Ski vacations can be expensive. Nobody will argue that point. Yet despite the expense of skiing, budget friendly ski resorts abound. However, an affordable ski vacation comes with caveats. You may not find the vertical drop that becomes the story of legends. And your ski trip may not have the glitz and glamour of iconic ski movies. Yet a budget ski vacation can be as fun, if not more fun, than the grandest ski resorts, and often without sticker shock, lift lines and traffic. So we’ve put together a list of a few of the most affordable ski resorts in America.
These affordable ski resort recommendations are generally small to mid-size ski resorts. Some of these ski resorts are tied into the Epic or IKON pass programs, which certainly save a lot of many as long as you ski at least a few days every winter at participating resorts. But, if you’re looking to try a bunch of smaller, but satisfying ski areas, you won’t go wrong with the fast-growing Indy Pass with its wide network of generally affordable ski resorts across the country. Ticket window prices will always be higher than multi-day or pass deals.
That said, here are some choices that likely won’t cause sticker shock when the credit card bill arrives. Note that day pass costs can change quickly, so price numbers should be used as guidelines.
The Most Affordable Ski Resorts in America
Wildcat Mountain, tucked away in Pinkham Notch, N.H., remains a classic ski area today for east coast skiers, and with a price that’s just right. Wildcat has 225 skiable acres, ranging from beginner to advanced, and is one of the steepest mountains in the East with a vertical drop of 2,112 feet. Ski or ride the longest summit-to-base novice trail here, running for 2.75 miles and featuring plenty of views along the way. Wildcat Mountain is now a Vail Resort mountain, which means that using the Epic Day Pass will get you on the hill for about $58.
Mad River Glen, in Fayston, Vermont, has a “ski it if you can” moniker, where ownership is via a co-op of skiers. The trails are challenging with a vertical drop of 2,000 feet, with about 250 inches of snow each year. The crowds are lighter at Mad River (Sugarbush is its neighbor), and the vibe is very laid back. Therefore, don’t expect a high-speed chair or machine-made snow. And, don’t bring a snowboard, since Mad River Glen is one of only a few remaining ski resorts that doesn’t allow snowboarding. Day tickets are $99 but check out the Stark Mountain Family Pass $349 where kids under 12 are free after Jan. 1.
Magic Mountain in Londonderry, Vermont, is one of a triangle of Vermont resorts consisting of upscale Stratton Mt. and venerable Bromley, located near the shopping mecca of Manchester. It’s another of those throwback New England ski areas well worth a visit. Yet relatively new owners have improved the ski area considerably. Magic Mountain is home to 1,500 feet of vertical, 39 trails and 11 glades, 5 lifts and, for the tough-minded, 26 percent expert terrain. The window day ticket is $84.
You needn’t head very far for a good deal if you live in the Connecticut area as Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall beckons as a comfortable ski area with a 650-foot vertical drop, 8 lifts, 26 trails on 112 acres. Note that it’s 100 percent snowmaking. Mohawk is an Indy pass member, but the window price during the week is just $40 and only hits $75 on weekends and holidays.
Chicago residents can enjoy some pleasant skiing at Chestnut Mountain in Galena, Illinois. Chestnut Mountain is small, but still fun with its 450 feet of vertical, 19 trails, 9 lifts and night skiing. It’s just $45 for an adult ticket on weekends. Bonus: Chestnut is also an Indy Pass resort.
Nub’s Nob, located due north of Boynes in Northern Michigan, is tiny, but packs a lot of skiing and riding. It has 53 trails served by 8 lifts, and also is an Indy Pass member. Adult weekend tickets are $88.
Devil’s Head in Wisconsin is a mid-sized ski area formed by a glacier in Bariboo Bluffs on 300 acres. The 8 lifts (including 6 quads) move fairly quickly, and your snow guarantee is 100 percent coverage. Day rates will vary, but early-season weekend days are just $50.
Bridger Bowl in Bozeman, Montana offers affordable skiing options without sacrificing on powder and terrain variety. The vertical drop is 2,700 feet and the skiable terrain is 2,000 acres. Hardcore skiers should make a beeline for the new Schlasman’s Lift, accessing expert-only, backcountry-style terrain, as well as The Ridge, in-bounds hiking terrain. With affordable lift tickets at $85 and true big mountain terrain, Bridger Bowl is a must-ski resort whether you live in Montana or not. Ski more than a few times with the Bridger Bowl Resusable Cards.
Colorado may not bring to mind “affordable skiing,” but don’t sleep on Sunlight Mountain Resort, which isn’t far from Aspen (45 miles), and a much more affordable family ski vacation. This Colorado mountain resort is in Glenwood Springs where you can ski all day and then soak your weary bones after a day of skiing. Kids 12 and under ski free with a paying adult on the Ski, Swim and Stay program offered through hotel partners. Kids 5 and under, and adults 80 and older, ski free at Sunlight Mountain Resort. Lift tickets for adults are generally in the $89 range. What’s more, the famous Glenwood Hot Springs Pool in town is the largest hot spring soaker in the world. Sunlight Mountain Resort has 2,010 vertical and spreads over 470 acres.
Eldora, near Boulder, Colorado, and less than an hour from Denver, spares skiers and riders the jaunt up I-70. Eldora is no beginner resort (although it’s also a great place to learn), with its 1,400 vertical drop, 10 lifts and 61 trails. The window lift ticket is $94, which isn’t the most affordable ski resort, but is budget-friendly within the context of Colorado’s large ski resorts. Check into the resorts own pass programs if you live in the area. Eldora dropped out of the Epic Pass program.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort at Sandpoint, Idaho, which gets about 300 inches of snow annually, is an uncrowded ski resort with 3,000 skiable acres, 95 trails, and open bowl terrain. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, enjoy Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cat skiing. Plus there is a rustic, European-style village. The ticket window price is $100, but you can reload and save. Besides, the resort is part of the IKON pass, so that’s the way to go. Bonus: Schweitzer Mountain Resort is a great summer resort, too, featuring mountain biking, hiking, and views of three states and Canada from the summit.
Donner Ski Ranch, near Lake Tahoe, makes a ski vacation in the California High Sierra an affordable reality even by Lake Tahoe standards. An adult lift ticket costs around $89 per day (or just $49 on “Old School Days”). Donner is near the California and Nevada border and is one of the oldest ski areas in the U.S. It offers beginner and intermediate skiers some excellent terrain, including 1,000 feet of vertical drop and 500 skiable acres. Donner Ski Ranch is less than three hours from San Francisco and under an hour from Reno.
Ski Apache in Mescalero, New Mexico, high above the Texas-loved resort town of Ruidoso, is a too-well-kept secret elsewhere. The vertical drop here is 1,800 feet and the top elevation is 12,000 feet. Nine lifts move you around, including a gondola. Ski Apache is 33 percent snowmaking, but it’s not always needed in the Sacramento Mountains. Day pass is $75.
The hills above the Los Angeles basin have a number of right-priced ski areas, but don’t overlook historical Snow Valley, near Big Bear Mountain Resort, about 11 miles from Big Bear Lake. What was first known as Fish Camp is today a fun, easily accessed ski resort that doesn’t come top of mind like it should. Look for long cruisers, excellent beginner terrain and some expert runs. Consider the Family Fun Pack for 2 adults and 2 kids at $189 on weekends (cheaper midweek). The Buy Anytime Pass is a good deal online.
Last, but not least, Mt. Hood Ski Bowl near Portland is a sure bet with its long ski season. The nickname by locals here is “Cheap and Steep.” There’s a 1,500 foot vertical and sliding is spread over 960 acres of skiable terrain with the longest run at 3 miles. It has 10 chairs and surface lifts. Mt. Hood Skibowl also boasts largest night skiing terrain in the country. Window price for a lift ticket is approximately $78. Note the pass doesn’t guarantee you parking.
Where is the most affordable ski resort?
The most affordable ski resort depends on the day, time of ski season and other factors. But you can often count on many of the Indy Pass resorts and smaller, independent ski resorts.
Our pick for the most affordable ski resort is Buck Hill, which sits just south of Minneapolis next to Interstate 35. Yes, it’s small, but its racing program has brought us more big-time skiers than you can count including Lindsey (Kildow when she was growing up here) Vonn. The vertical is just 282 feet and the 16 trails cover 45 acres. Weekend price is $59. And it’s so convenient.
Where is the cheapest place to ski in the US?
Many of the most popular ski regions, such as Colorado, California and Utah are not your best best for affordable skiing. However, you can find more affordable ski resorts in New England. One of the best values is at Wildcat Mountain, in New Hampshire, where you can ski for $41 a day with the Epic 7-day pass. Otherwise, we recommend the Midwest, where you can find lift tickets at some resorts for close to $50. Chestnut Mountain, for example, has $50 lift tickets during the week.
What is the cheapest month to go skiing?
Let’s start with when isn’t the most affordable skiing month. And that’s around the holidays, as lift tickets and accommodations can be most expensive. Early January, with the exception of New Year’s weekend and MLK weekend, is typically the best value during the heart of the ski season. This time right after the holidays is often the best flight and hotel prices of the year, too. Otherwise, your best best is at the end of the season. Hello, spring skiing! Finally, if you plan on skiing a lot, getting a major pass can save a lot of money on lift ticket prices, and pay for itself after just a few days on the mountain. Don’t miss our guides on the IKON, Epic, Mountain Collective, and Indy passes.
Header image: © Snow Valley