Sunday, July 27, 2008

Can't afford a mountain home? A ski lease may be the way to go.

Before children we skied nearly every weekend during the winter. We went to all the resorts surrounding Lake Tahoe. We took trips to Utah, Colorado, etc.. We free skied...we did recreational racing. We skied enough we had a rotation schedule for new gear. We were young and the California housing market was peaking, so just owning our primary residence was a big step for us. And we were younger and didn't mind getting up before sunrise and driving 2 hours to catch first chair.

But now we have two small children. One who started tackling the blues at the end of last season and the later stood and walked on skis about three times last season. We are excited to be introducing the children to this sport we love, but these little people have sleep schedules and feeding schedules to attend to. How do we balance that, their learning the sport, our our needs for fresh powder, first tracks, and newly laid corduroy. How do we meet every one's needs without having the funds or really even the desire to own a second home in the mountains?

Ski Lease or sometimes referred to as a seasonal rental.

This is exactly what it sounds like. You rent or lease someone else' property for the season...generally 4 or 5 months. These can be houses, condos, town homes, etc.. Generally these are located through property management companies. It is a middle man basically between you and the owners. They take care of showing the property, drawing up the contract, collecting and distributing money (including some utilities), and the go to for moving into the property, any issues while there, and moving out of the property. These companies generally take a percentage of the rent to pay their services. However, you can also find properties being offered directly from the owner. It's more work for the owner and you want to ensure everything is still very business-like in contracts, etc, but it costs them and therefore potentially you less money as there is no middle man to pay. Craig's List and Vacation Rentals by Owner are two popular sites to find properties being offered by the owner directly.

Literally this past Friday we went to Tahoe and with a property management agent looked at several properties and placed a deposit on one. This is after beginning our search via the Internet right after the July 4th holiday. So I thought it would be a good time to share some things we considered when looking for a property and having small children...oh and a dog.
  • Timing: Property owners generally start listing after the July 4 holiday. The heavy booking period is from then until ~Labor Day. If you need a pet-friendly property you want to look early and quickly. These tend to be few and go fast. And many of us with small children followed that old tradition...try a dog before children. So we have a dog.
  • Location: With small children proximity to the hill is very important. Due to those nap, feeding, etc schedules the ability for parents to trade off or roll-out when a melt-down starts is very important. Last year we were lucky and could walk to the hill in 10minutes...this year we can drive there in a couple of minutes and also have a shuttle stop 3 doors down. Also careful of the topography of the place you choose...will it be treacherous either driving in or out or getting the children into or out of the house.
  • Amenities: Laundry, Proper amount and layout of bedrooms (we like multiple levels to put the children away from the high traffic or socialization areas for sleeping), microwave, safety with regards to lay-out or design (i.e. open lofts). Honestly...look at it as if it was your home as you will be spending a huge amount of time there during the winter season. Last year we spent 3o nights...and we are guessing 40+ days between Dec1 and the end of April at our lease.
  • Price: Generally the price quoted only covers the rent. You will need to ask about other bills...utilities, snow removal, cable/phone, security deposit, etc.. Also ask about payments schedules...month to month, all upfront, 2x during lease period. Also any processing fees. For example generally a credit report is required in the application process and will run you about $25. Another way to help your budget is to get another family to join you. This year we are excited to be sharing a lease with some good friends who have a small child.

So if you were a huge skier before children you can still do it with small children without paying a second mortgage. You still obviously need to budget and save for a ski lease. But for our family who do a lot of traveling and enjoy our primary residence during the other seasons of the year it makes sense for us to have a ski lease. And by getting on it early we got a dog-friendly home that met all or our requirements and our budget and we can return to enjoying the remainder of our summer knowing we have a place to lay our little ones heads when the snow begins to fly.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

We have a fish in our midst

Our daughter has been a Finding Nemo fan since 9months old when my husband/her father won her a stuffed Nemo at the local county fair by bouncing ping pong balls off glass plates and into fish bowls. Once she could watch the movie she did...always asking about the divers, their masks, etc.. And the 2nd and 3rd birthdays have been Nemo-themed.

Now at nearly 4 years session of Mommy and me swim classes at ~9mos old, 1 set of very expensive privates and 2 not so expensive privates at ~age 2, and local community service district group lesson at 3 and a half...our daughter took off swimming. I am not sure what worked best lessons, expensive privates, but I can tell you the fact that we have a pool and are in it a lot is what most contributed to her swimming without any flotation aid at such an early age.

This fall we have a trip planned to Turks and of the #1 dive spots in the world. We are very excited about it. But we got to thinking now with her swimming ability...could she potentially snorkel there and fullfill her Nemo fantasy. So this weekend I went out to Target and found a cheap Speedo set which size-wise was aimed at 3-5 year olds and included a snorkel, mask, and fins. We decided we would just let her play around over the next few months leading up to our trip and see if she got it.

The first time in she didn't quite get it...still lifting her head out of the water when she needed a breath, but taking her breath through her snorkel. Then on day two my husband got out his snorkel and mask and showed her how it was done...actually sitting with her on our 3' deep step and making funny faces. Within about 15minutes she was cruising all over the pool with her head down.

Now we do have some issues...she is quite excited in her breathing pattern, so we need to get her relaxed. But she also does not have the lung capacity it seems to blow out the water that gets into her snorkel. Also that 3-5year old mask...well it still does not create the greatest seal around her face. So our next step is contacting some friends who own a local scuba shop, FishEye Scuba, and see if we can get better fitting gear and a snorkel with two feature:
  1. Purge Valve: This is usually a one-way flap at the bottom. Its purpose is to let the water fall through this valve when the diver surfaces. The water in the snorkel will fall to the level of the ocean's surface.
  2. Anti-Splash Guard: Its purpose is to prevent water from entering the top of the snorkel from waves, spray, etc..

We're very excited as we know PADI offers programs starting at 8years old, Bubblemakers, Seal Team. At age 10-14 a child may qualify for the PADI Junior Open Water Diver and 15 for Open Water Diver. And then there are exciting programs such as the National Geographic Diver Program that really can enhance a child's appreciation for the underwater life and it's conservancy.

Our daughter has just begun to open the door to an exciting underwater world...and we hope she will meet a real Nemo soon.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Buy Closeout Winter Gear NOW & Save BIG!

It was a scorching 110 degress in NorCal yesterday and the sun burned a bright orange and I could barely make out my neighbor's house due to all the smoke in the air. So with the unhealthy air advisories I was stuck indoors, so I turned to a past-time so many of us gals OK, I wasn't browsing on-line for a new pair of sassy shoes, but perhaps the bargains I did find will allow me to do that. See I was cruising the gear sites for the 2007 close-out winter items.

My family is major skiers which already is an expensive sport. And we do it enough it makes sense we have our own gear. But now add on top the fact you are turning over gear nearly yearly with growing children...and my hopes of buying gender neutral items so they can be shared between my son and daughter is being quickly being extinguished by the fact that my boy is off the charts in height right now and his little noggin is up at the 90th.

So tis the season for ski gear shopping...especially those items that are redesigned on a yearly basis. Retailers are pushing these out the door at bargain basement prices right now to make room for the new models.

So major score yesterday...via Sierra Trading Post...a Giro Recruits Snowsports helmet for $27...regularly $60...on sale for $34.95...and then I had a 20% off promo code. Always, always do a google search for promo codes for the site you are looking to buy from. While we are on the subject the best site for helmet info is

So I know it sounds really crazy when everyone is hitting the pool to be shopping for cold weather gear, but now is the time to score the bargains. Check out my gear on the go links for some good retailers and do a little shopping for your upcoming ski season needs now and save big!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Woo-hoo road trip success!

We journeyed about 2hr45min drive time to the southeast and the Santa Cruz mountains (home of banana slugs) nearly at the top of Highway 17 to celebrate the 4th of July with friends. As always we put some thought into our travel plan. We generally opt to travel during the afternoon when both our children nap, but this time we changed it up a bit as the festivities were due to start that afternoon. So we left during my son's AM nap. It took him a bit to get there, but he did just over an hour nap.

After about 20 minutes of being awake he realized it was lunch time, so we stopped as we generally do. This serves a couple of purposes other than getting food in our bodies and taking bio breaks. My daughter tends to get car sick, so it gives her a break and some fresh air and it gives my highly active son a chance to stretch his legs. We generally pack lunch in a small cooler. We are not regular fast food eaters and by giving my daughter food she is used to on a daily basis it assists with her nausea. However, if there is not a rest stop or park to stop at we will choose a fast food establishment we know has outdoor seating. Then to not feel as though we are abusing their hospitality go in and purchase a diet drink.

Back on the road and a movie later and we are at our destination. Yes, we do have a portable DVD player. Unfortunately we don't have a great recommendation of one to buy. Reason being...our road is very bump and we have managed to shake 3 systems to unusable. So my husband being a MacGyver of sorts now has two screens (one for each child) rigged up to play movies off our IPod nano. So no more skipped DVD players and no more dvd boxes cluttering the floor.

On our return home we did drive during those afternoon naps. My children are quite tall as I have mentioned in other blogs. Another must-have for our daughter and soon our son is a footrest. As our daughter grew she started complaining about leg tingling...this completely solved that. She generally takes a stuffed animal or her travel pillow to assist with head support when she sleeps. She happens to have one from REI, but I have never been disappointed with products from Leaps and Bounds either.

One more tidbit I will leave you with...especially if you get tired of picking Cheerios or Goldfish crackers out of the cracks in their seats....the snack trap.

So we made it up and back...with everyone getting their naps. Mom and Dad getting some peace and quiet. And no one having a melt-down. Woo-hoo!