Snow sports are expensive. I made a handy graph of some industry data, and it shows how stark the divide is between skiers / boarders and the rest of the world.
Considering that the median household income in America for 2013 was $51,939, nearly 3/4 of skiers/boarders make more than the median, and roughly half of all skiers/boarders make more than double the median. In short: skiing and snowboarding is a sport for people with money.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with having money in your pocket and enjoying your life. But I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of just where snow sports do and do not exist in the American socio-economic system. To date, I can count the amount of black skiers and snowboarders I’ve met on two hands and still be able to fasten my bindings. Not only is skiing and snowboarding a sport for wealthy folks, but it also is a white sport and I’m not just talking about snow.
And before you spaz out and tell me about your friend Jose or Leroy that you ride/ski with, let’s let the data speak for itself, compiled by SIA/Physical Activity Council in 2013:
This article will not be able to convince people of color and those lacking well-heeled families to participate in snow sports. But, I can offer some tips that make the whole thing more approachable. I’m not the first person to notice that snow spots are steadily becoming a sport for the wealthy, which sadly in this country also has obvious racial implications (hint: a white family on average makes 16x the income of a black family).
So without further ado, here’s the strategy I employ for paying my mortgage and snowboarding at the same time.
1) Don’t do it unless you’re going to do it a lot. Let’s just be blunt: there are a ton of up front costs that you will eat, even if done cheap. If this isn’t a sport you can really see yourself doing, pick something else. If you want to sample it on the cheap, go to a lower-priced resort in the springtime when you hopefully don’t need serious cold weather clothes.
2) Buy your skis, boards, boots, bindings, poles, and other gadgets on Craigslist. You can easily shell out $2,000 for skis/boarding gear and another $1,000 for clothes if you purchase new. For $200 I got a decent 7 year old board in okay condition and bindings that were good enough. Find the guy or gal that bought their stuff new, used it a few times, and fell out of the sport. Also, don’t be that guy or gal yourself.
3) Check the rental vs. buying math. Figure $35 to rent a board, boots, and bindings (similar rig for skiers). I got my board/boots/bindings for roughly $320, so really it can pay to rent for a while unless you know you’re in the sport to stay. Also, get boots first which are harder to size, more personal, and will chop some cash off the rental prices. One benefit to renting that people talk about is that you get a chance to experience different equipment. Truthfully I think that’s horse manure because most folks renting are just starting out and you’re not on some badass Capita Mercury for your rental board, nor should be on one.
4) Buy your clothes at the local big-box sporting goods store. I scored some sweet snow bibs on sale for $30. Do I want the $250 Dakine ones? Hell yeah I do. Are they better? Sure! Do I have $220 left in my wallet to put food in my fridge? Damn straight.
5) Buy your boots new from a store you can take them back to if they don’t fit. Sorry, but you’ll need to drop ~$150 minimum for snowboard boots (no idea on ski boots). Like most shoe purchases, if you get something that doesn’t fit it’s going to be a nightmare and ruin everything. Find them at the big-box stores.
6) Don’t ever buy any food from the lodge, ever, ever. It’s nice to have a warm cup of coffee and some eggs in the morning. Paying $25 for it though is ridiculous. Most lodges have a microwave and it will be your best friend. The food in my backpack generally looks like this:
- 2-3 Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, ready to be nuked. Bring them in advance or score them at the local big box grocery store.
- Some paper towels to nuke the sandwiches and to clean up your filthy self.
- A couple of Monster energy drinks. I’m here to shred, I’ll drink after the last chair. Speaking of chairs, drink your drinks on the chairs to save time.
- A Cliff bar or whatever is cheap and on sale. These are sort of crap food but if you’re a little hungry it can make the difference between staying on the hill or packing it in early. Warning: cold ones are like eating rocks.
7) Get a season pass if you ski a lot, or look for discount passes.
- A Mammoth/June/Summit/Bear pass is roughly $800. This sounds insane except remember that for Mammoth the lift tickets are anywhere from $103-$134 per day. Average to $118/day and the season pass pays for itself on day 7. For those of us lucky enough to ride all the time, if you ride roughly 1/3 of the days the park is open you’re spending $10/day, saving roughly 92%.
- Costco is known to carry a 4-for-$300 deal for Mammoth, bringing each ticket to $75. While not insanely cheap, it’s still much better than full price.
8) Don’t go to expensive resorts if you’re learning. June Mountain, 20 minutes north of Mammoth, is awesome: long runs, almost always empty, beautiful scenery, and ~60% the cost of Mammoth. The last I checked, lessons were roughly 1/2 the cost of Mammoth. If you’re taking lessons, you’re going to be on a narrow slice of the mountain anyway. Why pay big bucks for a ticket to a mountain that you’ll only see the beginner slopes on? Plus, some spots (like June Mountain) have kids riding for free.
9) Don’t rent from the resort. If you need to rent, you will almost absolutely find cheaper deals and a better selection in town. Look around on Yelp and call around. Also, they probably open earlier and stay open later. You won’t need to cut into your slope time by waiting around in the gross-stinky rental area.
10) Stash your backpack in the trees. If all you have is sunscreen, some food, and an IPA for later sitting in your backpack, go off trail a bit and stash it in the trees. Lockers at Mammoth are $5 per use. So if you go in and out of your locker three times, which is of course why you have a locker, you can rack up $15 right there. Put your wallet/phone/keys on your person and keep your stuff in a bag in the forest. No one wants your crappy old Jansport bag.
11) Stay somewhere cheap. I spent a week with my daughter buzzing June and Mammoth before we moved up here, and I found a $50/night AirBnB in Lake Crowley. It was a little… rustic, but it worked and we had a great time. We brought groceries with us, cooked in the kitchen, and popped the PS4 onto the TV to hang out in the evenings.
About the worst thing you can do is roll into a nice resort armed with nothing but a credit card. The more you need to do in a resort town and the faster you need it done the more you will pay through the nose.
As much as I feel for the businesses that cater to an increasingly affluent white crowd, the business owners and employees of those businesses save their pennies as well. When the owner of the “local board shop” goes on vacation you can bet that he or she is shopping in advance and trying to stretch their dollar. I hope that this article helps other non-ultra-rich snow spots enthusiasts get more enjoyment from an activity which seems to be getting more and more out of reach.