Friday, May 24, 2024

Family Ski Vacations: The Cost Could Break The Bank!


In 2007, I had a dream of taking my future family on a ski vacation. I was an avid snowboarder and my wife enjoyed the tranquility of Lake Tahoe. After receiving a good bonus, I bought a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo at Everline Resort in Palisades.

Our son came ten years later, but we didn’t go on a legitimate family ski vacation until Spring 2024. In other words, we could have saved our money for 17 years by just renting or buying a smaller place.

Oh well, maybe in the next life. Owning a vacation property was a suboptimal financial decision. Please learn my lesson so you can save money.

The Decision to Finally Shell Out for Ski Lessons

As someone who’s clocked countless hours teaching my kids how to swim and bike, I also wanted to teach my kids how to ski. There’s something immensely gratifying about patiently guiding a child through the nuances of a new activity and witnessing that breakthrough moment firsthand.

But skiing posed a whole new set of challenges—it demanded gear, lift tickets, and, of course, a proper slope. Plus, there was the risk that if we splurged on equipment, we’d be left with buyer’s remorse if the kiddos didn’t take to skiing.

However, we bit the bullet and signed them up for ski lessons at the foot of Palisades Tahoe. The school had all the gear ready to go, making the whole process a breeze.

ski lessons at Palisades Kids Lake Tahoe - family ski vacation

Cost Of Ski Lessons

For our four-year-old daughter, a half-day ski school session set us back $225. Not outrageous considering it covered all the gear, a lift ticket, and three hours of expert instruction.

We would’ve enrolled our son in a half-day session too, but alas, the ski school only offers full-day programs for kids aged 5 and up, running from 9 am to 3 pm. The price tag? A hefty $356.21, which included everything from gear rental to lift tickets.

Altogether, we coughed up a whopping $581.21—a princely sum by any measure. Yet, strangely, I didn’t feel the sting of payment as acutely as I expected from someone on a tight budget. The seamless drop-off process, the warmth of the staff, and the sheer joy on our children’s faces made every penny worth it.

Ski lessons at Palisades Tahoe

First Ski Lesson Provides The Greatest Return

The first ski lesson delivered the biggest return on investment as our kids transitioned from never skiing to mastering basic turns—a feat that surpassed our expectations. Our ski instructor even took our son on an afternoon adventure, riding the gondola and tackling the green slopes at Mountain Meadows.

Thanks to it being a quiet Tuesday, the ski school wasn’t bustling.

Initially, our son’s class consisted of six kids during the morning magic carpet session. By afternoon, three kids had dropped out, and one had ventured off with their parents onto a different run, leaving just two kids and the instructor.

It almost felt like a private lesson ($600 for up to four people, excluding equipment and lift ticket), especially with the trio fitting snugly on the chairlift, enabling the instructor to assist with dismounting.

Another reason why the $581.27 investment in ski lessons didn’t sting was because our daughter had an absolute blast. Though utterly spent and sporting a sad face at pickup time after three hours, she later declared “ski school is the best” three times over after a nap, radiating a joy only a child can bring. As a parent, witnessing such happiness is priceless.

Happy ski lessons at Palisades Tahoe - family ski vacations are expensive

Final Benefit Of Ski School: Childcare

The final benefit of ski school is the freedom it provides parents. Without any childcare help while on vacation, vacation can sometimes be exhausting for parents of young children. Ski school provides a reprieve of 3-6 hours that parents can appreciate.

We were encouraged to check in and then quickly drop off our kids because kids do better this way. It felt pretty amazing to be free on vacation. Ski school was a like a two-for-one special where the kids got to learn and my wife and I got to relax.

benefit of ski school - childcare on vacation
If you insist!

Cost of a Daily Ski Pass

With the kids in ski school, I was eager to check lift ticket prices and hit the slopes myself. Turns out a single-day ski pass at Palisades Tahoe during a spring weekday rings in at $219, escalating to $239 on weekends.

Opting for a half-day session from 1 to 4 pm? That’ll set you back $153.30. And when the winter ski season peaks, brace yourself for even steeper prices—$239 on weekdays and a staggering $289 on weekends!

Talk about inflation. I vividly recall ski passes in the early 2000s priced between $60 and $80 per day. Who can afford to hit the slopes for more than a day or two now, especially with a family in tow?

Purchasing a Season Pass to “Save Money”

Rather than shelling out $219 per ski day while my kids were taking lessons, I opted for the Ikon season pass—a seemingly economical choice at $869. I took the plunge after a sales clerk mentioned I could use the pass immediately, not just for the 2024/2025 ski season.

With four days left in Tahoe, it seemed like decent value. After all, purchasing four weekday passes individually would tally up to $876. What initially seemed like a plan to hit the slopes once or twice morphed into an everyday affair.

The only downside? Blackout dates:

  • Dec 26, 2024 – Dec 31, 2024
  • Jan 18, 2025 – Jan 19, 2025
  • Feb 15, 2025 – Feb 16, 2025

The clerk also told me I wouldn’t be able to use the season pass in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jokingly, I told her, “Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to fly my private jet to Aspen,” where the Ikon pass does work.

Opting for a Season Pass with Blackout Dates

Unfortunately, these blackout dates coincide with our kids’ school breaks. However, I reasoned that renting out our vacation property during these prime vacation periods made more financial sense. Plus, we prefer to avoid the crowds, hence our habitual trips between Monday and Friday.

Besides, the weather tends to be harsher from December through February. Sure, the day after a snowstorm is pure bliss. But, battling freezing temperatures and potential traffic jams with young kids in tow? Not our idea of fun. We’d much rather hit the slopes in March and April, when the roads are clear and the sun is shining.

The alternative—fork over $1,299 for an Ikon season pass sans blackout dates? Nah. Saving money on the shorter pass definitely wins out.

Other Costs Involved With Skiing

Besides lodging, ski school, and lift tickets, other necessary costs for a ski vacation include:

  • Transportation – The distance from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe is 210 miles one way, which means about $70 in gas for our car. Using the IRS mileage deduction of 67 cents per mile, the added wear and tear is $140.70 one way. If we had to fly the transportation cost would be greater.
  • Equipment:
    • Helmet – $40 to $120
    • Jacket – $60 to $350
    • Pants – $50 to $350
    • Long underwear – $50 to $100
    • Gloves – $50 to $150
    • Long socks – $20 to $50
    • Goggles – $50 to $200
    • Snowboard or ski boots – $120 to $400

Purchasing all the necessary equipment can cost between $1,000 to $1,500 per person. Add in the $869 season pass, and the total equipment and season pass cost comes to $1,869 to $2,369 per person.

For a family of four, the total equipment and pass costs would be $7,476 to $9,476. Factoring in transportation, lodging, and food, a family ski vacation can easily surpass $15,000 for a week!

My First Skiing Experience: Japan

My introduction to skiing occurred in Shiga Kogen, Japan, when I was ten years old. Living in Kobe, Japan, for two years while my parents served in the U.S. foreign service, provided unique opportunities.

During our time in Japan, my parents befriended a couple with an older son. Years later, we revisited Japan to pay them a visit. Somehow, my parents were comfortable with their friend’s 20-year-old son and his friend chauffeuring me 3.5 hours from Tokyo to a seemingly random warehouse in Shiga Kogen.

Back then, I was oblivious to the costs, consumed only by the thrill of new experiences as a child. After enduring a few tumbles and scrapes on the slopes, we’d retreat to an onsen to soak in the hot springs.

Today, I’m acutely aware of the costs, footing the bill for everything myself.

Some FOMO Persuaded Me to Splurge on Skiing Early

Having picked up skiing at the age of 10, I felt no rush to get my own kids, four and seven, on the slopes ASAP. And after over 35 years of skiing and snowboarding, the thrill had waned for me too.

However, an encounter with a fellow dad during drop-off at school sparked a change of heart. He waxed lyrical about skiing with his daughter, a peer of my son’s. His concern about not wanting his daughter to feel left out as their classmates grew up and planned ski outings struck a chord.

Suddenly, my fear of missing out (FOMO) and my desire to provide the best experiences for my kids kicked into overdrive. If a seven-year-old could hit the slopes with her dad, why not mine? Especially since our daughter, now four, wanted to emulate her older brother in everything.

So, we took the plunge with ski school, reasoning that we’d have no regrets if either kid decided skiing wasn’t their thing. At least we tried.

Skiing: A Privilege That Comes at a Steep Price

It’s disheartening how exorbitant skiing has become. The term “ski week” shouldn’t be thrown around in schools, as not every family can afford a lavish ski vacation.

Assuming everyone can jet off to hit the slopes is presumptuous and elitist, potentially alienating families who can’t afford such luxuries. Worst of all is making an innocent child feel left out.

Even for me, opting out of dad’s night out, partly due to the hefty $500 price tag, wasn’t ideal, but fine. However, it would’ve stung much more if it were a family-oriented event where our kids were left out.

The Cost Of Ski Lodging Is Hefty Too

ski vacation property layout Financial Samurai
Our vacation property layout that comfortably sleeps four

Let’s not forget the astronomical costs beyond lift tickets and ski school—finding affordable lodging near ski resorts is a whole other ordeal. My 1,000 sqft, two-bedroom, two bathroom condo at Everline Resort rents out for around $700 a night on weekdays and increases to over $1,000 on weekends during the winter.

During peak holiday seasons, the rates in and around Lake Tahoe soar by another ~50%. So while frequenting our vacation property might seem like a money-saving move, the reality is, we’re sacrificing rental income, a crucial component of our passive income portfolio.

Raising Kids Can Be A Costly Affair If You Let

One recurring critique of my carefully crafted family six-figure budgets often revolves around the line item for kids’ lessons or miscellaneous expenses. What’s becoming increasingly apparent as my children grow older is that I may have underestimated the financial demands of parenthood. Persistent inflation isn’t helping either.

$375,000 household income and corresponding budget - Perhaps not enough budgeted for childrens' lessons, vacations, and ski school

For those without children, such expenses might elicit a scoff or a raised eyebrow. But once you become a parent, an innate urge to provide your children with enriching experiences kicks in, partly driven by a desire to shield them from feeling excluded.

For individuals belonging to minority groups or the LGBTQ community, the urge to provide the best for their kids might be even more pronounced. The desire to ensure their children don’t have to go through the same challenges they faced growing up can be a strong motivator.

Not Raising Ski Champions, Just Wanting Family Bonding Time

All I aspire for is for my family members to share enough common interests to be able to spend quality time together. For skiing, I envision us spending hours on the lifts, carving through the snow, then indulging in burgers before hitting the slopes again. Afterwards, it would be family hot tub time, chatting about our day and life in general.

How fun! However, this type of family bonding on the slopes requires all of us to ski at an intermediate level or higher, which can be a costly endeavor.

It would be an absolute delight if my kids and wife developed a fondness for pickleball, a fun and inexpensive sport. I picture our family of four engaged in doubles matches at our local park, enjoying each other’s company. Alas, so far only one of us is interested in playing.

Thus far, we’ve nurtured a love for free nature walks as a family. With time, perhaps my kids will build up their stamina for longer hikes. I still reminisce about the enchanting experience of hiking Haleakala Crater in Maui with my parents over a couple of days when I was growing up.

Should skiing or snowboarding ignite a passion in my family, I’ll wholeheartedly support their endeavors. However, if not, no problem. Given my range of interests, I remain optimistic that we’ll eventually discover another shared activity that brings us joy as a family.

The main goal for family vacations is to develop lifelong memories and unbreakable bonds. Once kids go off to college, such opportunities will be harder to come by. I hope to make the most of our time together before then.

Reader Questions And Suggestions

What are your thoughts on the costs of a family ski vacation? What strategies have you employed to trim costs on ski lessons, lift passes, and family ski getaways? Do you have other favorite types of family vacations?

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