5 Great Value Mountain Ski Areas
Skiing and snowboarding can be expensive. In fact, the cost is enough to keep some families away from the sport, something that we hate to see. We know the excitement and thrill of being on the slopes, and wish everyone could experience it. That is really was Family Skier is all about.
Sure, there are ways to save money on skiing. In fact, we described 25 of them here. And for people who know they are going to go to the same resorts many times, there is always the season pass option. But we got curious and asked the question: Where are the ski resorts that are a good value everyday of the year, without using discounts or advance purchase passes?
We commend those ski areas that work to keep skiing affordable for the masses.
We focused on resorts that had plenty of terrain for the entire family, a reputation of getting decent snow, and offered at least basic family programming (in some cases, we find the programming at these lower-price resorts to be a cut above). Then, we looked for resorts that did it all for a lift ticket of $80 a day or less (when looking at an adult, at-the-window, regular season ticket). Oh, and they had to be in the mountains.
Of course, you can often save money if you go with a season pass or a multi-day card, but for some of us that is not always a feasible option. We just wanted to give a shout out to those ski areas that are still making it affordable to hit the slope for a day or two.
Here are 5 great mountain ski areas that can be skied for $99 a day or less, as of our last check.
Mt. Baker, Washington
Representing the Pacific Northwest is Mt. Baker in Washington state, a place known for some insane annual snowfall. Its 650+ inches of average annual snowfall crushes most of the snowfall totals for the Rockies resorts further to the East. What is more amazing is how reliably consistent the snowfall tends to be.
Mt. Baker sits at the top of Washington State, north of Seattle and east of Vancouver, BC. It is about an 80 minute drive from Bellingham, making that a doable home base if you are willing to drive a bit each day. There are a handful of B&Bs and private rentals on the road to Mt. Baker as well.
Mt. Baker’s somewhat remote location, along with the fact that the Washington ski areas are often not considered the travel destination like the ski areas in Colorado and Utah, assures you will have fewer crowds. We also love that Mt. Baker sits lower than most ski resorts, topping out at around 5,000 feet. This means that people who might be affected by the altitude should generally do OK here.
The price has jumped in recent years but still a value compared to other Western resorts – $87 a day for an adult lift ticket. Kids 6 and under ski free every day, too. You will be hard-pressed to beat that on any place that has more than 1,000 feet of vertical.
Bridger Bowl, Montana
We have been singing Bridger Bowl’s praises for years, since the first time we visited over 20 years ago. It is one of the more underrated ski areas in the country, especially considering how close it is to a major town in Bozeman. Nearby Big Sky gets way more media coverage, but Bridger is where many of the locals head on their days off.
Bridger Bowl boasts 2,000 acres of skiing, serviced by 11 well-placed lifts. As the name would suggest, the ski area is known for its bowls. The two main bowls (South and North) provide a great expanse of bowl skiing, which is an experience that nearly every skier or boarder will enjoy. You can find lines ranging from steep and challenging to a bit tamer. You don’t have to ski bowls, though. There are plenty of beginner runs lower on the mountain. Being as far North as it is, the snow tends to stick around, creating a nice base over the course of the winter.
Part of what makes Bridger Bowl so approachable for families is its proximity to Bozeman (about 15 miles), making Bozeman’s many hotels and restaurants key amenities for the vacation. In fact, the combination of a Bozeman hotel (you can find discounts here) and the reasonable prices at Bridger Bowl can make for a great value overall trip.
Lift tickets at Bridger Bowl are a bargain 70, for an adult day ticket if you buy online (they are more at the ticket window). That is a great deal, given the skiing that you will get in exchange for the investment.
Red Lodge, Montana
If you sense a Montana theme here, it is accurate. Montana is generally a more economical place to ski than the locations further south. Red Lodge sits in its own spot in Montana, off in the Beartooth Mountains. This is the eastern edge of Yellowstone (with Big Sky on the western side) and is a special part of the world. Near Red Lodge are such unheralded wonders as the Bighorn Canyon and the Beartooth Pass (closed winters).
The 7 lifts at Red Lodge service about 1,600 acres of skiing, which is pretty evenly split between advanced, intermediate, and beginner terrain. The ski area is family-friendly, with plenty of instructors who have been skiing for a long time. The whole vibe feels more relaxed and low-key than some of the better-known (and way more expensive) ski resorts.
For families visiting Red Lodge, don’t miss the nearby Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. It might be your only chance to (safely) see Grizzly Bears and Mountain Lions up close.
A regular-priced day lift ticket at Red Lodge goes for around $65 but can start under $50 in special situations, meaning that your dollars go a much longer way than the fancier resorts that are priced twice as high (or more). Red Lodge also has well over a hundred vacation rentals on or near the mountain, meaning you can find great, comfortable lodging to go with your affordable ski trip.
Silver Star, British Columbia
We did not limit our search to the US…. we wanted to also look north of the border. When we factored in the currency conversion rate, we found a real winner in Silver Star. In fact, acre for acre, Silver Star is probably is #1 in terms of overall value, in our opinion.
Silver Star resort is situated in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, about 100 miles north of the Canada – US border, and near the cities of Kamloops and Kelowna. It is known for its great, natural snow, benefitting from the same general weather patterns than make Mt. Baker such a snow-rich place. It also sits at a lower overall elevation, generally below 6,500 feet, making it a great option for people weary of altitude effects.
Silver Star has considerable terrain — about 3,200 total acres, making it the largest ski area on this list by quite a bit. While it might be a little hard to get to for US-based travelers, once you are there you should find reliable skiing, excellent terrain, and not many crowds.
When factoring in the current CAD to USD conversion, a full-day adult lift ticket at Silver Star comes in just under $80. A great price for access to so much excellent mountain skiing.
We wanted to include some Colorado resorts on the list, but frankly it was hard to find one that wasn’t over $100 a day for the regular-priced adult lift ticket. Some exceed $200 a day during peak days! Loveland made the cut, though, just barely.
Loveland is a high resort — the base is at 10,800 feet (yes, the base) and the top of the ski area is nearly a 14-er at just over 13,000 feet. That means good things for the snow and the length of the season. If you are subject to altitude sickness, though, you may want to have some medication along at Loveland.
With 1,800 acres of skiing, Loveland will give you the quintessential Rockies experience. Perhaps the best part is that if you are travelling from Denver, as most Colorado skiers are, Loveland is the first major ski area that you hit on I-70. You get to Loveland well before you get to the Vail or even Copper area, making it a relatively short drive. Figure 75 to 100 minutes from Denver, depending on the mountain traffic.
The price is managing to stay just under $100 at $99 a day, which is the highest on this list but downright inexpensive for Colorado. Further discounts can be had if you buy online. You can really get some fun and challenging turns in at Loveland, and at half the price of Vail.
Skiing is expensive. It is a sad fact, and something that the industry needs to deal with. But we like knowing that there are ski areas making an attempt to keep a lid on prices. Given that you also need to invest in things like skis, boots, ski goggles, and warm weather gear, it can really add up. Ski resorts that do their part by not charging an arm and a leg should not go unnoticed!!
Paul Miller is the Founder of Family Skier. He is an advanced skier and has extensive experience with family travel and ski schools. An accomplished skier, he has skied in 15 states and provinces and 6 countries. In addition to FamilySkier, his writing can be found on many ski-related websites, and as curriculum for many ski clubs in North America.