Budget Friendly North America & Canada Family Ski Season

As the first snowflakes begin to fall and the crisp, cold air heralds the arrival of winter, our family embarked on an unforgettable journey across stunning snow-covered landscapes on a of a North America & Canada Family Ski Season. For five months, we sent ourselves headfirst into the joys of the snow season, experiencing everything we could including teaching our 6 year old daughter to snowboard.

Our adventure started in Park City, Utah and ended in Whistler, British Columbia Canada.

This blog will give you all the information you need for a season in the North America and Canada snow resorts. We will summarize the resorts we went to, give you our best budget saving tips and all the logistics we went through to make this season, the most memorable possible.

Join us as we navigate the challenges of long-term travel, balance work and home schooling on the road, and savour the simple pleasures of life in a winter wonderland. From the exhilaration of fresh powder on a ski run to the quiet beauty of a snow-covered forest, we invite you to share in the magic of our snowy adventure.

Welcome to our family’s journey through a North America & Canada Family Ski Season – a time of exploration, connection, and pure winter joy.

  • Number of Days in USA & Canada: 136
  • Number of Days on the slopes snowboarding: 82

Gear and arriving at the snow

We bought all our soft gear in Spain in our last week in Europe as we could get decent Europe quality gear at cheaper prices than what we could get in the USA. We looked online at the snow gear shops to compare and the prices were at least 1/3 cheaper. Especially with the Aussie Dollar being so poor to the USD, plus we could claim the VAT (tax like GST) back as we were leaving the EU within the time period. Also due to our transport being a Transatlantic Cruise (Read all about our Transatlantic Cruise here), we didn’t have any luggage limits, so that was really convenient.

We purchased our boards, bindings and boots in the USA at a chain snow store. This was purely so that if we had any warranty issues we could ‘relatively easily’ get that sorted. This did cost us a little more than we could have paid but we wanted that security, as it is a lot of money.

We have all the soft gear still, and Dan & my boards, binding and boots. We donated Aria’s board, boots and bindings to a thrift store in Whistler as there is plenty of life left in them, but she has outgrown them in the season, so no use to us now, another little shredder can get some use out of them!

You can also get all of your snow gear from Thrift shops in the snow areas. We did meet a family who bought all their gear 2nd hand in Thrift Shops and spent less than half what we did, but we also didn’t really want to have to sift through lots of stores and risk not getting the correct gear or gear that will last the 5 months of a North America & Canada Family Ski Season.

Transport

We arrived to Salt Lake City via airplane, and hired a car. We hire our cars through DiscoverCars.com . We only needed a car for the first couple of days, to get our gear to the resort accommodation at the base of Park City Mountain, get groceries and to go to the Snow Gear shop to fit our boards, boots and bindings. After a couple of days, Dan returned the car to Salt Lake City and caught the FREE bus back to Park City (Took about 50 minutes, starts from the train station in Salt Lake City, and you have to change busses at the interchange at Kimball Junction). Once we were at Park City, we didn’t need a car, everything was within walking distance or even the free bus routes.

We did however pick up another rental car, when we changed accommodation to Heber City (more on accommodation below) and again while we were at NorthStar and Heavenly.

While we were at Whistler Blackcomb, we only had a hire car for the first 2 days for arrival with our gear and getting settled as again we were staying in the village, within walking distance to everything we needed. Dan then returned it to Vancouver and caught the bus ($45) back up for the remainder of our time.

Ski Resorts we visited and why (Ranked order):

Our choices of ski resorts were made for a few reasons. We purchased the EPIC Season Pass (more on that below) so we were only going to go to those included on the pass on our North America & Canada Family Ski Season. We then looked at some information about the different resorts, their sizes, variety of runs and difficulty, family friendly, accommodation prices to stay at different resorts/ nearby, and transport between them. We highlighted a few we would love to visit and explore and tried to put those on the research first list. Dan and I have previously been to Whistler Blackcomb and we knew it was a must on our to do list. Dan then got to work piecing together accommodation at various resorts, ruling out those that were simply out of accommodation budget or those resorts that were too difficult to get to. Places like Heavenly also have minimum stay restrictions so that had to be taken into account.

1. Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada

Nestled in the heart of British Columbia, Whistler Blackcomb is North America’s largest ski resort, offering over 8,000 acres of skiable terrain across two majestic mountains and over 200 runs. Renowned for its diverse runs, from gentle groomers to challenging double black diamonds, it attracts skiers and snowboarders of all levels. The vibrant village at the base of the mountains boasts world-class amenities, dining, and nightlife, making it a premier winter destination that combines adventure and luxury seamlessly.

The views, the vibes, the mountains, the village, there just isn’t anything else like Whistler Blackcomb. From the moment you arrive, until the moment you leave, you are all smiles and living your best life. The lifts just work on the mountain, the logistics and flow doesn’t miss a beat and it is just simply above all the other resorts we have experienced in every way.

Whistler is the Mountain for Kids! There are so many amazing areas for kids at Whistler Blackcomb, we had a goal to tick them all off for Aria bit by bit!

The areas are:

  • Magic Castle, yep a castle in the forest area, between some runs, with slide, bridges and towers.
  • Tree Fort, a tree house style adventure playground with slides and lookout platforms.
  • The Enchanted Forest, a fun narrow track style tree run designed for kids
  • Juicy Jumps, where kids can learn to do some small jumps of different styles
  • Sea to Sky Railway, another safe tree narrow tree run
  • Family learning zones and child specific runs such as Bear Cub
  • Innukshuk’s (these are for everyone and link back to the culture of the area) but they’re great for the kids to locate as they explore
  • Wooden sculptures dotted around to find
  • Bear statues and historic information.

Probably the one thing that they are missing is more in the beginner terrain park. There was only 1 box for Aria to do (the others she wasn’t ready for) and it was in amongst a lot of other obstacles so more advanced people were around making her uncomfortable.

There is so much to do on and off the mountain at Whistler Blackcomb. There are many free events such as the Fire and Ice Show, you can watch the professionals in Bobsleigh, Skeleton and Luge at the Whistler Sliding Centre, take a free mountain tour, and go for lake walks to Lost Lake, just to name a few.

Favourite Runs on Whistler Mountain:

  • Aria: Rhapsody Bowl and Upper Dave Murray Downhill
  • Dan: Whistler Bowl and Jeff’s Ode to Joy
  • Manda: Adagio and Crab Apple

Blackcomb Mountain Favourite Runs:

  • Aria: Cloud Nine and Sunset Boulevard
  • Dan: Panorama (full) and Cruiser
  • Manda: Hugh’s Heaven and Blueline

This sums up our Favourite Ski Resort of our season. It was also our most expensive ski resort period of time.

2. Park City, Utah, USA

Located in Utah, Park City Mountain Resort is one of the largest ski areas in the United States, featuring over 7,300 acres of skiable terrain. Known for its well-groomed trails, diverse terrain parks, and family-friendly atmosphere, it’s a favorite among skiers and snowboarders. Park City’s charming downtown, rich in mining history, offers an array of shops, restaurants, and cultural events, including the famous Sundance Film Festival, providing a perfect blend of outdoor adventure and urban sophistication.

With 348 trails, spread across 7,300 acres and 8 mountain peaks, it’s USA’s largest ski resort and a skier’s paradise. The resort even hosted snowboarding events during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The resort boasts an impressive 1,200 snow guns. These high-tech marvels transform water into fluffy powder, creating pristine slopes even when Mother Nature is a bit stingy with snowfall which is what we have experienced unfortunately.

There are 2 areas of the Park City Mountain – Town side and Canyons (they are joined by a gondola but the terrain between the two is a little tricky), there is a free bus that you can catch to transport between the two, also.

This was our first stop for our snow season.

Favourite Runs & Level Reached:

Dan: Echo, Keystone | Level: black diamond

Aria: Echo, Prospector | Level: black diamond

Manda: Claim Jumper, Upper Harmony | Level: black diamond

3. Heavenly, California, USA

Two Words – Those Views

Situated on the stunning shores of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly Mountain Resort spans across California and Nevada, offering breath-taking panoramic views and a vast array of runs. With nearly 100 trails and some of the best tree skiing in the region, it caters to all skill levels. The resort’s unique position allows for a vibrant après-ski scene with casinos and entertainment on the Nevada side, adding an exciting twist to the traditional ski resort experience.

Heavenly is an interesting layout for a ski mountain, it features 2 different US states, California and Nevada and 3 different base areas, California Lodge, South Lake Tahoe and Nevada base. The different sides are joined by some trails and lifts, which was good but bad at the same time, as wind gusts could put the crossing lifts out of action for the day leaving you stuck in one area or needing to catch the free shuttle between bases.

Heavenly has multiple lodges to stop and eat at during the day on the mountain. On the Nevada side, the East Peak Lodge had great outdoor seating that we used regularly to have our sandwiches, noodles or Hot Chocolates. On the California side, the Sky Deck was nice outdoor seating in the forest. These both have bathrooms if you need them. There are a couple of other smaller ones too, but we didn’t really go to those areas (learner zones).

Favourite Runs & Level Reached:

~ Dan: Round-a-bout & Ridge Bowl Woods | Black Diamond

~ Manda: Canyon Trees & Big Dipper | Black Diamond

~ Aria: Aries Woods & Orion | Black Diamond

Bonus Fave Runs: Ridge Run & Canyonland

4. Northstar, California, USA

Located in North Lake Tahoe, California, Northstar California Resort is known for its family-friendly environment and upscale amenities. Featuring 3,170 acres of varied terrain, it’s ideal for both beginners and advanced skiers. The resort’s picturesque village offers luxury lodging, fine dining, and unique shops. Northstar is also famous for its exceptional terrain parks and meticulously groomed trails, making it a top choice for those seeking both adventure and comfort.

Northstar is a smaller resort with a small village at the base and only limited accommodation, however that means that it is a welcoming locals resort. In the village there are gear hire places, shops, restaurants and bars plus a skating rink, it has a lovely community vibe. It does also mean that you do have to drive, along with a lot of people so parking is available and quite a lot of it, however on weekend days with good snow it fills up early.

It is approximately the size of Perisher for any of our Aussie followers that have been there, with a good variety of runs lengths, styles and levels. The front side is mellow and intermediate friendly, the back side more expert (but we didn’t get to experience it as it was closed the days we went). We wouldn’t want to spend much more than a week at this ski mountain though, we think it would be a bit repetitive. There were good lifts, friendly staff but on busy days a couple of lifts were overloaded with crowds lapping the mid mountain runs. We didn’t eat here nor really use any of the services on the mountain, but going off the staff’s friendliness I am sure they were all good too.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Stump Alley Run which was our favourite powder day run. There was also some great tree runs and they had kids adventures zones with hidden animals to find as you went (unfortunately again the day we wanted to do this that area was closed).

It really is an all rounder mountain in a gorgeous area.

5. Kirkwood, California, USA

Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Kirkwood Mountain Resort is a paradise for advanced skiers and snowboarders. Known for its deep powder, challenging runs, and laid-back vibe, it offers 2,300 acres of high-alpine terrain that attracts thrill-seekers from all over. Kirkwood’s remote location ensures fewer crowds, providing a more intimate and rugged skiing experience. The resort’s natural beauty and challenging slopes make it a favourite for those looking to escape the more commercialized ski resorts.

We visited Kirkwood because it again was on the EPIC Season Pass and is only about 45 minutes drive from Heavenly, where we stayed for 30 days. We decided we wanted a change of scenery (& they had been getting more snow than Heavenly) so loaded the car and headed off for the day. The drive is stunning and the resort, interesting.

It is an older resort with older lifts and shorter runs, mostly suited to experienced/confident riders, with a lot of black runs. We zigzagged our way across the resort and back completing 10 runs and finding the terrain park at the end of the day for Aria. No injuries, and lots of fun, means a good day!

6. Stevens Pass, Washington State, USA

Located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, Stevens Pass Ski Resort offers a unique blend of challenging terrain and stunning natural beauty. With over 1,125 acres of skiable terrain and an annual snowfall of over 450 inches, it provides excellent conditions for both alpine skiing and snowboarding. The resort’s diverse runs and abundant tree skiing areas cater to all skill levels. Stevens Pass is known for its friendly, relaxed atmosphere and commitment to sustainability, making it a beloved destination for local and visiting skiers alike.

We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get back on the slopes at another resort on our season pass, so a day trip to Steven’s Pass while House Sitting in Seattle, was a great adventure.

Steven’s Pass is about 1.5 hours drive from Seattle and it was a beautiful drive! It is actually a section of the Cascade Scenic Loop, a popular scenic drive from Seattle which many people do over about 5 days.

We had fresh snow at the mountain both night before and during the day while there. It is a smaller and older mountain resort, but it had some great runs and views. We only did a few runs in the main area, before time to head home, as we didn’t want to leave Sunny (the dog we were looking after) for too long. Plus Aria was having a day and refused to come down one of the slopes.

Accommodation

Dan worked wonders in securing great accommodation (mostly Airbnb) but one hotel style lodge, in our budget in fabulous locations for our North America & Canada Family Ski Season. We did have a couple of gaps we needed to fill between which we turned to Trusted Housesitters for. We found some House Sits in close by locations to where we were, or where we wanted to be. We applied, went through the process and then were successful. This means that we looked after the home and pets of locals, in exchange for free accommodation and utilities. This is a fantastic exchange and it really helped bring the costs down over the season, as well as giving us more of a home feeling, with normal houses and kitchens and stuff! We also met some cool people, stayed in some epic houses (House in a forest on a lake in Canada!) and made friends with some amazing doggo’s. You too can Housesit for your holidays around the world (Create an account here to have a look around the site and if you sign up, use the code: OVERLAND for a 25% discount) here.

All of our accommodation had full kitchen facilities and 2 bedrooms, living space etc. We were staying for a minimum of 2 weeks (usually longer) so we wanted to be comfortable. This also helps with the budget, being able to cook almost all of our meals ourselves. More budget tips below.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance is a must and one that covers Snowsports when in the snow, is just as important. We use Safety Wing and they are brilliant. Their standard cover includes on piste snow sports and thankfully when I fractured my tailbone on day 3, they were really easy to deal with when needed.

Insurance in the USA was higher than in Canada (& in other parts of the world). With Safety Wing because we can do rolling policies or set timed ones, we did one set one for the USA and then when we crossed into Canada, we created a new policy for Canada (which is basically back to a standard (no USA Loading policy), it was super easy and we were covered for everything we needed. (Including non acrobatic skiing and snowboarding!)

Lift Tickets / Season Pass

For our North America & Canada Family Ski Season we are fortunate to get the Military Veteran family season pass. This is an approval process we had to apply for and thankfully it worked out. This was one of the deciding factors for us doing the season at the snow, this pass made it much more affordable for us, we are so fortunate that we could have this opportunity to introduce Aria to the world of snow and snowboarding, as you all agree, she is a natural. It also determined where we went for the season, making use of the pass. There are many other resorts in the USA & Canada, on and off the season pass, but we had to balance the cost of accommodation and transport to the other on pass locations too.

A normal season pass for an Aussie adult would cost $1149 (Epic Australia Pass) Kids under 5 are free, kids aged 5 are 17 cost $659). If we didn’t have the Military Veterans Pass the cost would have worked out at $36/day (82 Days) for the 3 of us. The full Epic Pass has a few extra perks for Japan and Europe. You can even use the Epic Australia Pass in the Aussie season following the Northern Hemisphere season.

If you just want to do a week or two at one location (we suggest Whistler cos it’s the best) you can get 5/7 or 7/10 passes too, which makes them much more affordable than daily tickets. This means you can go up the mountain for 5 days in a 7 day period, or 7 in 10.

The earlier you buy your season passes the cheaper they are, so if you know you are going to the snow, get organised early with your passes to save some coin.

Communication

As everyone does, we like to keep in touch with family and friends, stay in touch with each other etc so we need a way to do so. We always book accommodation with wifi (the speeds can vary and are out of our control) and we both have e-sims for the country we are in. In this case we had one for USA and one for Canada at the corresponding times. We buy our e-sims through MobiMatter and they have been brilliant all over the world in the last 12 months. Use DANIE24483 for a discount on your first sim! (Read more about e-sims here.)

Not communication pics, but waffles on Blackcomb mountain, I couldn’t not share them!

Budget Tips

  • We stayed in an Airbnb and Housesitting accommodation so we could do our own meals and washing, walk to the lift and everywhere we needed as much as possible. This means we didn’t pay for a car hire, fuel, parking, eating out too often, or washing at some of our stays. We also negotiated the price by filling a gap the host had at Whistler, we didn’t visit in peak season either to keep the costs a little lower.
  • We packed snacks and lunch. This consisted of things like left overs which we heated in the free microwave at the lodges on the mountain, noodles which we made with the free hot water in the lodges, microwave popcorn, a thermos of hot chocolate and other snacks.
  • At Whistler, each afternoon at the lodges between 2pm – 3:30pm, a hotdog and drink are $7 CAD, so that makes for a cheap lunch option if needed. Dan only did this twice. Other mountains and lodges might do something similar, but we didn’t try it out.
  • We also did almost all of our grocery shopping on the day we went to Whistler and Park City, at larger stores out of town while we had a car (before we returned it the next day). The prices are about 20% more in the grocery store in Whistler and Park City and the range not as big, so we only did the fresh top up groceries there.
  • We use Wise to transfer money around the world, as a Debit card to get cash out and also for everyday purchases. It’s the cheapest solution around to pay for things everywhere! You can check out Wise for yourself here.
  • Buying the season pass (which makes so much sense as a day pass tickets are soooo expensive) and bought all our own gear so we didn’t have to hire it (again makes sense for us as we have done the big trip). If you are only doing a short stint at the snow, look into the hire costs of gear, unless you have it already.

Costs:

Number of Days in USA & Canada: 136

  • Accommodation: $22,336
  • Hire Car / Fuel / Flights / Train: $6,500
  • Groceries: $6,817
  • Attractions / Aria’s Group Snowboard lesson / Eating Out: $1,514
  • Other (communications, insurance, etc): $1,807
  • Gear: $7,644
  • Lift Tickets: $786 (day cost ~ $10/day)

Breakdown of Costs for each resort:

  • Park City:

~ Number of Nights: 33 nights

~ Number of days on the mountain: Dan/Aria: 27, Manda: 21 (thanks to my fractured tailbone)

~ Accommodation: – 15nights at Park City Sweet Water Lift Lodge + 19 nights at House sit: Total: $2820

~ Car Hire: $1519

~ Groceries/Eating Out: $2045

~ Everything else (fuel, phones, insurance, Aria’s lesson, attractions, etc): $3410

Total Cost: $9,794 = 286.26/day

  • Northstar:

~ Number of nights: 7 nights

~ Days on Mountain: 4 days

~ Accommodation: $0

~ Car Hire:

~ Groceries/Eating Out:

~ Everything else (fuel, phone sims, insurances, attractions, etc etc):

Total cost:

  • Heavenly/Kirkwood:

~ Number of nights: 30 nights

~ Days on Mountain: 23 days

~ Accommodation: $7200

~ Car Hire: $1950

~ Groceries/Eating Out: $1337

~ Everything else (fuel, phone sims, insurances, attractions, etc etc): $3076

Total cost: $13563 = $452/day

  • Whistler Blackcomb:

~ Number of Nights: 33

~ Number of Days on mountain: 30 day

~ Accommodation: $12136

~ Hire Car / Transport/ Fuel: $272

~ Groceries / Eating Out: $1829.37

~ Attractions (not including lift tickets): $0

~ Other (communications, insurance, etc): $666

Total: ? = 414/day

Note:

  • Steven’s Pass not listed as it was just a one of day trip while at Seattle
  • The total costs above include the days before starting at the snow and the house sits and living costs while in Seattle and Salmon Arm, Canada, between snow stints.
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