Best Affordable Ski Resorts
Savvy skiers, listen up: This could just be your year to find great deals at some of America’s best ski resorts.
That’s because these winter hot spots are bracing for a rough season: The rising price of everything from fuel to food means it will cost the resorts a bundle to run their lifts and keep their hotels open. And because of the softening economy, resort bookings are down 20 percent or more this winter. The silver lining? This combination is spurring the mountains to create irresistible ski deals.
Many resorts are adding value to ski packages, offering a third or fourth night free, or lowering rates during the traditional slow times, like the month of January and spring. Resorts are also offering passes that can save you dough, like the Ski Salt Lake Super Pass (good for Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, or Solitude), which is good for one to six days of skiing and free round-trip transportation from downtown and suburban Salt Lake City, Utah.
But don’t wait for the resorts to make a deal — you can be proactive about planning an affordable ski trip this winter. Here are our suggestions:
Accommodations. Start by checking out a condo or a ski house, even if it’s just for a long weekend. A condo usually costs less per person than a hotel, and you’ll gain a kitchen, which means savings on meals. And skip the pricey slopeside lodgings. If, for example, Beaver Creek is on your must-ski list, look for accommodations in Avon, just two miles away, and use the new Riverfront Express Gondola to get to the slopes.
Airfare. If you can fly midweek, you’ll generally find lower fares to resort destinations. And while nonstop flights are faster, itineraries with connecting flights are often cheaper. Also, shop on Farecompare.com and other sites that show the price difference that one day can make. If the price of airfare, lodging, and transfers still seems daunting, turn to a ski tour operator like Ski.com for a package that bundles everything together — it can be the cheapest way to go.
Local Transportation. Do the math. Ski-town airports charge high rental rates in wintertime, and your "car" may well be an SUV — great for mountain driving, but a huge gas-guzzler. Instead, rely on airport shuttles. In Salt Lake City, Utah, that means All Resort, which charges $35 per adult (and $22 per child under 12) each way to Park City, a resort town that’s compact and walkable. Do the same in Whistler, Telluride, and Aspen, which are also served by airport shuttle companies.
Resorts. If you don’t have your heart set on one particular resort, you’ll find places that perennially offer more bang for your buck. Fortunately, these spots span the geographical range. Okemo, Vermont, for example, offers a Midwinter Value Weekend package where you’ll stay at Okemo Mountain Lodge (doubles from $275.50) for two weekend nights in a one-bedroom slopeside condo, including daily lift tickets.
Or choose to schuss down the most skiable acres in America — all 5,512 of them — at Big Sky, Montana and the adjacent Moonlight Basin, where children age 10 and under ski free. If you’re heading farther west, Heavenly, California offers a large lodging base with a variety of lesser-priced options.
Another draw at Heavenly is gambling, in the adjacent town of Stateline, Nevada. Win big, and it could be the best bargain ski vacation you’ve ever had.
Why Ski There: Often overlooked by those rushing up I-70 to somewhere else, Copper offers a compact ski village and a range of challenging terrain.
Why It’s a Bargain: At the base is a village of kitchen-equipped, condo-style units that encourage eating in. You can walk to the lifts (no car or shuttle needed), and you’re only two hours west of Denver International Airport, which is served by dozens of flights daily.
Where to Stay: A “silver level” condo like Creekside (doubles from $138) is a five-minute walk to American Eagle Lift.
More Info: www.coppercolorado.com
Park City, Utah
Why Ski There: Three great mountains within 15 minutes of each other—Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley and The Canyons—let you maximize your slope time.
Why It’s a Bargain: Easy air access to Salt Lake City, dozens of restaurant choices for all budgets, and major supermarkets for those stocking their condo for a week.
Where to Stay: Hundred of condos, in Park City and at the base of The Canyons, are up for grabs. VRBO.com is a good place to start hunting for bargains.
More Info: www.pcski.com
Why Ski There: Though just 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, Solitude is aptly named. The big dogs may head to nearby Alta and Snowbird, but the locals come here for powder and no lift lines in challenging terrain like Honeycomb Canyon.
Why It’s a Bargain: Deal-seekers sleep and eat in Salt Lake City, where lodging and dining is a fraction of the cost of a place slopeside. From there, take a Utah Transit Authority bus for just $9 round-trip, or get a Ski Salt Lake Pass for a better deal.
Where to Stay: Sleep in Salt Lake City at Little America (doubles from $109).
More Info: www.skisolitude.com
Big Sky, Montana
Why Ski There: In a word, terrain. Big Sky and the adjacent resort of Moonlight Basin share Lone Peak mountain, and with a combined total of 5,512 acres of terrain, it’s the most acreage in the United States. The only line you’ll find here is the one you carve down one of the Dictator Chutes on a powder morning.
Where to Stay: Huntley Lodge (doubles from $168) is on the slopes in the heart of the village. And check out the 320 Guest Ranch’s “Great Value Ski & Stay Package,“ where $77 gets you cabin accommodations, lift ticket, transportation to the shuttle, and continental breakfast.
More Info: www.bigsky.com
Taos, New Mexico
Why Ski There: Taos is a mountain that wears its Southwestern-cum-hippie heritage proudly. It has challenging terrain, snow that borders on great, azure blue skies, and remarkably few visitors. Some are put off by the three-hour drive from Albuquerque, but think of it as crowd control.
Where to Stay: The Columbine Inn (doubles from $150) is a few minutes by free shuttle to the slopes.
More Info: www.skitaos.org
Why Ski There: A taste of Europe without the transatlantic flight, and an easy drive from much of the Northeastern United States.
Why It’s a Bargain: In case you hadn’t noticed, the Canadian dollar has recently weakened 20 percent against the greenback, so a U.S. buck gets you $1.20 north of the border. So everything from fondue at La Savoie to crêpes at Crêperie Catherine is a steal this season.
Where to Stay: The Crystal Inn (doubles from $115, including breakfast) has fireplaces in each room, a hot tub, and is less than 10 minutes by car from Tremblant.
More Info: www.tremblant.ca
Why Ski There: It’s a massive mountain with 4,800 skiable acres, offering plenty of bang for your lift-ticket buck. And the views across the deep blue Lake Tahoe are arguably the best of any ski resort in North America.
Why It’s a Bargain: A large lodging base means you’ll have a variety of lesser-priced options. Harrah’s, one of the half-dozen casinos in adjacent Stateline, Nevada, has affordable eateries. And Tahoe’s venerable Red Hut Cafe is where to stoke up on a breakfast that won’t run you more than $10 a head.
Where to Stay: Forest Suites Resort (doubles from $145) is located under Heavenly Gondola, so you can be the first on the mountain.
More Info: www.skiheavenly.com
Mad River Glen, Vermont
Why Ski There: The last of the old-time Vermont resorts, Mad River Glen features a single-chair lift, gnarly terrain, and almost no snowmaking (hence the taunt, “Ski it if you Can”). Its all-about-the-skiing mentality inspires cult-like devotion.
Why It’s a Bargain: Determinedly non-commercial, the resort offers precious little to buy at the mountain. Nearby eateries like The Hyde Away Inn offer pub fare that is downright cheap, while the Easy Street Café is easy on the wallet.
Where to Stay: The Mad River Inn (doubles from $105) is an affordable taste of 1860 Victoriana.
More Info: www.madriverglen.com
Why Ski There: Okemo has long epitomized the classic, family-friendly Vermont resort, a low-key alternative to some of its frenetic neighbors.
Why It’s a Bargain: On-slope lodging is condo-based, so eating in is de rigueur. Midweek and late season deals can dramatically lower costs.
Where to Stay: With a Midwinter Value Weekend package, stay at Okemo Mountain Lodge (doubles from $275) and get two weekend nights in a one-bedroom slopeside condo along with daily lift tickets. The package also includes free admission to the 18,000-square-foot Spring House pool complex.
More Info: www.okemo.com
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Why Ski There: Steamboat, the mountain, is a behemoth with some of the greatest tree skiing in the west. And the snow?Let’s just say the phrase “champagne powder snow” was coined here.
Why It’s a Bargain: Though the mountain was recently acquired by Intrawest, the town has yet to acquire much glitz. It still walks the broad line between cowboys and sushi bars. Breakfast eateries like Winona’s, with its killer cinnamon rolls, and a dinner of ribs at the Steamboat Smokehouse are within even tight budgets.
Where to Stay: Holiday Inn Steamboat Springs (doubles from $179) has an outdoor hot tub and a free shuttle to take you to the slopes, 15 minutes away.
More Info: www.steamboat.com