5 lesser-known, budget-friendly ski towns to visit

Skip the crowds and save big in these semi-hidden, affordable gems.

Skiing in North America can be a pricey endeavor, with lift tickets at popular, big-name resorts across the U.S. and Canada easily costing more than $200 a day just to get up the mountain. Add to that gear rentals, meals (and snacks), lessons, and accommodations, and you could easily shell out upwards of $1,000 a day on a ski trip for a family of four.

But, there’s a way to tackle a ski vacation differently when you set your sights on second ski cities—under-the-radar mountain towns that may not have the name recognition of the biggies, but still offer plenty to enjoy when it comes to snowy terrain and classic mountain-town vibes. Read on for money-saving ideas and destinations for a more budget-friendly ski vacation this winter.

MONTANA: Instead of Big Sky, try Kalispell

Montana has no shortage of high-end ranches and resorts, but if you’re looking for a more budget-minded ski vacation, set your sights on Kalispell, in the northwest portion of the state.

Roughly 35 miles south of Glacier National Park, this pretty hamlet keeps things low key along Main Street, where you can fuel up on inexpensive biscuits and omelets at the no-frills Sykes Diner before making your way up the hill at two nearby ski resorts. At Whitefish Mountain Resort and Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, day-of lift tickets average less than $100 a day. Compare that to Big Sky, which runs $200 and up in peak season.

As for the slopes themselves, Whitefish Mountain Resort has more than 100 named ski runs across 3,000 acres of terrain and 11 chairlifts to get you there (plus some 300 inches of annual snowfall: more than you’d get in Aspen, CO). At Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, where you start at the top of the mountain (with views of Glacier) and ski down, there are about 25 ski runs, including one that’s nearly two miles long.

Tip: When you need a break from skiing, take a road trip into Glacier National Park; it’s a 40-minute drive from town and the route promises to showcase the region’s wintry beauty in the grandest way you’ve ever seen.

COLORADO: Instead of Aspen, try Glenwood Springs

Guests recline in a hot springs covered in steam in the shadows of a mountainside

People soaking in the hot springs at Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Image: Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

Aspen is epic, but it’s also the kind of celebrity-fave, luxury enclave that can break the bank. Just an hour northwest, Glenwood Springs has mining-town roots and Prohibition-era history of its own, natural hot springs to soak tired muscles, and an excellent and affordable ski mountain nearby.

At Sunlight Mountain Resort, 72 trails all lead back down to the base, making it a great place for families to enjoy some independence without worrying about getting lost along the way. The mountain offers Ski, Swim & Stay deals that include a stay in Glenwood Springs, access to the hot springs, and a free lift ticket for kids 12 and under.

If you’re going your own way, consider the pet-friendly Hotel Denver, which dates back to 1915; it’s in the heart of town and has starting night rates around $160. Single-day lift tickets at Sunlight Mountain cost $80.

WYOMING: Instead of Jackson, try Casper

Orange cocktail in a large glass
Skier heads down snowy slopes
Cocktail at Backwards Distilling Company, in Casper, Wyoming (L), Snowboarding at Hogadon Basin Ski Area, in Casper (R)
Image: Courtesy of Visit Casper

Jackson and nearby Jackson Hole have all the makings of Wild West fantasies and cowboy lore, but neither location is a budget-friendly bet for a ski vacation. About 280 miles to the east is Casper, Wyoming’s second largest city after Cheyenne, where you can have a far more frugal ski trip without sacrificing the western spirit.

Just 15 miles from Casper’s cute downtown, which is lined with restaurants and breweries, Hogadon Ski Area can get you up the mountain and schussing down 19 runs for just $60 for lift tickets; night skiing on Fridays and Saturdays costs a rather reasonable $25. And while the terrain here isn’t massive—just 60 skiable acres—if you’re the kind of skier who loves to mix ski time with downtown fun, Casper is a great bet.

Tip: For the very best pre-ski breakfast in town, make your way to Eggington’s for the—wait for it!—pecan cinnamon roll French toast.

QUÉBEC: Instead of Mont Tremblant, try Le Massif de Charlevoix

A colorful hotel lobby decorated in animal prints and a mounted fireplace

Fireplace in the lobby at Club Med Quebec Charlevoix
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

A ski vacation to Quebec comes with plenty of powder and a hearty helping of French-Canadian culture (and if you’re lucky, some poutine, too). And while the province’s largest and most popular ski resort is Mont Tremblant, only 1.5 hours from Montreal, you can save big by heading for Le Massif de Charlevoix, closer to Quebec City (about one hour north) instead. Weekday lift tickets cost less than $90 USD; you’ll pay around $103 for them over the weekend. Le Massif de Charlevoix has great winter terrain, too, with 53 runs spread across more than 400 skiable acres and a nearly five-mile-long sled run in the mix.

With ski-in/ski-out access to the mountain, Club Med Quebec Charlevoix offers all-inclusive rates from $2,639 per person for seven nights that include all your meals, drinks, lodging, lift passing, and ski lessons. And in the town of Petite-Rivière-Saint-François, about 25 minutes from Le Massif de Charlevoix, Auberge le Four a Pain has cozy wood-paneled rooms, an onsite restaurant with a wood-fired pizza oven and rooms (around $122 a night, inclusive of breakfast).

VERMONT: Instead of Killington, try North Conway

Skier descends down apline-lined slopes

Skiing in North Conway, New Hampshire
Image: Cavan Images/Getty Images

Vermont’s largest ski area, Killington Resort offers 250 inches of average snowfall and vast mountain terrain; however, walk-up lift tickets will run you about $190 a day. But if you plan a ski vacation in North Conway, NH, about three hours northeast of Killington, you’re in for savings as well as a very good time in the town known as “the birthplace of American skiing”—indeed, this was the country’s epicenter of the sport in the 1930s.

At Cranmore Mountain Resort, lift tickets cost $119 a day and get you access to some of New England’s top terrain and terrain parks, too. For the non-skiers in your group, 10 lanes of snow tubing await; there’s also a mountain adventure park with a mountain coaster, giant swing, and zipline strung over the snowy surrounds.


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