The price tag on skiing doesn't need to be black-diamond scary. To keep to your budget, stay local. Thirty-nine states, even as far south as Alabama and Arizona, have ski centers, so you may have a mountain close enough for a day trip, an ideal way to get kids started. Find one at skiresortguide.com, and opt for a smaller venue, especially if you're new to the sport. Many of the large, well-known resorts have excellent expert trails, but it's not worth paying the extra costs to just stick to the bunny slopes. "Almost all ski areas, large and small, have beginner terrain for folks still learning to ski or snowboard, and as long as there's a strong teaching program, your child can have a great experience," says Evan Reece, cofounder of the discount lift-ticket service Liftopia.com. Plus, smaller ski centers mean less walking with your kids and gear in tow.
Next, do your homework. Call resorts and check their websites and social-networking sites to see what deals they have. For example, rentals, lessons, lunch, and more are sometimes grouped together, often for less than the price of a lesson. If you live somewhere with lots of mountains, there may be special incentives for state residents, such as in New York, where fourth-graders can ski free. Plus, end-of-season skiing means cost breaks, like half-price lift tickets for warmer (read: kid-friendly) days in March and April. Even if your kid's too young to ski, most resorts have child care comparable to the price of a babysitter, with day-care facilities built right on the slopes so you can stop by in between runs to check in.