Skiing is not a cheap sport. It requires a lot of gear and, depending on where you live, travel. For families, the cost increases with each child, often before they can determine if skiing or snowboarding is an activity the kids really enjoy.
In an effort to nurture future generations of skiers, ski areas are increasingly offering discounted passes to families with children, typically third through sixth grade — good ages, according to the resorts, to try the physically demanding sport — and sometimes youth and teens. .
“It’s rough to spend a few thousand dollars to see if you like something,” said Adrienne Saya Isaacs, director of marketing and communications for the National Ski Areas Association, which represents resorts across the country. “It’s 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 third through sixth grade, 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 at 11 ski areas for $199.
“For us, some years, it’s the difference between skiing and not skiing,” said Joshua Berman, an elementary school teacher and author in Longmont, Colo., who has in the past purchased a children’s ski passport for his three children. Even if we only use it a few times each season, he added, “we’ve gotten to the point where they love it.”
With their mandate to spread skiers across resorts, discount kids’ passes — offered by state ski associations from Vermont to Utah — tend to appeal to families in their home states, though they’re usually available to out-of-state skiers and can be a good way to try a variety of resorts.
Where the deals are
Utah has a long-standing program offering discounted student passes 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 free days with the purchase of an adult ticket at more than 25 participating resorts, including Gore Mountain and Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks and Windham Mountain Club in Cat Skills . It costs $41 to apply for a pass.
The Ski Vermont Class Five Passport, $30, entitles passholders 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 is offering its Cold Is Cool Passport to fourth and fifth graders for $30, entitling passholders to three lift tickets or trail passes at 29 Michigan ski areas. Some participating resorts offer discounts on equipment rentals and ski lessons.
With the Colorado Kids Ski Passport, Christy Sports stores offer two free days of ski equipment rentals for kids, including skis, boots and poles.
“That’s another big part of things for us,” Mr. Berman said. “When kids grow up, it’s hard to stick to gear that fits.”
If there’s a ski resort you’re interested in, it’s worth checking out 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 to standard adult rates of $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 ahead, 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 the 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 children in kindergarten through fifth grade living in Colorado, the Epic SchoolKids Colorado Pack covers four days of free skiing in Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte. A similar Utah pass offers five days in Park City to Utah youth. The Whistler Blackcomb Package is available to children in kindergarten through fifth grade in Washington and Canada, offering five free days at Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia.
Another option to consider for next season: Through its Epic Pass, which offers access to more than 80 Vail resorts and affiliates worldwide, the company has many age-based discounts. This year it stopped selling the 2023/2024 pass on December 3; for those who have planned ahead, the pass for children ages 5 to 12 is on sale for $494 in November, a savings of nearly $600 compared to the adult pass.
As with Vail Resorts, ski areas and associations use discounts to encourage planning ahead.
“You can make a family ski trip affordable, but you can’t do it by going to the window,” said Sarah Beatty, director of communications for Colorado Ski Country USA.
Its Gems Parent Pass — a companion to kid passes that lets parents of junior pass holders claim two days each at 11 ski areas for $299 — sold out over Thanksgiving weekend (the group declined to say how many passes were sold). . But it still offers its Gems discount card ($48), which entitles parents to a variety of deals at 11 resorts, including two-for-one on a day’s skiing or 30 percent off a day lift ticket.
Prices may go up as the season approaches, so buy early. For example, Ski Utah’s student passport was $69 all fall until Dec. 1, when it went up to $89.
Note that many passes and ski areas have blackout dates during popular school holidays, including the week from Christmas to New Year’s and Martin Luther King and Presidents Day weekends.
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