Mountains + Skiing

The Most Affordable Ski Destinations to Check Out This Year

North American skiing can feel a bit like going to Disney World these days: crowded, expensive, and eerily fake. Thankfully, there are a few areas that have retained the sport’s unfussy soul. Even better? They’re offering up the authentic experience for a fraction of the cost you’ll find at most mega resorts. So skip the Bogner-clad crowds and save $$$ this season by checking out our nine favorite and most affordable ski destinations for 2018.

 

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Taos, NM

As steep as it is off-the-radar, New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley remains a favorite among hardcore skiers and boarders. Hidden in a box canyon at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, the former mining community is blessed with abundant snowfall and sunshine, and an equally disparate mix of cultures--at the the iconic Bavarian Restaurant you can indulge in German beers, brats and schnitzel as if you were après-ing in the Alps. Taos serves up big mountain skiing (51 percent of the area is devoted to expert trails, while the summit tops out at over 12,000 feet), but the vibe is always intimate, and the lift ticket — at $90 a day — is cheap considering all the steep and deep terrain that comes with it. 

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Man skiing on Bright Ski Resort slope
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Brighton, UT

Utah is home to some of the world’s best skiing. But for all the praise heaped on resorts like Snowbird and Park City, it’s Brighton that remains the diamond in the rough. Located at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton’s elevation is a boon for snowfall, with 500 annual inches blanketing its 1,000+ acres of trails, bowls, chutes, and glades. A network of high speed lifts abound (ferrying skiers to the top of a mountain that offers everything from beginner trails to heart-in-your-throat extreme terrain), there’s night-skiing, and the day pass is just $85. If you’re after first chair, the 20-room Brighton Lodge offers pared-down, motel-style accommodation within walking distance of The Crest Express Lift. Though you’ll find far plusher properties (and even some deals) in Salt Lake City, just a 40-minute drive down the canyon.

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Hotel room balcony view at Mountaineer Square
Man skiing at Crested Butte
Elk Mountain range in Crested Butte
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Crested Butte, CO

Like Telluride — Colorado’s other haven for the free-spirited — Crested Butte is a mountain town that proudly flies its freak flag. Except here, you won’t find any sprawling homes belonging to Oprah, Tom Cruise or Ralph Lauren. Nope, it just has a good old fashioned Victorian-style downtown, friendly locals, killer coffee and burritos, and one of America’s biggest, baddest, and most affordable ski areas. Fork over $78 for a ticket, and you get full reign over the resort’s remarkable terrain — everything from lift-access chutes, backcountry-style bowls, and plenty of gentle, family-friendly trails. Surrounded by the striking Elk Mountains and often buried in snow, it’s a cozy winter destination even off the slopes. If you want to maximize your turns, consider booking a room at Mountaineer Square, located at the base of the resort. Or, if you want digs high on charm and design, head down into town and stay at Scarp Ridge Lodge, a former saloon turned boutique hotel.

RELATED: 9 Best Mountain Towns in America 

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Snowy scape and man skiing at Red Mountain
Ski lift at Red Mountain
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Red Mountain, BC

Though technically a Canadian ski resort, Red Mountain is right in America’s backyard. Located just a little over two hours from Spokane, Washington, it’s easily accessible from the lower 48 but feels so far away from the formulaic base facilities, big crowds, and overpriced cafeteria food plaguing modern skiing. That’s because Red prides itself on remaining untouched and undiscovered. What you’ll find is a playground for powderhounds and backcountry enthusiasts, one that mixes steep, untamed runs with easy groomers for the family, all to the tune of $96 a day (receive a 15 percent discount by booking 14-days in advance). The powder here in British Colombia’s Monashee Mountains is light and dry (unlike the wet stuff that can fall in Whistler-Blackcomb), and nearby Rossland is a a real deal town (think brick storefronts lining Main Street with the snowcapped mountains rising in the near distance) rather than some purpose built resort. 

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Banff at night
Ski slope on Mt. Norquay
Man overlooking Mt. Norquay
Downtown with Mt. Norquay in the background
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Mt. Norquay, Alberta

With its mix of serrated mountain peaks, glacial lakes, and Wes Anderson-esque grand hotels, Banff gets our nod for North America’s most gorgeous winter destination. Famous ski resorts like Lake Louise and Sunshine Village have big vertical and acreage, but it’s nearby Mount Norquay which is the region’s underrated gem. Perched just above town, you’ll find 60 classic, fall line trails — some of which are over 90-years old, all of which offer stunning views of surrounding Banff National Park — which you can explore for just $89 Canadian. There’s night skiing and tubing, too, plus a large, rustic day lodge that’s a perfect meeting point for groups with varied skiing abilities. This is a day-tripper’s mountain (no slope-side lodging here), though with Banff just four-miles away you’ll find plenty of affordable hotel and dining options. Feel like splurging? The 764-room Fairmont Banff Springs — dubbed Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies” — offers a regal, frozen-in-time grandeur rarely found outside Europe.

RELATED: What to Pack on a Ski Vacation 

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Man skiing on a snowy scape at Crystal Mountain
Aerial shot at Crystal Mountain, Pierce, WA
Winter view from Crystal Mountain, Washington State
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Crystal Mountain, Washington

A favorite among Seattle daytrippers — who make the under two hour trek up into the Cascades to feast on powder — Crystal Mountain is a ski area that reveals new details with each turn. Draped over 2,600 acres, you’ll find deep bowls, tight tree runs, and moguls upon moguls. There’s plenty of gentle trails, too, perfect for families, many of whom arrive in their RVs and camp out in the parking lot (where they grill up dinner). A network of nine lifts — including the only high-speed gondola in the state — make all this sprawling terrain easily accessible. And at a criminally cheap $47, so does the ticket price. 

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Aerial jump on slopes at Smuggler's Notch
Person in red skiing down slopes at Smuggler's Notch
Ski lift at Smuggler's Notch
Looking eastward toward the mountains near Smuggler's Notch in Vermont in wintertime. The sun is rising and partially visible as it crests the hills. The trees are covered in hoarfrost.
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Smuggler's Notch, VT

While Stowe might get all the attention, it’s neighboring Smuggler’s Notch that remains a perennial favorite among Vermonters and visiting families, who flock here for the steep bumps, rolling intermediate trails, and the welcoming vibe. Spread out over three distinct peaks, Smuggs — as the locals endearingly refer to it — has impeccable grooming and one of America’s best children’s ski schools. A lift ticket goes for as low as $79, while additional days can be had for just $60. Country inns and resorts — like the Trapp Family Lodge — abound in the quintessentially New England village of Stowe (a 40-minute drive away). 

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Man skiing down slopes at Wildcat Mountain
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Wildcat Mountain, NH

Nestled across Pinkham Notch from mighty Mount Washington, New Hampshire’s Wildcat offers the best winter scenery on the East Coast. Luckily, the skiing is just as epic. Serving up over 2,000 feet of vertical and 500 acres of varied terrain — from narrow black diamonds to meandering cruisers to powdery glades — the mountain is popular among local die hards who don’t mind risking a little frostbite to lay down first tracks. The throwback resort’s day lodge and lifts are a bit dated (there’s only one high speed chair), but with tickets as low as $79 who cares? Use the money you save to book a room at The Glen House, a new boutique hotel evoking classic New England lodges (clapboard exterior; Shaker-style rooms; roaring fire places) that’s located two-miles down the road. 

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A sunset shines on the top of Ross Peak, in Bozeman, Montana.
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Bridger Bowl, MT

Bridger Bowl has long been on the lips of Bozeman locals, as if they can’t help sharing the secret. Sure, Big Sky — with its massive vertical (the largest in America) and destination resort status — is less than an hour’s drive south, but Bozeman skiers in the know stick to quaint little Bridger. And for good reason. Pacific storms dry out as they whisk across Canada, then dump their light, fluffy payloads on Bridger’s steep face and backcountry bowls. The terrain here — pardon the hardcore skier jargon — is gnarly, and there’s plenty of opportunity to send it, both in and out of bounds. There’s gentle stuff, too, which is why the “resort” remains popular with local families. The vibe is appropriately laidback — no high speed lifts; ski attire tends to be patched together with duct tape — and the $63 lift ticket reflects the place’s unpretentious attitude. Lodging is sparse, so your best bet is to find digs 25-minutes down the road in Bozeman; like the Lark, a downtown boutique property that feels like an Ace Hotel designed by REI.

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