How to ski and snowboard without buying a lift ticket

Skiing and snowboarding can often give off an air of being only for the elite. Equipment is expensive, food and lodging can cost a small fortune and the price of lift tickets has skyrocketed over the last two decades.

However, even with all of these increasing costs, there is a strong community of snowboard enthusiasts who avoid the inflated price tags and reach amazing riding on their own terms.

Bootpackin' it to the approach. Photo: Lukas Neasi/Unsplash
Bootpackin’ it to the approach. Photo: Lukas Neasi/Unsplash

Accessing world-class terrain outside of the relative safety of resorts is not a beginner’s game. Anyone who decides to venture into the backcountry should have all of the necessary avalanche and backcountry equipment, and have taken terrain-assessment and avalanche-rescue courses.

Basic education, training and gear, while an investment, are small barriers of entry to help assure that you’ll never have to pay to play again.

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For those who are ready to leave crowded, expensive resorts behind, check out one of these amazing ways to access the mountains without purchasing a lift ticket.

Splitboard or skin up

Splitboarding has become all the rage, and for once, snowboarding stole an idea from skiing (hehe) on how to access powder without paying an arm and a leg for a lift ticket. A splitboard is much like a traditional snowboard, except it is cut, or “split,” down the middle, allowing snowboarders to ski, or “skin,” up the mountain.

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When the rider reaches the top of their desired line, they essentially clip their board back together using specially designed hardware and adjustable bindings.

Skiing’s version (also referred to as alpine touring) also relies on skins (adhesive strips that attach to the bottom surface of the skis to provide traction against the snow). Alpine touring bindings are also adjustable, allowing for comfort when climbing steep or mellow inclines.

Fire up a snowmobile

A photo posted by Devun Walsh (@devwalsh) on

The costs of both entry and maintenance for a proper backcountry snowmobile (or “sled,” as they are commonly referred to) can be quite steep. However, the amount of untouched powder that they can access is unrivaled — unless you own your own helicopter or snowcat.

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While they are costly and require a truck and trailer, they can rapidly pay themselves off in lift-ticket expenses, especially if you or someone you know can handle the wrenching. The snowmobile is a favorite among professional skiers and snowboarders who rely on backcountry access for their jobs, and, as most pros learn, they’re pretty fun once you stop getting stuck every few hundred yards.

Strap on snowshoes

For quick and easy hikeable terrain, the snowshoe is a great way to access backcountry zones far from the resort. Snowshoes fit onto the bottom of your boots and allow you to hike up with your board or skis strapped to your pack.

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While alpine touring might be more efficient for long traverses, snowshoes are great for short approaches and steep terrain. Another benefit of snowshoes is that you can ride your everyday snowboard and bindings, as some people prefer this to riding splitboards.

Build your own park

A photo posted by JP Walker (@therealjp) on

Before resorts allowed snowboarding, there was only one way to ride freestyle, and that was to build some features on the side of a hill. That spirit has continued through the generations, as setting up a rail, jump or picnic table is one of the best ways to fuel the stoke when you have the lift-ticket blues.

So find a golf course, park, backyard or anything with an incline, set up a jib line and pretend you’re one of the original Forum 8 as you press and slide your way to the bottom.

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