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A Utah Ski Vacation (or Two) for Less

“Budget Luxury Ski Trip” is not an oxymoron. In Utah, where world-class runs are minutes from our doors (and we’ve made it ridiculously easy for visitors), locals know how to make a luxury ski trip affordable for the whole family. In fact, you can save enough money below to sneak back for another quick trip (no, don’t tell the kids)!* Here are five ways locals save a bundle and not give up a thing:

Tip No. 1: CLOTHING — Shopping for jackets, boots, gloves and more is the fun part until you go to the checkout at your ski shop in Texas and realize how much this week of clothing that you won’t likely use the rest of the year will cost (yes, I know this firsthand)Function First! Utah locals can pick out the tourists — They’re wearing expensive, insulated jackets trimmed with faux fur (very pretty, not very functional). EVERY article written in the past 20 years about playing outdoors tells you that it’s all about layering: base layer (long underwear), insulating layer (puffy), wind/waterproof layer (Gore-Tex). Translation: That cute faux fur feels wet and nasty next to your face if it snows, and the wind blows through that expensive insulated jacket that will sit in the back of your closet in Houston or San Diego.

Instead, wear a base layer, but not necessarily ski-specific. I’ve been known to use my workout tops and leggings which wick sweat just as well and are usable off the slopes (yes I just gave you permission to buy Lululemon). Heck, my kids prefer to wear long underwear-style pajamas under their ski gear (the littles seldom break a sweat skiing, which is what chills them).

Want to know how easy it is to get around Utah in winter? The fact that schools never close for snow days and SLC Airport has one of the best on-time records should be clues.

The insulating layers are more important. Notice, I said layers. Most people own or received a fleece jacket from their aunt at some point (fleece is fleece, it’s warm and it’s underneath everything if your aunt has bad taste). However, unless you’re Spring skiing, you’ll need another insulating layer like a puffy, down-type layer. Recently, these have magically become thinner and warmer simultaneously making them more functional (you can wear it back in Dallas during a February morning jog and brag about your amazing vacation).

The wind/waterproof layer is, typically, the pricey piece, but you’ll be able to use it afterward in the rain or cold when the dog insists on going out or you’re stuck at the soccer field. Layered with a base and puffy, the shell keeps you toasty on the worst day (or while plopped on the snow during your snowboard lesson). A “shell” is more than a simple raincoat, but there are choices for just about any budget (here’s a deal on a combined shell/puffy). Find a cute color (hard to see white jacket in snow) that specifically indicates it’s wind and waterproof. Bottom Line: Stay warm, save money, use at home. No faux fur, matchy-matchy optional. #shreddingskittles

Pants come in insulated and pricier, shell-type varieties. Either are fine, but definitely look for deals. Jeans and stretchy pants — even if they say they’re ski pants — are not fine and not warm!  Bottom Line: Function first!

LOCALS’ TIP ON CLOTHING: Visit consignment shops and warehouse retailers in Utah for deals on ski clothes. From Salt Lake City International Airport, you can stop at Costco (doesn’t sell wine, but has men’s ski pants for $29), Kid2Kid, a large consignment on 700 South just off I-80, or shop the Millcreek Mile on 3300 South off I-215 at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon, full of locals’ favorite haunts: Level Nine Sports consignment (even my hubby likes this place), REI, co-op retailer, Savers, locals’ second-hand items, Milosport or Salty Peaks, retailers with great deals. If you’re in Park City, the Columbia Factory Store has what you need for a fraction of your hometown ski store.

Tip No. 2: SKI AND SNOWBOARD GEAR — Buy or rent? For most, renting is the cheaper option, but you can save even more if you know where and how to rent. Utah locals love the Ski Season Rental programs at many ski stores. For a fixed price (approx. $79 youths, $129 adults, reserve early), you can rent skis/snowboard, boots and a helmet for the entire season. This is often less than a three-day rental. You can, also, save by reserving daily rentals in advance (20% discount sound good?). Bottom Line: Plan ahead, even 48 hours, to save big.

LOCALS’ TIP ON GEAR: If you’re dying to buy boots or skis or anything else, locals love consignment stores (we buy great stuff and resell often), such as The Gear Room in Cottonwood Heights, Level Nine Sports Salt Lake and Ogden, Switchback Sports in Park City. If you decide you don’t want to take it home, then consign it all back before you leave and save more money (Cha-Ching!).

Tip No. 3: LIFT TICKETS — Daily Lift Tickets. Buying lift tickets at the resort window is pricey. Going on the resort website beforehand can be the best deal around. Locals typically stop at ski stores — even grocery stores — in the Salt Lake Valley for discount lift tix (and coffee) on their way up the mountain. If you are skiing with a large family, then remember that kids 10-and-under ski free at Brighton and Brian Head. Multi-Day Passes. There is a lot of competition between multi-day ski passes: IKON Pass, Epic Pass, Mountain Collective, SkiUtah’s Yeti Pass and SkiCity SuperPass. Compare and pick the best prices and perks, such as discounts on gear, lessons and lodging, as well as blackout dates and deadlines. Bottom Line: Try to purchase tickets before getting to the resort.

LOCALS’ TIP ON LIFT TICKETS: SkiUtah’s 5th/6th Grade Passport is still the best deal anywhere and available to non-Utah residents. For $45, 5th graders get THREE days of skiing or snowboarding at EACH RESORT. Sixth graders get ONE day at EACH. Some blackout dates apply, such as Christmas at Deer Valley, but Park City next door isn’t blacked out. Apply online at least two weeks before your trip. The Passport also includes other discounts on gear and lessons. Yes, it’s that easy to save.

Tip No. 4: LESSONS, CAMPS AND ADAPTIVE SPORTS— Education is expensive, but great instruction means a great experience. Utah is known for its large families — and Olympians — which means resorts cater to teaching skiing and snowboarding exceptionally and affordably. Eagle Point Resort has an early-bird special for those who like to book a private lesson with their morning coffee. Brian Head Resort guarantees its beginner group lessons. For $299 (3 group lessons, 3 lift tix, 3 rentals), its Brian Head University promises to teach first-timers how to ski or snowboard in three days or it’s free. Specialty camps (teens, girls-only, women’s, snowboarders) or multi-day clinics are great and often a great deal. For families with Special Needs, Wasatch Adaptive Sports, National Ability Center and Ogden Valley Adaptive Sports have partnered with Utah resorts to make skiing, snowboarding and just about every outdoor pursuit accessible and affordable. Bottom Line: Group lessons are less expensive than private lessons, but similarly-matched groups will progress more quickly.

LOCALS’ TIP ON LESSONS: New this season is Snowbird’s Adult Beginner Special. Designed for beginner or returning skiers and snowboarders, $120 will get you a 2.5-hour lesson, rentals and a beginner chairlift ticket! The deal is good through mid-April. Powder Mountain also has a first-timer package. If it’s January, then the Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month program is a great deal and available at participating Utah resorts.

Tip No. 5: TRANSPORTATION — Want to know how easy it is to get around Utah in winter? The fact that schools never close for snow days and SLC Airport has one of the best on-time records should be clues. The Beehive State is prepared.  Hundreds of snowplows clear the highways and interstates as soon as even the biggest storms pass through making it efficient to get to and from anywhere in Utah (there’s even an app that allows you to track them, like watching Pac-Man, as well as view real-time road conditions).

Utah has, also, made it affordable to get from SLC Airport to the resorts. Private shuttles and taxis are plentiful but, sometimes, they can be expensive, especially for groups. Consider Uber (or Uber Ski with ski racks) or Lyft which are priced per trip and might be more affordable.

If you’re staying in Salt Lake City or Ogden, consider taking the popular Ski Bus from local park & ride stops. Similarly, the convenient, electric Park City Bus is free and has multiple routes between Kimball Junction and Deer Valley. Bottom Line: You really don’t need a car and don’t want to traipse out early to clear snow from the windshield. Enjoy your morning coffee instead.

LOCALS’ TIP ON TRANSPORTATION: If you want to rent a car (or a bigger and better one), reserve it in Salt Lake City. Many major companies have non-airport locations only minutes from the airport. Just take an Uber from the airport for a cheaper rental. Just check closing times/days for pick-up/drop-off.

*How do you sneak back with the savings? You’ve already purchased the clothing you can use again or at home, a ski season gear rental and a multi-day ski pass. You’ve had great lessons leaving you with just transportation and lodging. OK, these are significant, but you’re so close and saved so much, are you really going to stop now? I didn’t think so. See you soon!

Paula Colman

Paula Colman is a recovering attorney and practicing parent and, because her family supports her passion to hike, mountain bike, ski and write about all of her adventures in Utah, probably qualifies as a sponsored athlete, as well. You can follow her on Instagram (@harpo_utah).