Have you tried “pocket food” and thrift stores for cold weather wear?

By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency

Got your “pocket food”? That’s what snow- loving kids (and adults) stuff in their pockets when they’re on the slopes so they don’t have to stop — or spring for overpriced eats. Think hot chocolate packets, tea bags, energy bars, Skittles and M&Ms.

Besides pocket food, you want to make sure your gang is properly equipped, wearing moisture-wicking layers, ski socks (not cotton) waterproof pants, jackets, mittens and goggles and helmets. Also stash hand warmers, sunscreen (you really need it at high altitude) and lip balm in their pockets.

Got all that? It seemed like we never made it to ski school or to the lift without losing something. Once, we arrived in Colorado to discover we’d forgotten my youngest daughter’s ski parka. (Luckily, there was an outlet mall on the way to the mountain resort.)

Fun on the slopes doesn't have to cost a fortune
Fun on the slopes doesn’t have to cost a fortune

Remember, you don’t need to bust your budget outfitting the kids and yourselves, especially if you are planning only one or two mountain forays all season. Borrow what you need. Check out thrift stores. Kids grow so fast you’ll likely find gear that was only used for a season or two. If you want to invest in snow gear (maybe you live in an area that gets a lot of snow ) Obermeyer’s I-Grow system enables you to lengthen sleeves and cuffs up to two inches just by snipping colored threads.

You will, however, want to make sure helmets fit properly as they have been proven to prevent serious injury. (If you are renting equipment, typically helmets are included and are now required at most ski schools.) A word about rentals: You might save money renting at home or away from a snow resort. However, you will be stuck if there is an issue with the gear. If you rent at the resort or ski school, gear can easily be swapped out — and you may be able to get kids gear free if they are attending ski school. (Also check out companies like Black Tie Ski Rental and Ski Butlers that alleviate the hassle factor by delivering and picking up gear where you are staying at many major snow resorts. They also will swap out gear for different snow conditions or if you have a problem (say really uncomfortable ski boots, for example.)

Ski Butlers bring the equipment to you
Ski Butlers bring the equipment to you

Now that you are geared up, where should you go — without busting the budget? Yes, you can have an affordable fun family trip to the slopes.

Kids Free. Many states, including California, Utah, Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho and New York, have free programs for certain grades to promote a lifelong love of the sport. Each program is slightly different. Typically, you need to apply in advance. Also look for resorts where kids ski free with certain packages.

Keystone in Colorado, a Vail Resort, promises if you stay and play for two or more nights, kids 12 and under ski free a day for each two nights you book. There is night skiing, newly serviced above treeline bowls, snow tubing and kids will cheer that the World’s Largest Mountaintop Snow Fort will be back.

At Aspen Snowmass, if you rent equipment for kids 7 to 12 from Four Mountain sports, kids get a free lift ticket for the same amount of days on their rental with a package that includes two nights of lodging starting Jan. 1. (Younger kids always ski free.)

Aspen Mountain (aka AJAX) in Colorado
Aspen Mountain (aka AJAX) in Colorado

Ski Local. Many believe that smaller resorts — those in New York, New England, the Midwest and Pennsylvania, for example — will continue to attract families who prefer to stay closer to home. Smaller, cheaper but higher altitude mountain resorts in the West are also gaining in popularity like Grand Targhee in Wyoming or Idaho, with 19 ski areas, including Tamarack Resort with a new Lumberjack Land interactive family zone. At Maine’s Sunday River there are often ski and stay deals while Brian Head Ski Resort near Cedar City, Utah offers the “Free On-Snow Experience”, a step-by-step, self-guided clinic to better prepare first-timers on their big day. Learning stations staffed by instructors will provide tips and information along the way and will speed up the acquisition of basic skills and fundamentals.

In Colorado, the popular COLORADO GEMS program offers steep discounts for 11 smaller Colorado snow resorts that are less expensive and less crowded than the big resorts and, for younger families, easier to navigate. They include Cooper (Eileen Ogintz said this about a visit ); Echo Mountain, Denver’s closest ski area less than an hour away; Purgatory, Sunlight in Glenwood Springs where you can enjoy the world’s biggest hot springs pool. For just $48, the GEMS Card provides your choice of either two 2-for-1 lift tickets or two 30 percent off lift tickets. It can be used twice at each ski area for 22 total uses and pays for itself after one use. There is a new Gems Teen Pass ( two full- day tickets to 11 different resorts for $199) and a Kids’ Ski Passport for those in grades 3 to 6, and 80 day s on the slopes (four days at 20 different ski areas) for just $65. The new Gems parent pass (one per household with a purchase of a Kids Ski Passport or Gems Teen Pass) gives you two days each at 11 Gems ski areas for $299.

Ski Cooper in Colorado
Ski Cooper in Colorado

Passes are the way to go this season for the best value. To ski or snowboard only a few days, get an Epic Day Pass or IKON Pass valid for just a few days or a week. For those who want to ski some of the most iconic slopes, The Mountain Collective gives you two days at each resort and unlimited half-price days after that from Alta to Aspen to Jackson Hole, Revelstoke in Canada and Chamonix in France. Regionally, a pass such as the Northeast Value Pass offers access to all eight Vail resorts in the northeast, including Stowe, Okemo, Mt. Snow and Hunter. Plus, kids under age 4 ski free at Vail-owned properties and kids ages 5 to 6 ski for just $48. In some cases, passes also enable you to get other discounts, including food and lodging.

Stay warm out there!

(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The fourth edition of The Kid’s Guide to New York City and the third edition of The Kid’s Guide to Washington D.C. are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2023 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.