Let's admit it: Skiing is expensive — $125 lift tickets, $80 rentals, $15 chili bowls. These days a family of four can drop a grand on a single day of shredding, and that doesn't even include travel or lodging. But there are deals to be had. The industry behemoth, Vail, has been buying up resorts as if they were McDonald's franchises (the latest being British Columbia's iconic Whistler Blackcomb), while competitors have designed package deals and partnerships to attract skiers. So if you know how to work things right — to buy the best multiday passes, to stay at the perfect low-key resort, or to forgo slopeside lodging for a less expensive (and in many cases nicer) Airbnb rental — you can still hit the slopes for cheap. Or cheaper, at least. Price is, of course, just one component of a great ski trip. Other considerations include the amount of time you have, the terrain you want to hit, and the kind of resort-town vibe you prefer. Fortunately, there are new ways to dial in those factors as well. Here's how to score, whatever you're looking for.
An hour's drive from the overstuffed tram at Jackson Hole, Grand Targhee is a beautiful time warp where you share the slopes with local ranchers and can still find untracked powder for days after a big storm. Even better, tickets are just $80, and kids under 12 ski free. The bulk of the resort's terrain is gloriously intermediate — fast groomers and wide-open slopes — but it gets clobbered with 500 inches of snow a year. And if you want to go big, you can always book a day with Targhee's legendary snowcat ski operation and shred Peaked Mountain's 602 acres of exclusive terrain ($399).
Driving up to the base of Monarch is like arriving at a second-tier resort in the Midwest: There's no lodging; the parking lot is mostly gravel; food options are limited to a cafeteria and a modest bar-and-grill; and the rental shop is housed in an inflated golf dome. Lift tickets are a mere $69, but Monarch's terrain is world-class: 1,162 vertical feet and over 800 acres that get hammered with more than 350 inches of snow a year (about the same as Vail, 115 miles north). In addition to at least a dozen fast groomers, Monarch also boasts some of the best glades in Colorado — wide openings among pine trees where you can almost always find fresh powder. Plus, Monarch is just a 20-minute drive to Salida, one of the state's few 19th-century mining towns that haven't been overrun by Front Rangers from Denver and Boulder.
With 2,601 feet of vertical accessed by 23 chairlifts, Copper can match any of Colorado's biggest resorts. Where Copper excels, though, is in affordability. Half-price tickets are often made available online, as is a book-two-nights, get-one-free lodging deal. Located directly on the bumper-to-bumper I-70 corridor 75 miles from Denver, Copper gets crowded, but there's an easy way around that: Spend an extra $30 on your lift ticket ($72 to $100, depending on the date) and you can catch a chairlift 15 minutes before other skiers. And if you want a taste of the backcountry, each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Copper offers free snowcat service to 273 acres on the resort's famed Tucker Mountain.
Here's the secret about Jay Peak: This remote mountain in the Northeast Kingdom gets hit with a stunning 355 inches of annual snowfall (even more than Vail) and has a vertical drop of 2,153 feet, about the same as most Lake Tahoe–area resorts. Jay Peak makes the most of its northern Vermont location with nine lifts that access 385 acres of glades, chutes, and fast groomers. Thanks to lift tickets as low as $67, lodging that runs an average of $200 per night, and a year-round indoor water park and ice rink — not to mention package deals offering 30 percent discounts — Jay Peak may be the best ski value on the East Coast.
Low-key and staunchly unpretentious, Sugar Bowl is a bastion of old-time California ski culture. The base village is pedestrian-only, and the resort's main access point is a gondola that takes you up to a snowbound village that feels like it's straight out of the 1960s. The resort boasts 1,650 acres of terrain and a relatively high base elevation of 6,883 feet, which means Sugar Bowl stays cold while bigger, lower resorts get rained on. In fact, its 500-plus inches of annual snowfall is the most in the Lake Tahoe area, while its lift lines are the shortest. Sugar Bowl's great backcountry program offers classes on everything from avalanche safety and alpine climbing to, naturally, backcountry skiing.
Ditch the Slopeside Condo in Favor of Airbnb
Airbnb's filtering options are now so refined that you can search for a five-bedroom located less than a mile from the slopes, with a pool table, a fireplace, and a hot tub. What's more, many of its ski-town properties are Instant Book, meaning your reservation is confirmed immediately, just like at a hotel. So it's easier than ever to save money by splitting a house rental. Case in point: A three- or four-bedroom chalet that sleeps eight to 10 people in a place like Park City, Utah, will run you about $1,000 per night; a standard Queen Guestroom at the resort's slopeside Grand Summit is $440.
The caveat: Airbnb makes sense only in towns that have homes or condos near the mountain, or in communities with decent public bus systems. So stay away from Northstar, Vail, or Jackson Hole, where lodgings tend to be purpose-built for skiers. Instead, try Park City, Mammoth, Aspen, or Steamboat Springs. In both Breckenridge and California's Big Bear Lake, we found about 400 properties that could accommodate 10 or more people. The bottom line: Wrangle your closest friends and you can cut the cost of your next trip in half — or ski for twice as long.
Small Ways to Save Big Bucks
Get a package deal: Most resorts offer ski-and-stay packages online. At Colorado's Copper Mountain, book two nights and your third is free. At Revelstoke, book 60 days in advance and get 20 percent off. At Jackson Hole, book a four- to seven-night stay and receive, gratis, a night of lodging and day of skiing.
Buy online: Resort websites often have lift-ticket discounts that result in big savings, such as 26 percent at Stowe and 44 percent at Whistler, among others.
Use a consolidator: Liftopia is the best-known clearinghouse for discounted lift tickets, but ski.com has the choicest ski-and-stay packages. For example, at Heavenly, pay for five nights and get two free, as well as lift tickets, for just $794. In Aspen you can save 25 percent on lodging and 40 percent on lift tickets.
Seven major resorts lie about an hour's drive from Reno International Airport (RNO). Yet until recently the airport lacked enough direct flights to make flying in for an easy weekend trip a possibility. No longer. Over the last three years, RNO has added 13 nonstop flights from 11 cities. (Dallas and Atlanta are among this season's additions.) And it's now the second major area (after Salt Lake City) to host uberSki, a ride-hailing service that guarantees room for you and all your gear. Those factors have put a lot of great skiing within easy reach. Family-friendly Northstar is less than an hour's drive away. Meanwhile, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows — with some of the area's best terrain and 450 inches of snow a year — may have the perfect quick escape; like all Tahoe resorts, it offers a free lift pass on the day you arrive. (Just show your airline stub.) Squaw also has an in-airport concierge service, which lets you book rentals, sign up the kids for ski school, and purchase lift tickets, all while you wait for your baggage to arrive.
Mammoth, 3,500 acres of High Sierra mountains on the east side of Yosemite, has a lot more in common with Jackson Hole than you might think. Both are hulking expanses of incredible terrain with cool mountain towns nearby, set in the shadows of stunning peaks. But getting to Mammoth has never been easy. Fortunately, tiny Mammoth Lakes Airport offers a slew of direct flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, which means you can get there without the five-hour schlep from L.A.
Stowe Mountain Resort, comprising 485-skiable acres spanning four peaks, has spent millions to become the Deer Valley of the East: faster lifts, fancier lodging, and some of Vermont's best restaurants. This season, the renovations are officially complete and include a new high-speed quad on 4,395-foot Mount Mansfield and the just-opened 312-room Stowe Mountain Lodge. Burlington Airport, only 40 minutes away, is more accessible than ever to the rest of the country, with direct flights from New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and a half-dozen other cities.
You and three friends can receive priority lift access, a free North Face Thermoball jacket (a $200 value), and, most important, a local's tour of 6,000 acres of one of the largest ski areas in North America. ($699 for four people)
Pick the Right Weekend
Every resort has one weekend when the entire mountain goes off — epic parties and pro athletes putting it all on the line. There's no predicting what conditions will be like, but with so much going on, skiing is just a bonus.
Like everywhere, New Year's Eve is Aspen's biggest rager. But any local will tell you that the most fun weekend of the year is Wintersköl, the town's annual "toast to winter." Now in its 66th year, the festival includes events like a canine fashion show, a soup cook-off pitting Aspen's top chefs against one another, and snow sculpting, as well competitions such as a fat-tire bike race. This is what Aspen was like two decades ago.
It's the hottest week of the year in the most happening mountain town in the Rockies: A-list celebrities, million-dollar corporate bashes, TMZ-worthy scandals. And because everyone is hoping for a DiCaprio sighting, you'll have the slopes to yourselves (though nowhere to stay). And you might catch a few good movies, too.
Taos has long been the country's hidden gem, with steep terrain and sugar-smooth powder. The season's highlight is when pros compete for spots on the Freeride World Tour. So when your legs turn to mush, you can grab a beer and watch some of the best skiers in the world hucking giant backflips off 40-foot cliffs.
This winter, Squaw will host the first World Cup ski race in California since 1998 — and it will be on Red Dog, the same run where the 1960 Olympics were held. Racers will include Squaw Valley's own Julia Mancuso and Mikaela Shiffrin, the world's top slalom racer. In addition to the pros: a giant opening après-ski party with concerts and fireworks, a Pro-Am race, and an elaborate benefit auction. It will be Squaw's biggest weekend in years.
Sun Valley has the world's best spring skiing, with abundant sunshine, long runs, and wide-open bowls. Closing weekend brings the best party of the season, too. Live music is everywhere, and costumes are the norm — expect to see dancing dinosaurs, plenty of bikinis, and far less than that. Champagne corks can be heard popping on the chairlifts as the summit area turns into a huge dance party. Meanwhile, the skiing is usually going off, and it's not rare to log 40,000 vertical feet on the last day of the season.
This luxurious, funky house sits at 11,300 feet, in an old mining claim tucked in an out-of-bounds bowl below Palmyra Peak. To get there, you ski in via a backcountry gate at the resort. Once you arrive, the owners take care of everything, from lugging in your gear and cooking meals to scheduling a backdoor pickup by Helitrax snowcat for a day of shredding virgin pow. (From $750 per night for up to six guests.)
After crashing in the saloon-style Scarp Ridge Lodge, climb into one of Eleven Experience's custom BisonX snowcats — tricked out with leather seats, XM radio with surround-sound speakers, and gourmet snacks — for a day in its exclusive Elk Mountain skiing concession. It's full of alpine meadows and short, rocky couloirs, and there's even a fleet of Wagner Custom skis to suit any condition. ($17,325 per night for up to 10)
East Greenland is one of the most isolated, pristine places on Earth, and the best way to experience it is by ski touring. Icelandic Mountain Guides take you from mountaintop to ocean, dropping you into powder-covered fjords with icebergs floating in the distance. You'll stay in mountain huts and eat home-cooked meals with local families, so no other ski trip will feel more like a real expedition. Book a private tour or sign up for a preset departure. (Starting at $5,500)