Hostels and other inexpensive digs that can be found at almost posh ski resorts, plus student-only airfares to the mountains
Hostels are associated with backpacking in Europe, not schussing in North America. But hostels do exist in Canada and the States, and some are right down the road from top ski resorts. In exchange for bunk beds and a shared bath, guests pay a tiny fraction of what a hotel might cost. Combine these inexpensive accommodations with discounted airfare, and even the low budget ranks of students and backpackers can afford a trip to the mountains.
Check out the super-cheap ski sleeps
Canada is where Americans find outstanding value for their dollars right now (US$1 = CAD$1.53). And considering the proliferation of hostels and inexpensive lodging in the vicinity of great Canadian ski resorts, a trip to the snow up north is possible on a seriously skimpy budget.
One great source of ski-friendly hostels north of the border is canadianskihostels.com. A sample of what's possible: At the Revelstoke Traveller's Hostel, rates start at just CAD$28.95 (US$21.73) for a night's stay and a day's lift ticket at Powder Springs ski area on Mount Mackenzie. This is truly a great value, considering purchasing a day's lift ticket alone usually costs CAD$34 .
At the SameSun International Hostel in the Silver Star Mountain Resort (also in British Columbia), dorm rates are just CAD$20 (US$15.02), and private, two-person rooms with bath are just CAD$79 (US$59.32). You simply can't beat the location. The hostel is built right in the resort, within walking distance from the lifts.
Low-budget ski beds in the U.S.
There are also a handful of hostels near ski resorts in the U.S. Hostelling International (301/495-1240, hiayh.org) provides a list of hostels within a reasonable reach of the slopes. Like most hostels, a night's sleep should cost around $30 (sometimes less), even though the bed may be within a few blocks of $400 rooms.
Colorado's got some of the best skiing in North America, as well as some of the best locations for skiing hostellers. The HI-Crested Butte International Hostel (888/389-0588, crestedbuttehostel.com), located three miles from the resort and 150 feet away from a free shuttle, costs $27 a night for members, $30 for non-members. The Fireside Inn (970/453-6456, firesideinn.com) is a ten-minute walk from the lifts at Breckenridge, or around the corner from a free shuttle to Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, or Copper Mountain. Dormitory rates at the Fireside are $30 a night early and late season, $35 for most of the winter.
There over 30 hostels listed on the HI-AYH site, in 16 different states. None of them are within walking distance of the lifts (as are occasionally found in Canada), but they're all within an hour's drive of ski resorts. There aren't any lift-lodging packages offered, but oftentimes an individual hostel can provide guests with a coupon or discount on lift tickets.
Student flights and cheap nights
A cheap bed does a skier no good if he or she can't get to the mountains to enjoy it. The problem is that flights into the tiny airports of top ski towns like Telluride and Aspen are often very pricey. Here's a way for one avid group of skiers and snowboarders to get around these hefty rates.
Less than three years old, Student Universe has made way into the student travel world, often with airfares that beat the giant in the market, STA Travel. This winter, Student Universe is offering great student-only airfares to places like Aspen, Eagle County in Colorado (near Vail and Beaver Creek), Jackson, Wyoming, and several ski destinations in Europe. Student Universe has also partnered up the super-cheap lodgings of with Hostel World (hostelworld.com), making it easy for a student to book air to a ski town and a cheap bed at the same time.
What are the prices like? Airfares for students are often much less expensive than those available to the general public. Mid-January -- a "down" travel time, but a period when many students have yet to return for the spring semester -- is among the best times to find a ski bargain. If booked through Student Universe, fares such as Milwaukee to Jackson or New Orleans to Eagle start at $260 round-trip. Flights to Europe such as New York to Munich (not far from the ski resorts of Bavaria) start at only $270 for students.
As for the price of a night's sleep, here's a sampling of what's possible through Student Universe and Hostel World. Cheap rooms like the Fireside Inn in Breckenridge (listed above) are available through its booking engine, as are beds at the St. Moritz Lodge in Aspen, starting at only $21 per night. Several hostels in British Columbia, Canada range from $10 to $30 a night; in Europe, nightly rates in ski towns go for $15 and up.
It's not necessary to book a package through Student Universe to get any of these rates (actually, no "packages" are offered at all). A student simply books airfare or a night's bed individually. For that matter, booking a night's bed can be done directly through each property, often at the same exact price.
Student Universe only accepts reservations via the Internet at studentuniverse.com. It maintains a toll-free number to answer questions, at 800/272-9676.