Lift-ticket prices are nearing $100 a day at some resorts. We scoured North America for the best hills that buck the trend. Here are 10 ski resorts that are as affordable as they are attractive.
Stratton Mountain, Vermont
Prepaid discount cards can often be a racket, but not so at Stratton, a 600-acre southern Vermont standby that hosts the top terrain park in the East. Stratton's $79 X2 card, which you can buy online, pays for itself in a single visit: Card carriers get a one-day lift ticket free with the purchase. What's more, they'll save $10 to $30 off any additional day passes and get to skip the ticket window lines—a big perk considering that the wait can be nearly a half hour on busy weekends. stratton.com, adult passes from $65 (online).
Winter Park, Colorado
The closest major resort to Denver (only 67 miles away), this bump-skiing paradise has added upgrades worth $170 million, including an ice-skating pond. What hasn't changed? The wallet-friendly lift-ticket prices, such as an $82 two-day child's pass over spring break. The nearby town of Fraser has the best affordable restaurants and hotels, such as the Rocky Mountain Inn & Hostel, which runs free shuttles to the slopes (therockymountaininn.com, from $79). winterparkresort.com, adult passes from $65.*
Once down on its luck, this resort in Maine's Rangeley Lakes region, two and a half hours west of Portland, is back in a big way. Saddleback has increased its terrain 60 percent in seven years and recently added a new lift, three new trails, more snowmaking, and a beginner's area—all without raising lift-ticket rates above $40. New England–area students who make the honor roll are eligible for $99 season passes, and all kids will love Saddleback's quirky free events, such as the annual Cardboard Box Race (March 26). saddlebackmaine.com, adult passes from $35.
Bridger Bowl, Montana
Bridger is one of the biggest mom-and-pop mountains in the U.S., and this year it replaced its two main lifts with one triple chair, increasing the number of skiers served by 7.5 percent and reducing undue stoppages. Single storms here can bring more than 70 inches, and the terrain goes from beginner to expert (the famed Bridger Ridge features steep, 500-vertical-foot chutes where avalanche beacons are necessary). The world-class ski school for kids plus numerous blue and green runs keep the place from getting too hard-core. bridgerbowl.com, adult passes from $47.
Whistler Blackcomb, B.C.
With 8,171 acres of skiing, $91 lift tickets, and a bevy of luxury hotels, Whistler Blackcomb is one of the biggest, priciest megaresorts in North America. But it's also a destination everybody needs to see at least once, and for budget travelers, the time is right now. The post-Olympic hangover has left a multitude of new restaurants, hotels, and activities (think bobsled and skeleton tracks) coping with a lower demand. To wit: Hostelling International opened a lodge, HI Whistler, in the former Olympic athletes' village, with 14 private rooms and rates starting at $156 in peak season (hihostels.ca). Also, if you buy your lift ticket online at least three days in advance, you can save up to 20 percent.whistlerblackcomb.com, adults from $91.
Ski Santa Fe, New Mexico
Just 16 miles up the road from New Mexico's capital, Ski Santa Fe may be the most blissfully undervalued mountain in the Southwest. What sounds like a local hill is actually a 12,075-foot peak in the Sangre de Cristos, making it one of the highest resorts in the nation. The snow is similar to the bone-dry powder in Taos, but lift tickets are 15 percent cheaper, and the runs are just as striking—the longest is three miles. With Santa Fe so close, visitors will want to fuel up on a breakfast burrito with spicy chorizo from Tia Sophia's on West San Francisco Street before driving the 10 minutes to the slopes (505/983-9880, burritos from $6.50).skisantafe.com, adult passes from $60.
Grand Targhee, Wyoming
Skiers at Jackson Hole might share the slopes with locals like Sandra Bullock and Harrison Ford, but they'll pay for the privilege. For the same ridiculous snow (500 inches per year) and sweeping Teton views, savvy locals opt for nearby Grand Targhee, where the lift tickets are 25 percent cheaper. It's also far less crowded, averaging just one skier for every two acres. Targhee is 45 miles from the town of Jackson, and the drive is easy enough that you can do it as a day trip. The hotel selection in Jackson is better anyway: Try the family-owned Antler Inn, a block away from the popular Town Square area's bars and restaurants (townsquareinns.com/antler-inn, from $55). grandtarghee.com, adult passes from $69.
Kirkwood Mountain, California
Bay Area skiers know that while the party may be in South Lake Tahoe, the powder is an hour south at down-home Kirkwood. This massive mountain gets buckets of snow (up to 600 inches a year) and has steep chutes sure to please intermediates and experts. Best of all, lift tickets cost 10 percent less than those at resorts farther north. Intermediate snowboarders should take advantage of Kirkwood's backcountry courses, the only West Coast powder-instruction program accredited by Burton.kirkwood.com, adult passes from $74.*
Revelstoke Mountain Resort, B.C.
North America's newest ski resort is one of its most promising: It's 5,620 feet tall, set in the Banff-like Columbia River valley, and gets up to an astounding 60 feet of snow every year. But Revelstoke is still somewhat of a work in progress, so lodging in the base area is being offered at discounted rates. (The lesson: Go now, while it's still affordable!) You can book a room in the resort's ecofriendly Nelsen Lodge for as little as $131 per person per night, including a lift ticket, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary fruit and coffee (250/814-5000). Head down the Last Spike for one of the biggest sustained vertical drops on the continent, at 9.5 miles long: Two laps top-to-bottom here, and your quads will beg you to cancel yoga classes for a month. revelstokemountainresort.com, adult passes from $74.
Mt. Bachelor, Oregon
At many resorts, cheaper lift tickets during the shoulder months often means poorer skiing. Not so at Mount Bachelor, a long-dormant volcanic cone in the Cascade Range, where the off-season is prime. In early December and May, lift tickets are discounted, but the slopes are still excellent: Christmastime is often celebrated with base depths of four feet of snow, while May temperatures reach into the 60s for ideal spring skiing conditions. To boot, last year the resort instituted a new pricing structure based on how many lifts it anticipated opening each day. No snow? Tickets could be $50. Total whiteout? You'll be happy to pay the full $70, which, for 3,365 vertical feet spread over 3,683 acres, is still a bargain. Early- and late-season deals at the Riverhouse (riverhouse.com, doubles from $125) in nearby Bend offer free breakfasts, a free night with a two-day purchase, and a free mountain shuttle.mtbachelor.com, adult passes from $50.
*Last season's prices. This year's rates were unavailable at press time.