lift tickets, and when I can ski for the best price. 

Below is my best attempt to sum it all up for you:

DISCLAIMER: I have tried to verify everything below but you should visit an individual resort's website for the most up to date information along with current pricing for the upcoming ski season.

Look for discounted lift tickets

The cheapest option is to buy a seasons pass (when they go on sale in the fall.) If you didn't buy any passes though, you'll want to find discounted lift tickets for the few times you head out to a ski hill. 

  • Costco sells lift ticket bundles for most of the major resorts in the Canadian Rockies.

  • The ADmazing Savings Coupon book has coupons for 2 for 1 lift tickets for some resorts along with 50% off savings at other resorts.

  • AMA members save up to $20 off direct-to-lift tickets, ski rentals, and lessons, when purchased in advance at an AMA centre.

Savings and discounts make this mom happy! 

Purchase lift tickets in advance

You will save at least 20% by buying lift tickets online for mot ski resorts.

Bundle lift tickets with vacation rentals or hotel rooms

Many vacation rentals include lift tickets. You can purchase discounted lift tickets when you book a vacation package through Resorts of the Canadian Rockies or at at Panorama Mountain Resort.

Several hotels in Banff also offer lift tickets included with your hotel room.

Save money on half day lift tickets 

Half day tickets are available at many ski resorts if you want to ski for an afternoon. Half day skiing usually starts at 12:30pm.

School in the morning, skiing in the afternoon 

Save money when you ski with your toddlers and preschoolers

  • Kids 5 and under ski for free at most hills if accompanied by a paying adult on the hill. At several hills, you can get a Preschool Pass for $20 to $25 which allows for quick direct-to-lift access for your little ones. Otherwise you'll have to go to customer service each time you visit to pick up your free pass. - note that the Tiny Tiger pass is $50 at Sunshine.

  • Some mountain resorts offer free foot passes for parents just helping kids in the beginner areas serviced by magic carpets. Note that WinSport is not allowing parents on foot to help children learn to ski anymore.

    At Nakiska, adults can ski with their children for free in the beginner area as long as you get a special pass from the ticket office.

  • At Fernie Alpine Resort, adults can ski on the beginner platter lift, the Mighty Moose, for ~ $25.00. Kids 17 and under are free. This lift is an excellent progression from the magic carpet and most beginners would do well spending their day learning to ski here before heading up the chair lift.
Start them young and save big on Tiger Passes 

Score big with a Grade 2 Ski Pass 

Grade 2 students get special discounted seasons passes at many ski hills.

  • RCR Grade 2 Pass (Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, and Kicking Horse) - $20 for unlimited
    skiing all season long

We skied a lot when my son was in grade 2!

Score even bigger with a Grade 4/5 Snow Pass 

Students in grades 4 and 5 can ski or snowboard at each participating area 2 times for only $29.99.

Resorts near Calgary include Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Mount Norquay, WinSport's Canada Olympic Park, Marmot Basin in Jasper, Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis, Castle Mountain Resort, and everywhere in BC. There are over 150 different resorts featured so wherever you travel, you'll definitely find a hill!

Note that you only get 2 visits per resort total between the two years so spread the skiing out and don't use all your days in the first year. There are also blackout dates over holidays at some resorts so read the fine print carefully at the website below.

Read more about the Grade 4/5 Snow Pass here (where you can purchase them as well.)

We ordered a Grade 4/5 Snow Pass and enjoyed several free ski days with it

Buy a special discount ski card or value pass

Below are some of the options here:

  • Mountain Collective Pass - Pay $849 USD (kids 12 and under are only $270.00 USD) and receive two days skiing at each of the resorts across Western Canada (Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, Marmot Basin in Jasper, Panorama Mountain Resort, Sun Peaks Resort, and Revelstoke Mountain Resort.) That's 12 days total + receive two ski days at each of the other resorts in the United States if you want to do some traveling.

    You'll also receive 50% off all additional days at Collective Resorts. (So you can choose to spend more days at Louise and Sunshine.)

  • RCR Rockies Card - Pay ~ $120 + GST and receive three free ski days at any RCR Resort (Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, or Kicking Horse.) - cards will be out in November with this year's pricing.

    Your first, fourth, and seventh day are free and then you get discounts every other day. We often ask for these discount cards as Christmas presents and then it pretty much guarantees us at least one free day of skiing. And you'll save even more during spring skiing season (until the resorts close) with a $40 discount per day.

  • Sunshine Super Card - Pay ~ $100.00 and receive three free ski days at either Sunshine Village Resort, Marmot Basin Resort in Jasper or Revelstoke Mountain Resort. -  cards will be out in November with this year's pricing.

    Your first, fourth, and seventh day are free at any of the big resorts above with discounts on your other ski days. You also get a bonus day at either WinSport in Calgary, or at Rabbit Hill or Snow Valley in Edmonton.

  • Louise Plus Card - Pay ~ $130.00 + GST and receive three free ski days at either the Lake Louise Resort or at one of the following resorts: Castle Mountain Resort, Panorama Mountain Resort, or RED Mountain Resort. -  cards will be out in November with this year's pricing.

    Your first, fourth, and seventh day are free at any of the resorts above with discounts on your other ski days.

  • Mount Norquay 98 Family Pass - For $999.00 the whole family can ski at Mount Norquay all winter long. All mid-week skiing/boarding is covered (Monday to Friday), and many select weekend days, - Note this is the early bird price so buy your pass early before the price goes up.

  • Panorama Snow + Card - The Panorama SNOW+ CARD includes 3 or 5 days of skiing or riding at Panorama Mountain Resort for one low price! Plus, receive 15% off additional weekend tickets all season long (30% off mid week tickets.) 

    There are a variety of different options for these discount cards so visit the Panorama website to choose the card that would work best for you. Cards range from ~ $280.00 (3 days of skiing with no blackout days) to ~ $400.00 (5 days of skiing with no blackout days.) Youth and children's cards are also cheaper.

    And note that unlike the RCR or the Sunshine cards, you don't have to pay between your free ski days. This is a total of 3 or 5 ski days (which you can use all together over one long weekend or ski vacation, or split up over the winter.)

    For best pricing make sure you purchase your Snow + Card during the resort's flash sale in October when you'll also see this year's current pricing.

  • Marmot Escape Card - For those who live in Edmonton (or who just really like skiing in Jasper) this is a great pass! Pay $99 and get lift tickets for 50% off all season long at Jasper's Marmot Basin Ski Resort. No blackout dates.

    Note that unlike the other cards above, there are no free days. Also, save up to 50% off lift tickets at partner ski areas around the Edmonton area and up to 30% off on accommodation in Jasper.

  • Castle Mountain Wonders of Winter (WOW) Card for Southern Alberta - Pay ~ $100.00 and receive 50% off all lift tickets for Castle Mountain Resort outside Pincher Creek.

    There are no "free" days but you get discounted skiing every single day and there are no blackout dates.

    You'll also get tons of other benefits including 10% off cat skiing, 15% off lessons, and 20% off mid week stays at the Castle Ski Lodge.

    On sale while supplies last or December 24 (whichever comes first)

    Kids 6+ can also purchase WOW cards and receive half price skiing all winter.

    This card can be upgraded for free to direct to lift, guarantees you access to the hill (even on busy days) without pre-purchasing lift tickets, and is a no brainer if you plan to ski Castle for 2 or more days this winter.

    -  Check the resort website in October to view current pricing.

Oh the places you'll go when you purchase ski discount cards! 

Look for special offers, events, and free skiing days

Here are just a handful of events I'd watch out for:

  • Subscribe to the Sunshine Village newsletter and you'll never miss any of their special offers. They have been known to hold a one-day Halloween special on Sunshine Super cards, and in previous years, Sunshine Village gave an extra 20% off their Sunshine Super Card and on lift passes on Cyber Monday.

  • Also for Sunshine Village, They've had a "Fat Tuesday" sale in February where you could get 30% off a spring ski pass. Watch carefully starting in February.

  • WinSport's Canada Olympic Park in Calgary has had a special incentive called Servus Ski Wednesdays, sponsored by Servus Credit Union. Skiers and snowboarders can purchase a lift ticket between 3 pm and 9 pm for just $12. Visit the WinSport website for dates and more information for the upcoming season.

  • Watch for other special dates and mark them on your calendar! (Example, moms ski for free on Mother's Day at Sunshine Village with purchase of a child lift ticket or dress like Santa to ski for free on Christmas at many hills)

  • Ski for FREE on your birthday at Marmot Basin Ski Resort in Jasper. You'll also receive 15% off for family and friends joining you. 

Spring skiing at Mount Norquay

Take up spring skiing as a family and save BIG!

Buy a spring ski pass for either Sunshine Village or Lake Louise.

The spring pass at Sunshine Village starts around $800.00 for a family pass valid from mid March through mid May.

The spring pass at Lake Louise starts around $1000.00 for a family pass valid from early March through early May.

Spring skiing at Lake Louise

How to Make Day Trips More Affordable (cost busters)

Tip One: Bring your own lunch, snacks, and drinks

Most day lodges have microwaves and hot water taps for instant noodles. You can also bring your own cups and hot chocolate, apple cider or coffee mix to save money on buying drinks at the hill. Many families pack a thermos with their favourite hot beverage to the hill as well and I recommend bringing your own water bottles rather than paying for water at the resort.  

Alternately, in spring when it's warm enough to eat outside, bring a jet boil stove and some ramen soup packages. Have lunch at your vehicle and escape the madness of the day lodge. Bring some lawn chairs as well and try to park beside friends. (This works great at Marmot Basin in Jasper where there are multiple ski in/ski out parking lots along the side of the hill.) 

And my final suggestion here is to pack a hot lunch for the kids in a thermos (like you would for school.) My son loves a thermos filled with Kraft Dinner at the ski hill. 

Tip Two: Stash snacks in everybody's pockets 

Pack granola bars in your coat pockets so you don't have to buy expensive snacks at the day lodge between runs. Save your money for those "emergency" times when one of your children is having a bad day and you might need to buy a hot chocolate or some other special treat.

I also like to save my money for a special treat at the end of a ski day (though I've started buying those at the grocery store in advance as well because I was getting tired of spending $4 for one cupcake at our local hill when I can buy an entire tray of mini cupcakes for the same price at the grocery store.)

Tip Three: Rent skis off the ski hill 

You'll save up to $15 per person if you rent a ski package in Calgary before hitting the slopes. You'll also save time when you reach the hill because you won't have to wait in the long rental line. Most rental companies in Calgary also offer discounts for multi-day rentals and many places will allow you to pick up your skis the night before at no extra cost (Sports Rent for example does this and is located on 16th Ave for easy drop off on your way home from the mountains.)

Coffee is the one thing I do believe in splurging on at the ski hill 

Planning an Affordable Ski Weekend 

I love going away for a weekend and staying right on the hill in a ski in/ski out condo.  I find it to be much more relaxing when I can pretty much ski out the door of my condo in the morning and I enjoy having a place to retreat to mid-day to avoid the crowded day lodges.

While a ski vacation is never "cheap," you can make it more affordable with these following tips:

  • For a close-to-Calgary ski getaway consider staying a the HI Kananaskis Hostel,  located just a few minutes away from the Nakiska Ski Area. It has separate dorm rooms for women and men and also has a few private rooms for families.

    Read more here at Affordable Family Ski Weekends in the Canadian Rockies.

  • Plan a ski weekend to Lake Louise and stay at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre, a very comfortable hostel with many private rooms for families or small groups.

    Read more here at Affordable Ski Weekends at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre 

  • Rent a two or three bedroom condo or house on a ski hill and share with friends. The Fernie Lodging Company  or the Kimberley Lodging Company websites are good guides if searching for a larger property to share.

    You'll also find a wide variety of options at Panorama Mountain Resort - and all bookings at Panorama Mountain Village include access to the Springs Hot Pools.

  • Book a trip to Castle Mountain Resort where lift tickets are cheaper and you can stay in their hotel on site with affordable private rooms.

  • Look for vacation packages and specials which usually include lift tickets along with your condo or hotel room.

  • Book hotel rooms with Air Miles, look for Groupon deals (or similar deals from other websites,) or find discounted lodging from the school coupon book you probably have at least one of.
Panorama Springs Hot Pools at Panorama Mountain Resort

You can read about some of our recent ski vacations below: 

Magical Kimberley Alpine Resort and their ski in/ski out condo village

Stress Free Ski Days 

A fellow mom had the following words to say about downhill skiing as a family:

"You spend Monday-Friday waking up early, prepping lunches and meal planning so that by the weekend...there is zero motivation to prep another lunch-to-go and pack up kids early in the frigid morning." 

Sound familiar?

I encourage you to check out this previous guide I wrote: Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids 

Topics covered in the story include:

  • Tips for a stress  free morning

  • Organization tips

  • Tips for skiing with kids of different ages

  • Handling the crowded day lodge

  • Tips for keeping track of everybody on the hill

  • Special tips for keeping the kids happy 

First in line for the lifts! It IS possible!

Inspiration from Local Families (just like you!)

I wanted to share the following quotes from a couple of ski moms because I think they are encouraging.

"We are a family of 4 living on one single income. Both my husband and myself grew up skiing and we met on a chairlift so skiing is part of us. When the kids were little we always bought used equipment. We found we could outfit a kid with all the gear for as little as $100. We save up every month during the year to afford a family pass at Nakiska. We pack our own food and snacks because really $8 for a hotdog is just crazy. For us it's about having a passion and passing that down to our boys. Yes skiing is definitely an investment in both time and money but for us it's worth it to spend great times with our kids doing something we all find active and fun." - Kelsie 

"Yes skiing can be expensive for a family of four if you pay the day ticket price. Planning way in advance can cut costs though. Our kids are now 6 & 8 and there is only one salary in our household, so planning is essential. It is also part of a lifestyle decision. Hockey can cost up to $1000/per season per kid so it has to be a family lifestyle decision." - Susan 

Skiing is a great family activity that's worth investing in

The Next Step -  Lessons, Progress, and Learning to actually SKI

I'll add a couple links that I'd recommend reading once you reach the step where you've got the gear, you've got the ski passes, and now you're wondering "how do we teach the kids to actually ski?"

I've definitely seen a lot of progress in my son's ski abilities (as well as in my own) by following the tips I share in the two articles.

How to Make Learning to Ski Fun (downhill skiing with kids) 

Take your Skiing to the next Level in 5 Simple Steps 

Parting shot

Disclaimer: I have tried my best to provide accurate information for each resort but details can always change so please visit the resort websites for the best up to date information on pricing, discounts, and special events. 

Also expect to pay GST on most prices mentioned in this story. 

This story was not sponsored but we have worked with most of the resorts mentioned. We have received free skiing and accommodations at many of the resorts as well in exchange for publicity and writing. 


  1. Thank you for putting together such a comprehensive list! My youngest son just started snowboarding last year because of the Gr 4/5 pass and loved it. I didn't grow up knowing anyone who skied/snowboarded, so this has been a huge learning curve. We got him an early bird pass for Winsport/COP this season, and plan to take advantage of after school/evening rides. We definitely bring all our own food/drinks, I definitely had sticker shock at the lodges! Currently scouring Kijiji for gear, and may end up with the Nakiska Wing Program if we can't find anything. These tips will definitely help me too, as I'm hoping to try snowboarding this year too!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. I'm glad to hear your son learned to snowboard because of the grade 4/5 pass. That's exactly why the pass was created was to introduce children to a love of skiing they could enjoy their whole lives. Good luck with the gear. Always a challenge. And good luck with your own plan to start snowboarding. I'm still a skier here. :)

  2. I love these suggestions! I am a regular reader of your blog and I know you have gone to see the Santa Claus parade in Banff for a number of years. We will be taking our 2 year old daughter for the first time this year. I see the parade is at 6pm which is right around the time we usually have dinner. I was wondering base on your experience is it better to grab a bite before or after the parade? Sorry that this comment is not related to the post.

    1. We usually have dinner before. Restaurants are less crowded this way.