Lake Tahoe on the Cheap

This past week a hole opened up in our schedule, and we realized that if we played our cards right we may be able to take off in the middle of the week.  This realization occurred only three days out. We quickly hashed together a plan to head toward Lake Tahoe, where I could finally learn to snowboard and Chris could get back to the sport he loves.

Mountainize in Tahoe

We’ve lived in San Francisco for over a year, and I’ve yet to learn how to ski or snowboard.  We didn’t have a ton of money to spend, but we knew we wanted it to happen.  In the past when similar opportunities presented themselves we would quickly become overwhelmed with all the details involved, and resign ourselves to staying home – but not this time.  If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation, or just want to save a bit of money next time you head to the slopes read on.

Chris Binkley snowboarding

1.  Go doing the week, or any other off time.  We headed out Wednesday evening and practically had the mountain all to ourselves.  If week days are out of the question, look into other off-peak days such as during The Superbowl or when it hasn’t snowed in several weeks (they’ll still have snow on the mountains, even if it’s man-made).

2.  Don’t think you have to make a giant time commitment.  We would often put off such a trip due to the assumption that we’d need to take a long weekend or more off of work to make it worth it.  All-in our trip lasted about 36 hours, and it was still incredible.  Even if you don’t live within driving distance to a mountain you can head to the airport on a Friday afternoon, spend Saturday and Sunday on the slopes and fly back late Sunday.  Sure, it’s a whirlwind but sometimes those are the best kinds of vacations.Cloud Plane Photo

3.  Look around at the different resorts for deals, and don’t be afraid to check the so-called pricey resorts.  We thought we could only afford the bottom of the barrel of Tahoe resorts, until we did some price comparisons.  Sure, we still couldn’t afford Squaw’s $100 lift ticket, but we were able to find several great deals from many of the resorts.  If you do enough hunting around the resort’s website you’re bound to find a deal that applies to you, such as Squaw Valley’s “Fly & Ski Free”, if you fly in early that day they’ll hand you a free lift ticket for the rest of the afternoon.

Board on the cheap!4. Once we had it narrowed down to a few choice resorts, I did some googling.  I was able to find an even lower rate off the resort’s lift ticket on skiforfree.comLiftopia.com and skifreedeals.com are also worth looking into.

5. Lodging: You’ve got to sleep somewhere.  I’ve known folks who “camp” in their car outside the resort to avoid paying for a hotel.  While we weren’t going that extreme for this trip, we still didn’t want to pay out the nose for a place to sleep.  Though we had connections to a friends and family rate at Marriott, there were several other great options available.  Take 30 minutes to read the reviews and you’ll save yourself from a cheap room so dirty the floors turn your socks black.

Rent Your Gear

6.  Gear: Whatever you do, you’ll always save money getting your gear somewhere other than the resort.  If you don’t own your own, look into sports stores for rentals.  You can rent a board and boots from Sports Basement for $15 and save $30 off the resort price.

7.  Package Deals: Depending upon your needs there may be a package deal that works for you.  I found a beginner package that offered a 2.5 hour lesson, gear rental and lift ticket for around $50.  Sold!  Though, be leery of the package that seems to offer things you weren’t looking for in the first place.

Snowboard on the cheap

8.  What to wear?  If you know you want to go skiing or snowboarding, but you know you don’t have the pants or the jacket for it – start shopping for sales now.  I scored an end-of-season deal on insulated water-proof pants long before we began planning this specific trip.  Also, ask your friends if you can borrow their gear.  To the beginner: my advice would be to invest in the waterproof pants at first, as there isn’t much of a substitute there.  Whereas, you can get away with layering under almost any decent winter jacket.

9.  Food!  We packed along some cliff bars as backup fuel, but we knew we wanted to enjoy at least one meal out.  The night we got into town, we hit up a local brewery for pizza.  Our hotel room came equipped with a fridge which we were able to stash our leftovers in, allowing us to stretch the one meal into breakfast as well.  Look for rooms with fridges, bring along a cooler or stick the food outside if it’s cold enough, to pull this off for yourself.

Snowboard Cheap

10.  Gas.  If you’re driving to get to and fro, it’s definitely worth it to use an app like GasBuddy to track down the cheaper fuel along your route.  Nothing stings more than fueling up, getting back on the highway and passing a station offering gas for 15cents cheaper than what you just paid.

Those are our tips, based on our most recent experience.  What are you’re favorite ways to shave off a buck or two while still having a great time on a ski or snowboard trip?