Skiing is not a cheap sport. It requires a lot of gear and, depending on where you live, travel. For families, the expense mushrooms with each child, often before they can determine whether skiing — or snowboarding — is an activity the children actually like.
In efforts to nurture future generations of downhillers, ski areas are increasingly offering discount passes to families with children, generally in the third through sixth grade — good ages, resorts say, to try a physically demanding sport — and sometimes tweens and teens.
“It’s rough to have to spend a few thousand dollars to see if you like something,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, the marketing and communications director for the National Ski Areas Association, which represents resorts around the country. “This is a low-risk way to see if your kids and family want to participate.”
Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade group representing 21 resorts in the state, began offering its Kids’ Ski Passport nearly 30 years ago to families with children in the third through sixth grades, regardless of where they live. Costing $65, the pass entitles holders to four days each at 20 Colorado ski areas. This year, it introduced the new Gems Teen Pass for ages 12 to 17, offering two days each at 11 ski areas for $199.
“For us, some years, it’s the difference between getting to go skiing and not skiing,” said Joshua Berman, an elementary schoolteacher and author in Longmont, Colo., who has purchased the Kids’ Ski Passport in the past for his three children. Even using it just a few times each season, he added, “we’ve been able to get to the point where they love it.”
With their mandate to spread skiers out to a variety of resorts, children’s discount passes — offered by state ski associations from Vermont to Utah — tend to appeal to families in their home states, though they are generally available to skiers from out of state and can be a good way to sample a variety of resorts.
Where the deals are
Utah has a longstanding program offering discounted passes for schoolchildren that is also available to out-of-state residents. The Ski Utah Student Passport currently offers fourth, fifth and sixth graders access to three days each at 15 resorts for $89.
In New York, the SKI NY Free for Kids Passport Program for third and fourth graders entitles holders to two complimentary days with an adult ticket purchase at more than 25 participating resorts, including Gore Mountain and Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks and Windham Mountain Club in the Catskills. It costs $41 to apply for the pass.
The Ski Vermont Fifth Grade Passport, $30, entitles pass holders to three days each at 20 participating Alpine ski resorts and one day each at 24 cross-country ski areas.
The Michigan Snowsports Industries Association offers its Cold Is Cool passport for fourth and fifth graders for $30, entitling pass holders to three lift tickets or trail passes at 29 ski areas in Michigan. Some participating resorts offer discount equipment rentals and ski lessons.
With the Colorado Kids’ Ski Passport, Christy Sports shops offer two free days of rental ski gear for children, including skis, boots and poles.
“That’s another big piece of it for us,” said Mr. Berman. “As kids grow, it’s hard to hold on to gear that fits.”
If there’s a ski resort you’re interested in, it’s worth scouring its website for family deals. For example, Sierra-at-Tahoe, south of Lake Tahoe, in California, offers daily lift tickets from $60 to $65 for children ages 5 to 12, compared with standard adult rates from $145. Even teenagers and young adults, ages 13 to 22, get a break, with one-day tickets starting at $130.
Plan ahead for the best buys
Provided they plan in advance, residents of Colorado, Utah, Washington state and Canada can qualify for several days of free skiing at ski areas owned by Vail Resorts. Registration opened in spring and closed this year in mid-October, so it’s too late to get the passes this season, but here’s what to look out for next year.
For kindergartners through fifth graders residing in Colorado, the Epic SchoolKids Colorado Pack covers four days of free skiing each at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte. A similar pass in Utah offers five days at Park City to Utah youth. The Whistler Blackcomb Pack is available to children in kindergarten through fifth grade in Washington and Canada, offering five free days at Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia.
Another opportunity to consider for next season: Through its Epic Pass, which offers access to more than 80 Vail resorts and affiliates around the world, the company has many age-based discounts. This year it stopped selling the 2023/2024 pass on Dec. 3; for those who planned ahead, the pass for children 5 to 12 sold for $494 in November, saving nearly $600 compared to the adult pass.
As with Vail Resorts, ski areas and associations use discounts to encourage planning ahead.
“You can do a family ski trip affordably, but you cannot do it by walking up to the window,” said Sarah Beatty, the communications director for Colorado Ski Country USA.
Its Gems Parent Pass — a companion to its children’s passes that allows parents of junior pass holders to claim two days each at 11 ski areas for $299 — sold out over the Thanksgiving weekend (the group declined to say how many passes were sold). But it is still offering its Gems Discount Card ($48), which entitles parents to a variety of deals at 11 resorts, including two-for-one pricing on a single day of skiing, or 30 percent off a day lift ticket.
Prices may go up as the season approaches, so buy early. For example, the Ski Utah Student Passport was $69 throughout the fall until Dec. 1, when it went up to $89.
Note that many passes and ski areas have blackout dates over popular school holidays, including the Christmas-to-New Year’s Day week and the Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents’ Day weekends.
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