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Ski Country's Biggest Secret: The Ski Lease

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Before photo from Snow.com; After photo from Thinkstock

In honor of Renter's Week, Curbed Ski is letting you in on one of the best-kept secrets in the ski world: the ski lease. Like summer rentals in the Hamptons, the ski lease provides renters with lodging for a short, seasonal lease, usually December to April. A ski lease allows skiers to avoid traffic, grab first chair on powder days, and hit the après scene hard. Some families rent a seasonal ski property by themselves, but more and more, friends are teaming up to cut costs. Know two other families who love to ski as much as you do? Rent a three-bedroom for the season and you have guaranteed ski buddies and can save a ton of dough. Skiers in the Tahoe area have been doing this for decades, but it hasn't caught on elsewhere. Any place with a large commuting ski population (Colorado, Utah, New York, and the Northwest) should take note: for as little as $150 per month you could have the best ski season ever.

Here's the definitive guide to scoring a ski lease (and first tracks!) all season:

1. Team up with your friends: The key to making a ski lease affordable is to share the costs with your closest friends. Have a crew of die-hard skiers who shred it up every weekend? This is exactly who you want to have as partners in your ski lease.

2. Decide on the house environment: If you want to party hard all season, don't invite your friends with a new baby. Likewise, be honest about what other potential renters want to do in the mountains. The easiest way to ruin your new rental is to have people whose priorities don't align with yours.

3. Decide on a budget: Some ski leases can be extraordinarily cheap, but remember, you get what you pay for. You can pay as low as $100 per month if you're willing to cram a house full and have people sleep on couches. Families might each pay $400-$500 per month for a four-bedroom house, but this is still a steal compared to vacation rentals. Costs are usually per person or per bedroom.

4. Pay attention to rental amenities: Some people want the convenience of ski-in/ski-out, others are fine with cheaper lodging in town. Make sure to ask about hot tubs, whether there is wifi available, and if there is laundry on site.

5. Make a contract: Regardless of how much you're spending or whether you are sharing a ski lease with your best friend, make a contract.

6. Schedule your time: Be clear on when people can use the house. Some ski leases will divide the time according to weekend or weekday traffic, with people paying more for the weekend nights. It can also work to split up the weekends, with families each getting a certain number of nights for the entire ski lease. If you want to be able to stay whenever you want, make sure you split the lease with other families who feel the same way.

7. Finding a rental: The best time to find a ski lease rental is late October and November (so now!). Renters in the Tahoe area should check out websites like SnowPals. Outside of California it can be more difficult to find rental properties advertising ski leases. Check out Craigslist and search "ski lease" or "ski season rental." Another alternative is to approach lodging owners who advertise on VRBO or AirBnB and ask them if they would consider a ski lease. Owners can make a lot more money renting their properties per night. But many owners like the guaranteed income and hassle-free components of a ski lease. You can also offer to hold off on starting the ski lease until January, allowing owners to still collect top dollar nightly rentals during the holidays.