Have you eaten at a ski lodge lately? The prices have gotten beyond ridiculous. Four dollars for a soda? Twenty dollars for a burger and fries? It's out of hand.
It's not like most of these places are serving gourmet food. They're serving inexpensive pizza for $5 - $10 USD ($7 - $15 AUD) per slice. They're serving a burger no better than any standard fast food chain, but they're charging $15 USD ($22 AUD). It's insane. Some resorts do genuinely serve great food, but that food comes with an even higher price tag.
Unfortunately, prices aren't decreasing. Last year, I heard a man complaining to his wife that he'd 'paid $60 USD ($87 AUD) for this'. It was a mediocre meal for 2 people.
We can't expect ski resorts to lower prices. Their food sales make them a hefty profit. So, instead of relying on them for food, we have to go elsewhere. Fortunately, depending on your chosen resort, you have a few options.
Pack Your Own Food
One option is to bring your own food. If you're staying in a resort hotel, it will probably have a kitchen. Some of them even have access to a grill. You can pack a ton of food in a cooler, store it in the room's refrigerator, and eat there. If you're flying into town, buy food at the supermarket and do the same thing. If you pass through a city on the way to the resort town, shop there. It'll drive down the cost even further.
A lot of people don't like cooking. It's one of the last things they want to do on vacation. You don't need to make every meal. Relax. Go out to dinner. If you're willing to make even a few breakfasts and lunches, it could easily save you a few hundred dollars.
A typical breakfast and lunch for one person can easily reach $50 USD ($73 AUD) on the mountain. A couple turkey sandwiches and some cereal costs less than $5 USD ($7 AUD). Protein bars or granola bars are also a great choice. They fit perfectly into pockets and prevent you and your kids from getting hungry. Pack your lunches and spend the money elsewhere on something you value more.
It's a vacation and you should feel entitled to splurge, but even a couple days of cooking can make a huge difference. If you make breakfast and lunch for a family of 4 on even one day of your trip, you've already saved around $100 USD ($145 AUD).
Don't Forget Drinks
Some of the most overpriced items at a ski resort are the drinks. Bottled drinks cost three times what they do at the local shop. Beer? Plan to pay $8 USD ($12 AUD) for a domestic can.
If you pack your own drinks in the cold of winter, consider bringing an insulated pack. Your body heat might be enough to keep them from freezing, but you might open your pack to a few bricks of ice.
Look into getting a Camelbak and keep refilling the bladder all day. It will last long past your ski trip and into your summer activities. Make sure you get an insulated tube. On a sub-zero day, I've had my Camelbak tube freeze solid on a 5 minute chairlift ride.
If you're going to one of the really large resorts, you probably have a few options for food on the mountain. Most of the nation's larger resorts have multiple restaurants and some restaurants have better deals than others.
One restaurant might serve a plate of chilli fries for $10 USD ($15 AUD) that can feed two kids. Another might have a great deal on sandwiches. On your first day, explore the mountain not only for good runs, but also for good food. If you pass by a lodge you haven't entered, go inside, reapply sunscreen, and check out the menu.
One menu option that's usually a win: the salad bar. Depending where you are, it has a wide variety of options and they often charge by the plate. Load the plate high and share it between two people.
Eat in Town
A couple resorts have fairly direct access to attached ski towns. If you're hungry and at the base of the mountain anyway, this is a great alternative to restaurants on the mountain.
Lock up your skis, loosen your boots, and walk to the restaurant across the street from the lowest lift. It probably won't be cheap, but it will likely be a lot less expensive than anything higher up. The food's usually better and you can help to support some small, local eatery.
It's Your Money, Spend It Your Way
Ski vacations are expensive. All the different factors quickly add up to a small fortune, but you can always find ways to reduce costs and food is one of the easiest costs to cut.
Most mountain food isn't even that great, it just costs a fortune. By making a couple sandwiches and buying some drinks, you could easily afford a couple nice massages or even another day of skiing.