It's exciting to explore the big ski towns, the mountains, the towns, and don't we all love to name drop?  But "big" also can be frustrating at times with so much terrain to explore, and are often more expensive than smaller regional resorts; not to mention the "worry" factor if you have young kids.    

There's a secure feeling at smaller ski areas. The kids aren't going to get lost as easily, and you discover the skiing or riding can be very satisfying.  Are you new to the sport, or have you skied just a few times? Then, the small or medium-sized resort is a good choice. The terrain at smaller resorts will offer plenty of challenge, and can be more user friendly. The lift operator will probably know you by name the third time up the hill.  Best of all, the cost is easier on your wallet, in many cases, about half of what you might spend for the large destination experience. We don't mean to pit one experience against the other, but the value of a smaller resort vacation is often overlooked for glitz and glamour.

Some small ski resorts are off by themselves, while others are relatively close to much larger neighbors. Stay at the small resort, and you can spend a day skiing or riding at the nearby big area when that's the situation. 

Here are just a very few examples of smaller areas across the country that can offer an attractive, affordable snow sports experience.  You don't always have to go big.  Sometimes nice surprises come in small packages.

Dylan Lewis, marketing manager at Sunlight Mountain Resort, 40-some minutes from Aspen/Snowmass, knows this well.

"We do very well here, located just a few miles from a couple of the biggest ski resorts in the nation," he laughed, "particularly with families that appreciate the convenience of skiing at a smaller area.  We are in a natural bowl.  All of our runs funnel back to the base lodge.  No worry about kids getting lost here.

"We're about half the cost of a lift ticket in Aspen, and 12 and under ski free with a paid adult. Many of the town's motels offer ski and lodging packages," Lewis added.  "You won't have to pay for parking, either."

Located just 15 minutes from Glenwood Springs, Sunlight] offers a nice escape from the crowds and higher prices you'll find in the far bigger destination resorts.  There's plenty of terrain to keep you busy with a little over 2,000 feet of vertical and a good variety of runs. Enjoy a relaxing dip in Glenwood's famous hot springs at the end of a hard day on the slopes. That's a nice plus.

You'll find Suicide Six between Vermont "giants," Killington and Okemo. The ski area is considered the cradle of North American lift-served skiing. The first rope tow was erected here on Gilbert's Hill in 1934, but if you're looking for a stuffy museum, forget it. This Vermont mini-mountain, with a modest 650-foot vertical drop, is still a great place to enjoy uncrowded slopes and offers a great variety of terrain - from the enchanting Easy Mile to the formidable "front face" - for a fairly inexpensive price. 

An all-day midweek lift ticket hovers around $40, and the exclusive Woodstock Inn & Resort, under the same ownership, offers lodging packages with free midweek skiing.  Spend a few nights and enjoy a day at Killington, which is just 13 miles up the road.

Homewood Mountain Resort, located just across the street from Lake Tahoe, may be dwarfed by it neighbors, Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley, but dwarfed is probably a misnomer.  It offers plenty of terrain and challenge with a 1,650-foot vertical and 60 runs, and something that the large neighbors can't offer, lake views from just about every run.  They also offer something else the nearby areas don't, a very low-cost midweek lift ticket purchased online. It's been deemed the "gem" of Lake Tahoe and shouldn't be missed.  Tahoe's North Shore offers lots of lodging choices and price ranges and some good casino action and nightlife.

Terry Peak, with a vertical drop of nearly 1,100 feet, sits just a few miles above Deadwood in the Black Hills and about an hour from Rapid City, South Dakota. On the western fringe of the Midwest, the resort is kind of twixt ‘n tween. It's geographically linked to the Midwest, but topographically has more in common with Western ski areas. It's often overlooked by Heartland skiers planning a Western trip, which is a big mistake. The Black Hills, with peaks reaching over 7,200 feet, are the highest land mass between the Rockies and European Alps.

The resort has over 30 runs (some up to two miles long),  four chairlifts (includes two high-speed quads), a halfpipe, and freestyle terrain park.  It offers skiing and boarding for all levels, and even expert glades to test your skiing mettle.    

A three-day lift pass is more than reasonable in the $40 per day range, and the gaming offers a big plus for skiers and riders; low prices for lodging and dining. The discounts are designed to entice gamblers, but even in Deadwood, you don't have to give it all back at the tables. Deadwood and Lead, both nearby, offer lots of lodging choices.

Snow Valley Resort in Running Springs, is very convenient to get to for those living in Southern California; only 30 minutes from the base of the San Bernardino Mountains.  It's smaller than large neighbors further down the road, Snow Summit and Bear Valley at Big Bear Lake. It still offers plenty of skiing and boarding terrain with a 1,000-foot vertical drop, 14 lifts, 30 runs, and four terrain parks.  Full day lift tickets will run about the same as a half-day at the larger resorts.