If you’ve ever walked into a ski shop, you’ve probably been floored by the cost of winter gear. Things don’t get any better when looking at lift tickets for your local slopes. And all that sticker shock can be really overwhelming.
Finances are a huge obstacle for so many folks, and nowhere is that more true than in winter sports! This form of gatekeeping creates an exclusive culture that we’re trying to break down. We want everyone to have access to winter sports, no matter their budget, and without the fear of getting shut out by high price tags.
The good news is that you don’t have to blow your budget to get out there. We’ve compiled a list of tips from outdoor recreation enthusiasts (across many platforms) to make winter sports more affordable. And we added a few from our own experiences too.
Let’s dive right in! Here’s our best money-saving tips for getting into winter sports.
Gear is the first big challenge when you’re new to winter sports. Even if your gear lasts for years, that initial investment is a lot to handle! Here’s how to avoid breaking the bank when you’re getting geared up.
Some of the most costly gear mistakes end up being the gear we buy, use a few times, and then can’t use because it doesn’t fit or perform how we need…Ouch!
That’s why it’s best to try before you buy, especially if you’re new to a sport. This way you can figure out IF you like the sport before committing hundreds of dollars to the gear. You can also figure out what kind of gear works best for you, so that if you do make a purchase, you’re sure it’s right for you.
Borrowing is a great way to lean on (or start to build!) your community. Most people are excited to loan gear to someone who’s new to the sport. Don’t be shy about asking folks if they’re willing to loan you a piece of gear for the day or weekend. Of course, always be sure you make a clear commitment on when they can expect to have it back, and stick to those commitments!
If you can’t find what you need from borrowing, renting is a great option. Although renting can seem costly, it’s ultimately cheaper than having to buy two of something because the first didn’t fit. Season-long rentals of ski gear, for example, are often very reasonably priced. Some shops will even let you swap out different lengths of skis or styles of boot throughout the season at no extra charge to see what works for you.
Join local Facebook groups or get connected with organizations related to the activities you want to do. Often, you can find gear swaps in your area. Not only can you get some great pre-owned gear, you can also meet some new outdoor buddies and friends! If you’re just learning a sport, making new friends who will do the activity with you is a great way to learn and boost your skills.
In addition to community groups, local organizations like high school teams or clubs often have gear sales. Do some poking around to see if there are any in your area!
Secondhand gear is not only cheaper, it’s more sustainable too! Often, you can easily find gear that’s only been used a couple of times, or even not at all.
Many local gear shops hold weekend-long gear sales at the start of the winter season. Do some research to find out when these happen in your area, and go check them out. Many areas also have consignment and used gear shops.
At the end of the season, many gear shops will sell off their used rental gear. You can also find gear from folks in your area via Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or OfferUp.
A little disclaimer: we don’t recommend buying most safety gear secondhand. While looking for sales or other deals on new gear is always helpful, safety is one area where you may want to spend a little more to be sure you’re getting a fully functional, safe product.
You don’t have to limit your search to high-end name brands. Inexpensive gear from discount brands works perfectly. For example, Target sells $38 snow pants in sizes XS-4X. And Costco also has lots of outdoor clothing for affordable prices.
If you don’t have much luck finding gear locally, try shopping secondhand online. REI’s online used section, Poshmark, eBay, The Hoarding Marmot, and Geartrade are full of secondhand gear options. Some brands are even beginning to offer in-house resale, like Arc’teryx and Alder Apparel.
This is a golden nugget! Remember that you can also sell your gear. To get the best price on your sale, sell directly to the next person, like on Facebook Marketplace or Poshmark. Doing that will always earn you more than selling to a consignment store, it just takes a little more time and patience. If saving time is a priority, consigning is a great option for a quick and easy sale.
If you sell a jacket for $80 and find a new one for $150, that’s a net cost of just $70 for your new jacket. That’s not nearly as bad! Don’t hang onto neglected gear, instead use it to reduce the cost of something that works better for you!
Many seasonal or retail jobs in the outdoor industry have perks like “pro-deals” from gear manufacturers. Pro-deals are typically discounts on gear for employees and athletes, and can vary from 10-60% off. These jobs may also help connect you with other people who would want to learn with you and/or mentor you in the winter sports world.
Just because one jacket is a “winter running jacket” and the other is a “ski jacket” doesn’t mean it can’t pull double duty! Most technical winter clothing can work across many sports, despite what marketers might want us to think. You can also wear your gear with a little creativity, like layering warm clothing under a rain jacket for improvised snow-friendly outerwear.
Take a moment to ask yourself if you really need new gear, or if you can make it work with gear you already have.
Even once you’re geared up, there’s so much to learn about the sport you’re starting! Here are a few more tips on getting out there for less.
Outdoor education is a key part of starting new sports with confidence. But access is not equitable. Some organizations offer scholarships to help level the playing field. SheJumps offers scholarships for first aid and avalanche courses for women, especially encouraging women of color to apply.
AIARE offers a number of scholarships for avalanche safety education for a wide variety of backcountry skiers/snowboarders. Take a look at their list and see if any sound like a good fit.
Backcountry Babes offers their own scholarships for avalanche safety, and has a great list of scholarships offered through other organizations.
In addition to the educational scholarships, SheJumps also offers Ikon ski resort passes to a few lucky applicants each season.
Coalition Snow’s Indigenous Backcountry Scholarship is a great funding opportunity for Indigenous people in snow sports.
YouTube has a wealth of totally free resources for learning new activities. You can get farther than you think just by finding a good series of videos!
Another disclaimer: if you’re looking to learn about life-and-death info like avalanche safety, don’t rely solely on sources like YouTube. Training from reputable instructors as part of a structured program is very important for safety.
SkiKu has a great series of videos for learning to cross country ski. It’s called SkiTube!
Our online Ski Babes program includes bonus instructional videos for improving nordic and alpine ski technique, taught by Olympian Holly Brooks and ski coach Bre Donovan. Watching technique videos and then practicing them outside can be a helpful way to build skills without paying for coaching.
While Ski Babes is a paid program, we offer Sistering Support Equity Pricing each season to help lower the financial barrier for those who apply.
Downhill resort skiing is notoriously one of the most expensive snow sports. By comparison, cross-country skiing is much more affordable. A cross-country gear setup is generally cheaper, and you don’t have to buy expensive lift tickets. If you're not sure that you like skiing yet, save some money and think about trying cross-country skiing first.
Snowshoeing, ice skating, and winter hiking are other winter sports with less expensive equipment and no lift tickets. There is no one-right-way of playing outside in the winter. In fact, there’s lots of ways to play outside – it all counts! We highly encourage you to get outside for those snowball fights and some good-ol’ fashion snow angels.
There were so many great recommendations from our crowdsourcing effort, many of which emphasized the advantages of having a winter sports network. Creating connections with others in the winter sports world to borrow from, learn from, and lean on is a great way to access gear, knowledge, and skills.
That said, having an outdoor rec community is also a privilege. We recognize that not everyone has the same access or comfortability in winter sports networks, since they can be mostly white and male-dominated.
Without seeing people who share your identity in winter outdoor spaces, it can be easy to feel out of place or like you don’t belong. You also might not have as many people available to receive mentorship or borrow gear from.
These are very real barriers. And we hope this is changing. Many of the scholarships listed above are efforts to increase diversity, representation, and build community — and we love to see it! If you’re interested in learning how we approach this at Mind & Mountain, watch for our upcoming blog on our Mind & Mountain program values.
Here’s a few extra tips we got from our community on city-specific resources to check out!
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