The Cost of Skiing

I am not sporty. I put in my required hours of standing in the outfield on a softball team and half-heartedly dribbling a soccer ball down a field in my childhood, but sports are generally not my thing. A post-college move to San Francisco thrust me into a world where people were earnestly active—there were touch football games, rock climbing, disc golf. A holiday weekend meant that everyone cleared out of town by Friday at 3 p.m., driving towards the mountains in Subarus, ready to hit the slopes.

The first time I was ever on a pair of skis was in high school, and my friends still laugh to the point of breathlessness when recalling how I managed to ski backwards, very slowly down the bunny slope, into a line of children. I flirted briefly with snowboarding in high school, but the majority of my time was spent on the ground, trying to figure out the physics of getting up while my feet were strapped to a fiberglass board.

Skiing, as a hobby, seems irrefutably stupid, inherently dangerous, and, as a hobby of the casually wealthy, decidedly not for me. Skis, to rent or to own, are expensive. Lift tickets are expensive. The clothing and equipment required to keep you warm and safe cost lots of money. Snow should be enjoyed from the comfort of a ski lodge, or a cabin in the woods, while wrapped in a sweater and many blankets, drinking hot cocoa and staring at a crackly fire.

My boyfriend at the time was an avid skier, the kind of guy who grew up spending weekends in Tahoe from October through April. His basement had a separate equipment room that contained a tangle of skis, snowboards, boots and snow pants—hundreds of dollars worth of equipment that just sat there, collecting dust until the first snow of the season. I watched with mounting horror as he bought more stuff off Craigslist and on deep discount at Sports Basement.

“These were only $300, that’s a great deal,” he’d say as he loaded his new babies into the car, a pair of hideously bright skis emblazoned with the phrase “Work Sux” in neon letters.

“You have about five pairs of skis and two snowboards in the basement,” I’d tell him, shaking my head at his liquidity, at the ease he had dropping money on a sport that could very easily kill you.

Skiing seemed like an incredible waste of money. Every winter, you’d drop hundreds of dollars on lift tickets, rentals and new technical outerwear that you’d wear for about three months out of every season. As someone who grew up without a lot of money in a rich town, skiing was the kind of activity that I had never even considered, because of its cost. But, under the influence love, and my innate desire to fit in with peers, I joined my boyfriend on a trip to Tahoe, where I would finally put the past behind me and conquer this weird thing once and for all.

I learned to ski on a sunny, cloudless day at Dodge Ridge, taught by an affable tow-headed 23-year-old named Andy, who was probably stoned, but very nice. The snow was what the pros (and Andy) called “pow-pow,” which is a gross word for snow that is fluffy like giant heaps of confectioner’s sugar. In these conditions, skiing came easily to me. After a half hour of learning the basics, I was flying down the bunny slope with ease, skipping the pizza (pointing your skis inward to make a wedge formation) and french fry (putting your skis in a parallel position) and moving right on to parallel turns, I was stopping without flinging my body to the ground in a desperate attempt to avoid crashing into the lodge, small children, and other skiers.

I gained confidence each step of the way, skiing my way onto harder and harder hills. I never mastered any of the terrifying black diamonds, those mountains that looked like unbroken sheets of white, a straight and hard drop down to a certain death. I did manage some intermediate runs, but did so slowly, and cautiously, and I only cried once, when I found myself gazing down what I assumed to be California’s version of Mount Everest, knowing that I had to get to the bottom, but wasn’t quite sure how I’d achieve that goal. Now this was something I could check off my bucket list of activities that could kill me, but are actually not that bad.

The last time I skied was in Vermont. East coast skiing is an entirely different game. Instead of the soft, forgiving snow I was used to, I found myself skittering down runs through slushy, crunchy stuff, piled on top of what appeared to be a solid bedrock made of ice.

The morning got off to a bumpy start. While getting on the chairlift for our first run, my boyfriend somehow toppled into me, knocking me to the ground just as the lift was swinging around to board us. The back of my head made spectacular contact with the edge of the seat, and I laid in a daze as the entire lift ground to a halt, and paramedics came rushing over. After a variety of mortifying exercises, I was strapped onto a backboard and loaded into a passenger van that drove around the mountain and down to the nurse’s hut. I was fine, but they can’t be too careful, so I unhinged my ski boots and sat on a gurney drinking tea, until they felt fit to let me go.

That’s the last time I skied, and it might be the last time I ski again.

Here’s a rundown of how much it cost for me to love and leave the sport.

• Lift Ticket at Northstar in Tahoe, one day: $114
• Equipment Rental at Sports Basement: $25
• Snow pants, worn once, then ripped in the crotch and never worn again: $60
• Waterproof shell that actually has come in handy as a raincoat: $100
• Various pairs of gloves/mittens: $50
• A fleece pullover, purchased at Buffalo Exchange, worn only during outdoor activities: $50
• A hat with earflaps, questionable color palette and a pom-pom: $30
• Realizing that ski boots are torture devices, and ski lodges are great places for introspection and day drinking: PRICELESS


Megan Reynolds lives in New York. Photo: Rodrigo Suriani


27 Comments / Post A Comment

WriteBikeBobbi (#3,938)

Amen. We live 20 minutes from a major Colorado ski area, but I do not downhill nor will I ever pay $800+ for a season pass. I take my cross-country skis to a free outdoor area and enjoy myself much more (and have a much smaller chance of breaking my neck – bonus!)

@WriteBikeBobbi Is there a cost-effective way to try cross country skiing?? I don’t live close to a ski area, so I’m willing to rent equipment, etc. I was looking at some long-weekend-away spots and thought it might be fun to try. What’s the best way to go about trying cross country skiing with limited investment/costs?

ragazza (#4,025)

@polka dots vs stripes Check thrift stores and secondhand sports equipment stores. I got two pairs of skis, poles and a pair of boots for all of $60. Just make sure the bindings fit the boots you get. That’s a bit confusing, here’s a site with a good breakdown:

I just started this winter and it’s great fun (and quite a workout)!

WriteBikeBobbi (#3,938)

@polka dots vs stripes ragazza is right, you can find good used stuff at thrift shops, or wait until an end-of-season sale when gear shops are wanting to get rid of stuff (that’s what I did). Get the kind that don’t require wax, though – the wax is expensive. I’d rent first to see if you like how it feels. Not sure where you are geographically, but a lot of golf courses become cross-country spots in the winter. Beginning on groomed trails helps a lot.

EM (#1,012)

*applause* Skiing sucks. Also I live in the shadow of Whistler-Blackcomb, where a season’s pass costs $2000, and everyone on that mountain has an STI.

terrific (#1,532)

hahah! skiing sucks! people that ski are stupid! judge judge judge!

halloliebchen (#5,373)

“The first time I was ever on a pair of skis was in high school, and my friends still laugh to the point of breathlessness when recalling how I managed to ski backwards, very slowly down the bunny slope, into a line of children.”

Are we the same person?

I’m really glad someone mentioned that east coast skiing is perilous and terrifying, because up until this point, I thought I was just a weenie. I tried skiing once in Pennsylvania, and the whole thing was pretty much just ice. I could not figure out how there weren’t at least a few deaths a DAY.

andnowlights (#2,902)

My dad LOVES skiing. He would live in Colorado, if he could.

I think it is the most TERRIFYING thing I have ever experienced in my life. It’s not about the money, it’s about the sheer terror.

honey cowl (#1,510)

I grew up in Colorado, but I am broke, and don’t like being cold or going to fast, so people are always surprised to find out I don’t really ski! I’ve never skied anywhere but Colorado though… and this doesn’t make me want to.

aetataureate (#1,310)

This is hilariously grouchy and pointless. Moral of the story: Don’t do sports you don’t like? There you go.

loren smith (#2,300)

Well, I love skiing. Anyone else love skiing? It can be done on a budget – anyone want to swap budget ski tips?

Also, to the author, wear a helmet! Honestly.

terrific (#1,532)

@loren smith srsly. no idea why she wasn’t wearing a helmet. all skiiers at all ski levels should wear a helmet.

jason (#1,335)

@loren smith I also love skiing! I do not have many good tips for most people to go skiing on a budget (besides always buying used equipment and making your equipment last for years, if not decades), but here is how my middle (upper-middle?) class family did it: My dad was a volunteer ski patroller at a very small mountain in upstate New York, so the family got free/discounted season passes. We went every weekend, and sometimes during the week after school. It was one of the best things about my life growing up and I hope to provide the same for my future family.

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

@terrific So I’ve been skiing since I was three or so… and I’ve never worn a helmet. They started to become a thing for kids when I was a teenager and my family no longer had money for annual ski vacations out west like we had done in my childhood. They became an all-ages thing more recently, and since I’ve only skied twice since 2006 (and one of those times was dreadful Vermont skiing) I just have never worn a helmet? Basically, the ski school at Steamboat, CO didn’t make little kids wear helmets in the early 90s. So I just never have.

meganR (#5,514)

@loren smith honestly, the first time i went skiing i didn’t wear a helmet, but all the subsequent times i did!

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@loren smith Here is how my family (and now my boyfriend and I) do skiing affordably:
*Racing skis and boots that my parents bought on eBay as my main xmas present when I was in high school – I was on the alpine racing team. I take good care of them and wax them myself, plus take them in when needed. Have had them for 8 years now?
*Boyfriend borrows skis and boots from my dad
*Purchase 3 for 2 deals on ski tickets and lodging
*Make our own lunch which we store in a locker, bring booze in a flask
*I wear a 9+ year old ski coat. My boyfriend wears his wool coat with a ski vest over.
*I use my grandfather’s old ski goggles

I didn’t get the line about “Every winter, you’d drop hundreds of dollars on lift tickets, rentals and new technical outerwear that you’d wear for about three months out of every season.” I bought decent stuff on sale and took care of it. Why would you buy NEW technical outerwear every year? Seriously, how are you destroying it all past salvage???

nell (#4,295)

@loren smith agreed! A member of my family was first on the scene at a skiing related brain injury recently…shit is serious.

loren smith (#2,300)

@RachelG8489 yeah, I skied religiously as a wee one, back in the 90s, with no helmet. I wouldn’t now though. Heads got more fragile since then or something :)

loren smith (#2,300)

@MissMushkila Yes, I totally hear you on your budget ski tips. My husband has nice gear, mainly gifted from generous family over many years’ holidays, and I bought everything of mine second hand, even my outerwear, and I do my own ding repairs and keep good care of my stuff. Every year now my costs are basically just lift tickets and apres ski beers.

boringbunny (#3,260)

I told my coworker that I had never been skiing before and she looked at me like I said I was born with two heads. I always thought only rich people went skiing. It wasn’t really a thing for middle class mid-Atlantic children of immigrants from a subtropical area.

Beaks (#3,488)

@boringbunny I grew up in Colorado and the only time I went skiing I was so young I don’t really even remember it. Living in the middle of ski traffic just didn’t make my parents want to join the crowd. Also, $$s

OhMarie (#299)

Yes! I love going on ski trips and just blowing through tons of books and spending lots of time in hot tubs/big bathtubs and drinking drinks.

kellyography (#250)

My (decidedly middle-class) family used to go skiing a lot an hour or two outside of St. Louis, where the hills are very small and covered in fake snow. My most vivid memory of a ski trip was when we went to Wisconsin for a family ski vacation and the hills were twice as high as I was used to, and it was getting dark, and I couldn’t see properly to get off the ski lift at the top, so I just spun around the other side. So humiliating.

nell (#4,295)

It took me an embarrassingly long time to get the “skiing is for rich people” thing, because I’m from New Hampshire and everyone I know at least CAN ski. At some public schools up north skiing is literally gym class. It’s definitely not the cheapest sport (especially once you can’t get college deals anymore ughh) and I obviously understand not wanting to spend a lot of money on it if you don’t like it, but: 1) Go to ski swaps and get used gear, 2) Pack your own lunch and/or nips of liquor 3) Play hooky if you can, because weekday skiing is really cheap – any day of the week you can find an area that is doing two-for-one, “pay the temperature”, “pay what we charged in 1950″ etc. 4) Use Liftopia and buy your tickets ahead of time. (Also, I will defend the ice-encrusted white knuckle terror that is east coast skiing until my final breath.)

ellabella (#1,480)

As a converted ski-lover who formerly hated it, I don’t think you’re grumpy at all, @Megano! ! But there’s a steep learning curve for sure, and one that certainly may not be worth the huge cost. I had my last “accident” at age 12 skiing, when I realized I had to pee at the top of the mogul-filled mountain. Couldn’t make it down to the lodge, let alone out of my 4 layers and full-body ski suit.

However, now I go 1-2 times a year and it’s lots of fun! It helps that my boyfriend is from Colorado, where there’s great skiing, and it makes visiting his family more appealing to me. Still, it’s going to stay expensive for me: there’s no way I’m buying even cheap skis, only to have to worry about carrying them places and on planes etc. etc. So one $200 ski day (lift ticket, gear, and snax/beer) a year for me.

As to gear, I also go camping and bike in the winter, so there’s quite a bit of overlap. I balked at the $120 ski pants, but one trip up a snowy mountain and one day of skiing, all with totally dry and warm legs, have made it worth it.

Peggy (#5,830)

I grew up 20 minutes from Lake Tahoe skiing. We always bought gear at end-of-season sales in the spring or used. In high school my parents would buy lift tickets at COSTCO that were cheaper than normal (but usually had ‘blackout days’ around holidays).

Comments are closed!