One of the big things that can hamper the ski industry is the high cost of participating in the sport.

With single-day lift ticket prices pushing $50 at small resorts and $100 at larger ones, new equipment costing thousands of dollars and expensive lodging on-hill at many mountains, the sport can be prohibitively expensive. While we’re still blessed in Maine with many community hills with lower prices – Mt. Abram, Black Mountain, and Bigrock spring to mind – the price of the sport is inarguably high.

Recently, on a local radio show, I was flummoxed when a caller asked me why the sport was so expensive and how to ski on the cheap. While I don’t have a comprehensive answer to the former, I have some answers to the latter.

The simplest ways to save money skiing are hallmarks of the Yankee frugality hammered into me by my parents. Bring your own lunch rather than paying at the mountain. Stay with friends instead of renting a room, and if you rent a room pack in as many people as you can. Get your equipment used rather than new, and buy reliable products based on longevity rather than style.

When searching for lodging, there are two ways to approach saving money – looking for inexpensive places to stay or finding places that include lift tickets, rentals or other perks. For the former, it’s best to look at towns in Maine with proximity to the mountains, as long as you don’t mind a bit of a drive. Oxford, Farmington, Auburn and Augusta are all within an hour’s drive of excellent skiing, but don’t have the price tag of on-hill lodging or resort-adjacent towns like Kingfield or Bethel. For all-inclusive deals, it’s best to book either directly with the mountain or with a package agent like SnowPak.com. If you know exactly what you’re seeking for your entire party, you can often pick up a ski-and-stay package a la carte for far less than than they’d usually cost.

In either case, your best bet is to book midweek if possible, and book early.

Discount-ticket marketplace Liftopia, co-founded by New Englander and Colby grad Evan Reece, offers tickets at a steep discount if you’re willing to buy in advance and aim for less-popular days on the hill. A quick perusal of resorts on the site shows discounts of more than 50 percent on day tickets at biggies Sunday River and Sugarloaf, and even bigger savings at other New England resorts.

Most resorts now also offer deals if you buy tickets in advance directly from them, without the need for a middleman. Buying online nets a pretty steep discount – a peek at February and March lift tickets at Sugarloaf, for example, shows rates of $15 to $30 off the window price of $99 on most days, even during vacation weeks. Sunday River offers similar discounts for online purchases. At Mt. Abram, buying online can cut the day ticket price by 10 to 20 percent.

Discounts aside, it’s also worth just thinking about the disparity between lift-ticket prices at Maine’s mountains. At the smaller community resorts, you trade sheer numbers – acreage, lifts, trails, amenities – for a much less expensive ticket. At all but four of Maine’s resorts, a weekend day ticket is less than $50. At most, tickets fall in the $30 to $45 range for an adult, but there are a couple significant exceptions. The best deal in Maine skiing remains Powderhouse Hill in South Berwick – you can get a day ticket any time this season for just $5 (cash only).

If you’re a frequent skier and don’t mind tying your fortunes to a mountain or two, a season pass remains the best way to stretch your skiing dollar. While the prices – usually ranging from $500 to more than $1,000 – can seem daunting at first blush, a pass can pay for itself many times over if you’re skiing every week. Even the most expensive pass in the state (Sugarloaf’s Gold-Plus New England Pass, at a cool $1,645) pays for itself after two weeks of skiing. When I was a college student, it was always a fun game to see how much I could ski, and just how far I could spread out the cost of my Student Pass. For the record, I think my roommates and I got it down to about three bucks a day.

If you’re looking to invest in gear rather than rent it – not a bad idea if you plan on skiing a lot – one of the best ways to save money is to buy used, either from individuals or from the rental/demo fleets at ski shops. Just as the cost of a car drops significantly as soon as it leaves the lot, a slightly used set of skis can be hundreds of dollars less than a new pair. If you’d like to work with the experts at a ski shop to find your perfect equipment, timing can be more important than any other factor. Aim to buy at the end of the season, when shops are clearing out inventory for summer sports or next year’s models.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

[email protected]

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