Words: Taylor Boyd
Illustration: Colleen McGuire

We don’t condone them all, and you should always know before you go, but here are a few options to battle buying lift tickets around the world.

Hike — legal

Put one foot in front of the other. It's the oldest form of fighting gravity. It's also the slowest. But it works. Certain regions have great zones right off a main road where you can build and session a feature. Once you've got a bootpack set, you're just climbing a set of stairs. For longer missions, snowshoes make the process easier, and no matter what, you'll feel accomplished when you get to the top.

Hitchhike — usually legal

Think how many ski areas require a trip over a mountain pass. You're driving past potential snowboarding—often less tracked than what's waiting at the lifts. In between switchbacks are potential runs to lap, and many roads like those in Colorado over Berthoud and Loveland Passes and the access road to Mt. Baker in Washington have routes you can shuttle. Many times these areas, though accessible, warrant backcountry equipment and knowledge, so keep that in mind.

Clip tickets — illegal

Show up to the mountain no earlier than 11; the number of potential targets increases with each hour that passes. Post up away from any affiliate of the resort, and be inconspicuous. When you see someone who appears as though they're done for the day, kindly inquire as to whether that is indeed the case. If they say yes, ask them nicely if you can have their ticket. Appearances are important. Look presentable, and don't approach people who look like squares. It's best to ignore them and not draw unnecessary attention to yourself. Be someone others want to help out. Don't walk up to people smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. That said, if you've got some beer, hand a couple over if you get a ticket.

We aren’t sure if this is legal. Brady Lem // PHOTO: Andy Wright

Snowboard in town — sometimes legal

A downward slope anywhere with temps that drop below freezing is a potential spot for snowboarding. Parks and golf courses, hills and backyards—they're all plausible. Hiking and sessioning is the quickest way to learn tricks. Once you find a zone, get some buds and get to work. Remember, the best snowboard footage doesn't come from resorts, so start documenting. Downhill runs in-town provided the venue for much of the footage in Louif Paradis' new movie, Beacon.

Shuffle — illegal

The shuffle requires that you know others who do have valid passes or tickets. It only works at certain resorts, in specific scenarios, and it requires finesse. Get in line just behind the rest of the crew, blending in with the group to follow, in some sort of purgatory between your friends and these strangers. The squad in front with should have at minimum one fewer than the amount of seats on the lift—three if it's a quad, for example. When they call "front row!" and your less sketchy pals move into the queue, this your cue. Slide on up there with 'em, confident and inconspicuous.

Sledding with the best of them. The DC crew in Whistler // PHOTO: Andy Wright

Find someone with a sled — legal

Love 'em or hate 'em, snowmobiles are, seven times out of ten, the most efficient mode of backcountry travel. They're also damn expensive and a real bitch to deal with—much like children. So if you can find a friend who's willing to let you double up on theirs, it's like being the cool, childless aunt or uncle; you can reap the benefits without the responsibility of ownership. If you want to make this a repeat scenario, make sure to compensate anyone who's gracious enough to take you out, somehow.

Borrow a pass — illegal

Simple enough. Ask one of your friends to use their pass for the day. Or the week. Like all of the illegal strategies on this list, the efficacy of this one is dependent upon the resort, but of course how much you resemble the photo on the pass is the other factor. If you've ever used a fake ID with someone else's info, the strategies are similar. Make sure you know their birthdate and street address; even info like how long they've been a passholder for can be valuable, just in case.

Find an unattended chair — illegal

Many resorts don't check tickets at lifts that don't leave from the base. If you can identify an unattended mid-mountain chair, you just need to figure out a way to inconspicuously get to the bottom of it. Hiking is one option, but again, you've got to be low-key. A temporary implementation of the aforementioned pass-borrowing strategy can also get you there. But once you're up, you're up. Don't plan on going to the base of mountain until you're done for the day.

Splitboard — legal

A snowboard that splits into skis, with bindings that attach and reattach is a ridiculous concept, but it works. There's no more efficient way of getting up so you can get down. Lift tickets, and even season passes, are variable costs that require an investment daily or yearly. Once you drop in on a splitboard and the necessary backcountry equipment to accompany it, you're set for seasons. Compared with resorts riding, you'll deal with less crowds and get more exercise. It's hard to knock that.

Pay off a ticket-checker — illegal

The gatekeeper to most resorts is someone who, in reality, probably doesn't care much whether you have a legitimate lift ticket. They're certainly not getting rich doing what they're doing; their main incentive for keeping you off the hill is that they can get an extra bit of cash on their next paycheck for finding a fraudulent pass. If the situation is right, i.e. there's not a ton of people in line, approach one that looks friendly and down for the cause. Ask if you can toss them a small sum of cash to ride for the day. Beer and weed are also common forms of currency in the ski area microcosm.

Get a job at a resort — legal

You could be that gatekeeper, taking beers in exchange for granted lift access. There are endless seasonal, and full-time, opportunities at resorts; turn screws at the rental shop, teach people to snowboard, serve overpriced food to strangers. By working at a ski area, you'll get a free pass and likely ride more in a season than you ever have or will. You'll also meet friends from around the world and learn every trick to existing in the mountains on a shoestring budget. These tricks will serve you for years to come, as you continue to cut corners and costs from snowboarding.