There's no denying that skiing can be an expensive pastime. When taking a ski trip, you want to maximize time to play for the least amount of money. For both first-time skiers and champions of black diamond trails, these resorts offer a world-class experience at a fraction of the cost.
Aspen and Vail are some of the top ski destinations in the world, but according to analysis by TripAdvisor, they are also some of the most expensive in the U.S. Here are alternative resorts to check out if you want to ski on the cheap.
1. Loveland Ski Resort in Georgetown, CO
Lying just off I-70 west of Denver but east of ever-popular ski destination of Vail, Loveland Ski Resort offers a great deal. The savings start with your plane ticket; analyzing ticket prices to ski locations in Colorado, Kayak.com found that Denver is the cheapest destination to fly into, with average fares coming in at 19 percent lower than those to other Colorado ski destinations from December to March.
Lift tickets are priced at the lower end of the spectrum at $51 for early season and $63 for the regular season. Ski lessons come in at $65 for a half-day and $90 for a full day. Lodging starts as low as $70 for the Super 8 in Georgetown, and can range up to $200 or more for nearby hotels.
2. Durando Mountain Resort in Durango, CO
Located in the southwest corner of Colorado near the New Mexico border, Durango may be a bit out of the way for travelers. But whatever you spend on travel will be offset by the low prices this small ski town offers.
In 2012, TripAdvisor named Durango their Top Value Ski Spot, estimating that a day of skiing, including a meal, a one-night hotel stay, lift ticket and equipment rentals would only cost about $210.
Plus, these high-altitude ski spots in Colorado are prime spots for early or late-season ski trips, said Jennifer Rudolph, Communications Director of Colorado Ski Country USA. "Colorado has the longest ski season in North America with resorts like Loveland and Arapahoe Basin known for opening as early as October," she pointed out. "The bases of these resorts are more than 10,000 feet above sea level making them prime targets for early season high altitude flurries."
3. Brian Head Resort in Dixie National Forest, UT
A three-hour drive from Las Vegas and just an hour away from St. George, UT, this resort was recently remodeled with $3.5 million in improvements. However, what didn't increase was the price of lift tickets, costing just $47 during the early season.
The newly renovated facilities include both difficult and beginner runs, new terrain parks and for children and non-skiers, tubing hills, a magic carpet and ski classes are available. If the family gets tired of skiing, the breathtaking sites of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are also nearby, within an hour's drive of the slopes.
4. Sun Valley Resort in Sun Valley, ID
Lift tickets at Sun Valley Resort start at $69, with several deals for saving money on multi-day passes. Staying at the resort with children 15 and under means they ski for free, getting a complimentary duplicate of their parents' lift ticket.
The trick to skiing Sun Valley on the cheap is finding inexpensive travel. Flights from major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco are available, though flying into Boise or nearby Twin Falls might help keep costs down. Kayak also found that flights into Sun Valley were 28 percent cheaper in January than in December, on average, making this a perfect post-holiday retreat.
5. June Mountain in June Lake, CA
Serenely situated in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains near Yosemite is a smaller resort called June Mountain. Newly renovated for the 2013 ski season, this spot has been a favorite alternative to more expensive resorts like Mammoth Mountain for years. Benefiting the most are families, as children 12 and under ski free!
The quaint and charming community of June Lake also has lodging and dining to fit all budgets and many offer amenities like spas, saunas, heated pools, cross-country skiing and breathtaking views.
How to Keep Your Ski Trip Under Budget
These tips can help you hit the slopes without taking out your bank account.
Fly into a major city. Analyzing hundreds of airfares, Kayak.com found that the most expensive time to book a flight for a ski destination was in December. In fact, flying in January could save as much as 20 percent over trips with flight dates in December. Booking early, by about two months in advance, can also give you the advantage in finding cheaper airfare.
The key to finding cheap lift tickets is once again buying in advance. Check out the ski resort's site to see if they are running any promotions, too. Liftopia.com also offers great discounts on lift tickets, as much as 50% percent off, so look around that site for lift ticket deals at your chosen destination.
"My local Costco sells 4-day lift passes at a discount — you basically get the fourth day free," said ski enthusiast and personal finance expert, Andrea Woroch. "This is ideal for anyone planning a long weekend trip. However, you will be limited to whichever mountain the pass is good for so you don't have flexibility to jump around mountains."
Frank Young, a ski instructor at a popular resort near Salt Lake City, UT, noted ski resorts will also often offer discounts for a large group of skiers. "Also, most resorts have cheaper pre-season passes before the whole mountain opens up," Young said, pointing out that these tickets are often 30 to 50 percent cheaper. And take full advantage of discounts offered for students, seniors and children.
"The biggest waste of money I see is buying ski equipment that you’re only going to use for a week — if you’re going to invest in skiing make sure you go often," Young advised. If you decide to invest in your own ski gear, Young suggests buying secondhand. He uses hit local listing sites to find gently-used, quality ski gear at a steep discount.
For most skiers, renting is the way to go, though he suggests renting from a sports shop in a nearby city or town rather from the resort, which will charge more for equipment that sees a lot more use and abuse. "Renting from a local shop, you can find some sweet deals and the staff will be a lot nicer and have more time to help you," Young said.
Hitting a ski destination is great to get some fresh views and try out some new trails. But chances are that for most people in the U.S. there is a decent skiing spot within a day's travel of where they live. Getting a season pass and going often will not only save on travel, airfare and lodging, it will also help you hone your skills and give you the biggest bang for your buck.