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16 Top Cheap Ski Holidays in North America, 2021

Written by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers and Stillman Rogers
Nov 17, 2020

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With lift prices at some high-profile ski resorts topping out at more than $200 a day for adults, families and skiers who are more interested in good snow than in being seen are looking for more budget-friendly mountains.

If you live in a snow zone, there's a good chance that small local ski areas and cheap ski resorts are within reach and much less expensive, but many of these do not offer a wide choice of terrain or facilities for a family vacation, such as nearby lodging, dining, and off-slope activities.

The mountains below, for the most part, offer all these ingredients for an inexpensive ski vacation, plus professional grooming and snowmaking and/or abundant natural snow. Some of these, like Utah's Solitude and Brighton, you'll have heard of; others are well-kept local secrets. They represent the best-known ski regions, along with a few that you might not think of first as ski destinations.

All the ski regions on this list have tickets around or under $100 for the 2020/2021 season, some much less. Some ski resorts offer discounted tickets when you buy well in advance online, some at quite a substantial saving. Buying three-day or weekly passes, multi-mountain passes such as Epic, and taking advantage of ski-and-stay packages can also reduce vacation costs dramatically. So can opting for off-mountain lodging at nearby budget inns.

Changes for the 2020/2021 Ski Season: In response to health and safety concerns, ski resorts throughout North America have made some changes for the current season, so it's very important to check with each ski area, and often with state health requirements as well. Some states, like Vermont, have restricted overnight stays by residents of certain states or counties. Many states and provinces have established standards for opening, which all resorts must follow.

At most ski mountains, you can expect limits on the use of base lodges and dining areas, with an emphasis on grab-and-go lunches. Many will require advance ticket sales in order to control capacity; apres-ski activities will be curtailed; and lift capacities will be reduced for social distancing, with only family groups sharing gondolas and chairlifts.

Discover the most affordable places to hit the slopes on your next winter vacation with our list of the best cheap ski holidays in North America.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Whitefish Mountain, Montana

A skier carving up fresh powder on Whitefish Mountain.
A skier carving up fresh powder on Whitefish Mountain.

Despite its location only 20 miles from Glacier Park International Airport, Whitefish-and Northwest Montana-are not on the radar of most skiers. That keeps its devotees happy, as well as keeping the crowds and the prices down. Daily lift tickets are $85 and buy access to 3,000 acres of powder-covered terrain, which rivals any in the west.

Half the 94 runs are graded for advanced skiers and boarders, one-third for intermediates, and the rest for beginners. On-mountain lodging is plentiful, and ski-and-stay packages offer some greater values. Arrive by train to add some romance to your ski holiday - Amtrak's Empire Builder route between Seattle and Chicago stops only minutes from the mountain's resort village.

Although Big Sky gets all the attention, Whitefish Mountain is one of the best ski resorts in Montana.

Official site: https://skiwhitefish.com/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Whitefish

2. Bear Mountain, California

Ski slopes above the town of Big Bear
Ski slopes above the town of Big Bear

California may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of a cheap ski holiday, but you can find reasonable rates at some of the lesser-known resorts. Near San Bernardino and about 100 miles from Los Angeles, Bear Mountain is part of Big Bear Mountain Resort at Big Bear Lake.

Ski terrain spreads across four mountains accessed by 12 lifts, so there's plenty of choice, especially for intermediate skiers (40 percent of the trails are rated for them) and freestylers, who revel in its terrain park. Trails are lighted for night skiing on weekends and holidays.

Weekday lift tickets are under $80 and discounted by 20 percent if you buy more than 72 hours in advance. Although there are no on-property inns, a number are nearby.

Official site: https://www.bigbearmountainresort.com/winter

3. Brighton, Utah

Mountain peaks on a bluebird day at Brighton, Utah
Mountain peaks on a bluebird day at Brighton, Utah

One of the several ski resorts near Salt Lake City and about 35 miles from Salt Lake City's airport, Brighton is known for its superb powder and for the high-speed quads that access all its terrain. But despite this and adult day tickets cheaper than its neighboring resorts, Brighton remains under the radar for many skiers who frequent Utah.

It's especially attractive for families looking for a low-cost ski vacation, as up to two children 10 years and younger ski free with a paying adult. An expected 500 inches of annual snowfall covers the 66 runs; grooming is excellent, but powder-hounds will find plenty of fresh powder on its 1,000 acres of skiable terrain.

Utah Transit Authority ski buses travel up Big Cottonwood Canyon to the mountain several times daily. A Ski City Super Pass makes skiing here even less expensive and also gives access to skiing in Alta, Snowbird, and Solitude.

Official site: http://www.brightonresort.com

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Salt Lake City: Best Areas & Hotels

4. Bridger Bowl, Montana

Fresh powder at Bridger Bowl
Fresh powder at Bridger Bowl

Montana offers some cheap skiing options, without sacrificing on powder and fun terrain. Known for the powder that often covers its 2,000 acres of skiable terrain, Bridger Bowl usually sees about 350 inches of snowfall a year.

Despite its $63 daily lift tickets and its 20-minute distance from the college town of Bozeman, Bridger Bowl is rarely crowded, and long waits are rare at any of its eight chairlifts. For chutes, steeps, and open powder fields, not to mention spectacular views, climb to The Ridge.

Official site: https://www.bridgerbowl.com/

5. Sugar Mountain, North Carolina

Sugar Mountain
Sugar Mountain

You can find incredible value at many of North Carolina's top ski resorts. The 125 skiable acres at Sugar Mountain, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, may not seem like much compared to the Rockies, but its location in the southeast makes it a popular destination for those who prefer not to travel to New England or the west for skiing. And its elevation - the base is at 4,100 feet and the summit elevation is 5,300 feet - combined with snowmaking on 100 percent of the terrain and state-of-the-art grooming promises plenty of snow.

Half of the terrain is intermediate, with the rest split evenly between beginner and advanced. Most of the mountain is lighted for night skiing, and the resort offers ice-skating, snowshoeing, and a tubing park.

You can base yourself in the town of Banner Elk, two hours from Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, and just 10 minutes from the slopes of both Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain.

Official site: www.skisugar.com

6. Cranmore Mountain, New Hampshire

Skiing the slopes of Cranmore Mountain
Skiing the slopes of Cranmore Mountain | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Cranmore Mountain is not only the birthplace of sport skiing in the east, but the town of North Conway, which its slopes overlook, has been named the nation's #1 ski town. The town and mountain share a laid-back vibe that appeals to families, and a holiday here needn't break the bank.

All ski lift tickets must be purchased in advance online, and prices will vary according to demand that day. For the best prices, reserve tickets as early as possible. Children under age five ski free.

North Conway offers plenty of lodging at all price points, including several family-oriented resorts and inns. Although the mountain doesn't look formidable and has excellent beginner and intermediate terrain on its 57 trails, there are plenty of challenges here for experts. Non-skiers will find a tubing park and Mountain Coaster, along with North Conway's fabled discount shopping scene.

Official site: http://www.cranmore.com/

7. Red Lodge Mountain, Montana

Casual about everything but the skiing, Red Lodge Mountain is all about making the most of the experience, with uncrowded lifts and trails that cover the 1,635 acres of accessible terrain. The six chairlifts, which include a high-speed quad, access 70 runs, divided into 19 percent beginner runs, 25 percent intermediate, 36 percent advanced, and 20 percent expert.

The longest run is 2.5 miles, and riders can choose between the beginner terrain park or a separate park for intermediate and advanced.

Spend some time in the town of Red Lodge, a charming combination of Old West and 21st century.

Official site: https://www.redlodgemountain.com/

8. Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho

Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho
Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho

The largest ski resort in Idaho or Washington, Schweitzer Mountain has 2,900 acres of terrain, which includes two massive bowls and legendary tree skiing. Beyond the 95 marked trails and bowls are 200 miles of backcountry that stretches across the Idaho panhandle and into Washington. More than 300 inches of annual snowfall keep the terrain well covered for skiing, boarding, cross-country, and snowshoeing. Cat skiing is available to reach the remotest areas.

The rustic Alpine-style village at the base has lodging, as does nearby Sandpoint.

Official site: https://www.schweitzer.com/

9. Sunlight Mountain, Colorado

Sunlight Mountain
Sunlight Mountain | Photo Copyright: Visit Glenwood Springs

With its enviable combination of snow (an average of 250 inches a year) and sun (more than 300 sunny days annually), it's surprising that this Colorado ski resort is not crowded with skiers. But its 730 acres of skiable terrain are uncrowded, and lift line waits almost unknown. They live up to their claim that "lift lines are not included in the skiing and snowboarding experience at Sunlight Mountain."

The addition of five new runs this season give skiers even more room to play, and daily rates that range between $49 and $65 make skiing affordable. Budget-friendly ski/stay packages include free skiing for children age 12 and under.

A new grab-and-go menu and additional outdoor seating means you can take full advantage of all that sunshine. There are plenty of lodging options in nearby Glenwood Springs, famous for its hot springs.

The town of Glenwood Springs makes a great base for a ski holiday. Soak in one of the the hot springs after a day of skiing.

Address: Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Official site: www.sunlightmtn.com

10. Bromont, Quebec

Bromont, Quebec
Bromont, Quebec

For an affordable family ski vacation, don't forget about Quebec, Canada. The largest of the Eastern Townships' ski resorts, covering seven sides of four mountains, Bromont offers an amazing variety of terrain in its 155 trails. One-fourth are rated for beginners, more than one-third for intermediate, and the remaining 39 percent are evenly split between single- and double-black diamonds.

A separate learning area for all ages is handy to the lodge and the green and blue trails of Mont Soleil, a nice arrangement for learners and anyone wanting to renew old skills.

Families or groups of friends can save even more money on the already low-priced lift tickets by buying multiple tickets at the same time. Tickets to ski on the Mont Soleil trails only are half price. Because its seven faces vary in direction, there is almost always good skiing somewhere on the mountain, regardless of the weather.

Full resort facilities at the foot of the mountain include the luxury Chateau Hôtel Bromont. Be sure to check the Bromont website for the latest information on travel in and to Quebec this season.

Official site: https://www.skibromont.com/

11. Kimberley, British Columbia

Cloud-cloaked peaks at Kimberley
Cloud-cloaked peaks at Kimberley

Known for its family-friendly atmosphere and the Bavarian-like style of the town, Kimberly is blessed with the combination of perfect powder and abundant sunny days to enjoy it. Five lifts serve its 68 runs and 12 glades; one-fifth of the trails are for beginners, 42 percent for intermediates, and 38 percent for experts. The longest trail, Ridgeway, is just under four miles.

Families especially like the kids' après activities and the family skating rink, as well as the wide variety of ski in/ski out accommodations. For an even greater saving on lift tickets, Kimberly is part of the Epic Pass, with unlimited access to 65 ski resorts in the US, Canada, and Europe for the cost of just five days' tickets.

Americans should be aware that there are limitations on who can travel into Canada this season, so it's important to check before making plans.

Official site: https://skikimberley.com/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kimberley

12. Solitude, Utah

Solitude ski lift
Solitude ski lift

Solitude is well named, near the end of the long Big Cottonwood Canyon and loved by local skiers bent on avoiding the more crowded mountains in Park City. Its 77 runs and three bowls cover 1,200 acres and are served by eight chairlifts.

The 500 inches of annual snow guarantee the legendary feather-light powder Utah is known for. The resort is well set up for families, with all trails converging at two base areas. One of these has on-site lodging, and the other has facilities for day skiers and boarders.

The terrain is especially heavy with intermediate and beginner runs, but experts can get plenty of challenge in the Honeycomb Canyon powder. The Ski City Super Pass is a good deal for those who plan to spend a vacation in the area, as it is good at Solitude, Alta, Brighton, and Snowbird.

Official site: https://skisolitude.com

13. Bolton Valley, Vermont

Bolton Valley trail
Bolton Valley trail

Its location near Burlington's airport and I-89 make this secluded Vermont valley easy to reach, and its 71 well-groomed trails and under-$85 daily lift tickets make it worth the trip. Around the mountain and its compact Alpine-style village are more than 5,000 acres of undeveloped forest, and Bolton's award-winning environmental initiatives aim to keep it pristine.

In addition to its trails, which are evenly split among skill levels, Bolton Valley offers more than a dozen glades, three terrain parks, and 62 miles of Nordic and backcountry trails. There is ski-in/ski-out lodging right at the base of the lifts, and a Sports Center with a heated pool, Jacuzzi, and sauna.

Official site: https://www.boltonvalley.com/

14. Silverton Mountain, Colorado

Expert skiing at Silverton Mountain
Expert skiing at Silverton Mountain | Zach Dischner / photo modified

Admittedly, Silverton Mountain isn't for everyone - not even for all skiers. But experts looking for perfect powder (they get about 400 inches of snow in an average year) and unique off-piste ski adventures won't find a better ski resort.

A vintage double chairlift carries skiers and boarders up the mountain, where they then hike to reach pristine back-country terrain. At the bottom of the runs, an old school bus shuttles them back to the base "lodge"-a tent-like hut warmed by a wood fire. Your ticket ($89) includes full avalanche gear - we never said this place was for the faint of heart.

Official site: http://silvertonmountain.com

15. Sipapu, New Mexico

Sipapu skiing
Sipapu skiing

Only 20 miles from Taos, Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort is all about families: it's been family-owned since the 1950s and has now catered to generations of kids and their parents. Plenty of slope-side lodging, a good learning program, and free season passes for those under 10 years explain the appeal, plus the adult ticket price confirms their claim to be the best deal in the Rockies. It's also one of the best ski resorts in New Mexico.

The natural mountain terrain has something for every skill level, with one-fifth of its 41 trails for beginners, 40 percent for Intermediates, one-fourth for advanced skiers and boarders, and 15 percent for experts. Three terrain parks keep freestylers and boarders happy.

Official site: https://www.sipapu.ski

16. Magic Mountain, Idaho

It may not be the biggest mountain you'll ski in the West, but with $36 adult all-day tickets, this mountain south of Boise may be the biggest bargain for great snow. Its 11 trails begin at a base elevation of 6,500 feet, where the annual snowfall is about 230 inches. The longest run is just under one mile, and four of the 11 trails are designated for experts, with steep pitches and tight turns.

On a smaller scale than many other western resorts, it nonetheless has all the facilities for great family ski experiences, with a learning program, rentals, and a tubing hill.

Official site: https://magicmountainresort.com

Best Cheap Skiing for Experts

Bargain skiing for thrill-seeking skiers isn't limited to the expert runs at Whitefish, the legendary tree skiing at Schweitzer Mountain, and the 2,600 acres of powder bowls and glades at Ski Cooper. Below are some others to consider.

Taft Trail, Cannon Mountain
Taft Trail, Cannon Mountain | Rudi Riet / photo modified

Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire: Some of the White Mountains' most precipitous and challenging terrain is at this state-owned mountain where Olympic Gold Medalist Bode Miller learned to ski. A bonus is riding the historic 80-passenger Aerial Tramway cable car to the 4,080-foot summit before plunging down the gnarly trails. Lift tickets are $82, and on some non-vacation-weekdays, they can drop much lower.

Official site: http://cannonmt.com

Magic Mountain, Vermont: The mountain may not reach the altitude of other Vermont peaks, but the topography is more reminiscent of alpine slopes, its ridgeline plunging into deep-cut valleys with natural twists and plunges. Already with some of the steepest vertical in New England, Magic Mountain added another double-diamond expert summit trail and a new East Side glade for the 2019/2020 season, accessed by a new fixed-grip quad to the summit. The tree skiing is superb. Lift tickets are $74.

Official site: https://magicmtn.com

Best Cheap Skiing for Families

Nearly all ski resorts have some facilities for young skiers, with conveyor belt lifts, learning programs, even supervised play centers. But some mountains combine an especially welcoming atmosphere for kids with bargain lift prices for the whole family.

Tubing at Camelback Mountain
Tubing at Camelback Mountain | Jack and Dianne / photo modified

Camelback Mountain, Pennsylvania: In the Poconos and easy to reach from New York City and Philadelphia, Camelback Mountain Resort has more than 30 trails for beginning and intermediate skiers and boarders, and adult lift tickets for $72 a day. There is a full range of learning options for all ages. Other family activities include snow tubing, a mountain coaster, zipline, and water park with slides and a wave pool.

Official site: https://www.skicamelback.com

Pats Peak, New Hampshire: Only 90 minutes from Boston, Pats Peak has direct bus service from the city on Saturdays during the ski season. Families appreciate the compact base area, friendly atmosphere, and reasonable prices of $75 a day for access to its three beginner areas, 14 novice trails, nine glades, five expert trails, and three for advanced experts. One-fifth of the terrain is for intermediates, and 100 percent of the mountain is covered by snowmaking.

The fun doesn't stop at dusk: the entire mountain is lighted for night skiing. New for the 2019/2020 season was the opening of the largest rental shop in Northern New England and a new base lodge with an elevator and stairs friendly to ski boots and little legs. New for the 2020/2021 season is expanded outdoor seating with heaters and wind screens, as well as outside pickup for fresh-cooked foods ordered via the resort's app.

Official site: https://www.patspeak.com

Wilmot Valley, Wisconsin: Close to Chicago and Milwaukee, Wilmot Valley has 120 skiable acres with 23 trails, a progression terrain park, and a beginner area with two new surface conveyor lifts. These and new chairlifts, which increase capacity by 45 percent, are only the beginning of the improvements begun with the acquisition of Wilmot by Vail Resorts.

This also means that Wilmot is included in Vail's Epic Pass system, although daily rates remain low. A dedicated and state-of-the-art children's ski and snowboard center has been added next to the learning terrain.

Official site: https://www.wilmotmountain.com

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imageSkiing in the Desert: Although the idea of skiing in Arizona may not be something that immediately jumps to mind when planning a ski vacation, you can find some incredible powder days at the best ski resorts in Arizona and prices are extremely reasonable. Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff is the best of these, with lift service to an elevation of 11,500 feet. Staying in Flagstaff can also be relatively cheap.

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