Here in the Bay Area, the only consolation about rainy winter days is knowing that rain here = snow in the Sierras. As you’re reading this, Jack and I would be on our way to meet up with a couple of good friends of ours who have invited us to spend the weekend in their Tahoe cabin.
We don’t find winter sports a cheap activity (and let’s be honest, skiing Tahoe on a budget is getting harder and harder nowadays) and that’s why we don’t go very often. The most expensive costs are of course the lift tickets, then the transportation to get up there, and if you don’t have your own equipment (like us), there’s the rental fee.
Throughout the years, we’ve utilized some or all of the ways listed below in order to be able to go to Tahoe to ski in the cheapest way possible.
How to Ski Tahoe On A Budget
Finding Cheap Tahoe Lift Tickets
Use Shell Buy One Get One Free Promotion — This is probably one of the best deals on ski lift tickets out there. Get a 10 gallon of gas from participating Shell stations, and get a voucher that you can exchange for a free lift ticket at participating resorts. (UPDATE 2016: California resorts have stopped participating in this. Bummer!)
Don’t buy lift tickets from the resorts — Really. It’s like paying full price to go to an amusement park. Nobody does that. There are always deals where you can find discounted tickets. Check your local Costco first. Then your local outdoor stores (such as Sports Basement, REI, etc). Liftopia often has good deals on lift tickets (up to 50% off). If all else fail, try Craigslist, Kijiji, and Ebay.
Ski on Sundays — Or on weekdays. And non-holiday weekends. Or Super Bowl Sunday. Just like airline tickets, the cheapest lift passes are only available on days when nobody wants to ski. Namely weekdays and Sundays. So if your time is flexible, try to plan to be on the slopes on those days. The obvious side benefit? Less people on the slope = happy skier/snowboarder.
If you’re still learning (or just trying to save money) — check out the smaller resorts — Homewood Resort is one of the cheapest ski resorts in Tahoe and its lift pass starts at $49. Realistically, you won’t have the stamina nor the skills to take advantage of all the routes that bigger resorts have. So why not check out the smaller resorts? They’re usually beginner friendly and their lift passes are about half the price of the much bigger resorts. Our favorite small resorts in Tahoe area? Diamond Peak and Mt.Rose.
Buy your tickets online in advance Purchasing lift passes online about 7 days before your intended visit can save you up to 50%. Example: Sugar Bowl’s regular price is $120. But buy it in advance you and you can buy it for as low as $80 (weekend) or $65 (weekday).
Go Cross Country Skiing – I know it’s not quite the same, but if you just want to play in the snow with friends and see beautiful scenery while getting a good workout at the same time… Have you thought about giving cross country skiing a try? For once, the trail pass is super cheap ($36). Royal Gorge is North America’s largest cross country resort and it’s right next to Sugar Bowl.
We don’t have a car so our preferred method is to take the ski bus. Or try to bum a ride from friends.
You can also rent a car and drive there yourself, but unless you go up there on a weekday – forget about it. The traffic will drive you insane!! Trust me, taking a ski bus is your best bet.
Take the ski bus — If it’s only going to be you, or the two of you, you might want to check out some of these ski buses that do day trips with pick up locations throughout the Bay Area. They leave super early (around 4 am or so) and will get you back to the Bay Area around 8 or 9 pm.
They do the driving, you do the skiing. Some even include breakfast and dinner.
Some ski bus companies in the Bay Area:
- Bay Area Ski Bus – this is the one we use. $165 pp and includes transport, LIFT TICKETS, breakfast, and snacks.
- North American Charter Ski
- NEW FOR 2018! Sports Basement is offering a bus transport to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows for $75
And most often than not, they will save you quite a lot on lift passes.
Accommodations in Tahoe
Jack and I rarely do an overnight ski trips to Tahoe. We only do it when we have visiting friends from out of town, or if we manage to convince our friends to split the cost of an Airbnb rental in the area. Having said that, staying overnight in Tahoe would make your skiing days more enjoyable: less rushing around in the morning and more time at the slope. Cheaper accommodation would mean staying in the closest city, instead of right at the resort.
Hotels close Squaw Valley:
The Village at Squaw Valley – Its location right in the valley means easy access to the lifts. Rooms start at $200.
America’s Best Value Inn – for half the price, you can stay in this chain hotel, located in Tahoe City, less than 10 miles from Squaw Valley Resort
Hotels close to North Star Resorts:
Northstar California Resort – located 1 mile from the lifts, they provide free shuttle service. Rooms start around $200
Hotel Truckee Tahoe – a short 5 mile drive away. Rooms start at $170 per night.
Hotels close to Heavenly Resorts:
Marriott Grand Residence Club – rooms start at $165
The Ridge Tahoe offers great amenities, large accommodations and complimentary shuttle rides to and from the mountains. Rooms start at $120.
At the resorts
Don’t rent gear from the resorts — It’s very convenient, of course. But a little research will show how much savings you end having by getting your rentals sorted out beforehand. Northstar Resort would charge you $86 for a 2-day rental while getting them for our local Sports Basement would only cost $30! A savings of 65%. Local gear rental places in town will almost always have a better deal as well.
Pack your own snacks and drinks — we don’t eat much when we’re on the slopes and we almost never buy food from the resorts (when you’re paying so much for a lift pass, every minute on the slope is precious). So we usually carry just granola bars, chocolate bars, and a little flask of whiskey to keep us going.\
Rechargeable Hand Warmer – OMG, this thing is so awesome. It makes such a HUGE difference, especially on those super long lift rides on windy days. I don’t know about you, but those chemical based one doesn’t seem to do much for me.
Buff Headwear – I use this to cover my mouth and nose when I go fast! This is so much more breathable than regular fleece, it doesn’t get frosted as much.
Hopefully these tips will help out fellow budget-strapped snow enthusiasts. If you have your own tips on how to ski in Tahoe on a budget, less us know in the comment section below.