If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a ski vacation in the United States, steady yourself for sticker shock — especially if you’re eyeing a trip to one of the big-name North American resorts. At popular spots in Utah and Colorado, including Park City Mountain Resort and Vail, walk-up, day-of lift tickets could run you $299 per day — and that’s before you tack on extras like gear rental, lessons and on-mountain snacks.
A 2023 story by Ski Magazine crunched the numbers regarding what a family of four could expect to spend for a single “unplanned day on the hill” (including lift tickets, gear rental, parking, lunch on the mountain and the cost of gas for driving in from the nearest airport). The total came to more than $1,000 per day at popular mountain resorts in California, Colorado and Vermont — and that’s without accommodation costs factored in.
The good news is there are smaller mountain towns loaded with charm and close to lesser-known ski resorts where you can nab lift tickets for less than $100 a day, inexpensive hotel rooms can be found and an all-around more affordable ski vacation is still possible.
Follow our lead to five lesser-known mountain towns close to great skiing where you won’t have to sacrifice terrain, but you’ll find plenty of the white stuff to save on the green.
Less than 35 miles south of Glacier National Park, the charming Old West mountain town of Kalispell in northwest Montana is ideally positioned for days spent skiing on two nearby mountains: Whitefish Mountain Resort to the north and Blacktail Mountain Ski Area to the south. Lift tickets cost around $97 per day ($83 for ages 65–69; $35 for 70-plus) at Whitefish and $80 at Blacktail ($45 for 70-plus).
Right along Main Street in the heart of Kalispell’s compact and walkable downtown, check into the 1912 Kalispell Grand. It offers free continental breakfast, free parking, and an afternoon cookie and popcorn break. Rooms start at $104 per night. The Best Western Plus Flathead Lake Inn and Suites has a free full breakfast, an indoor pool and rooms from around $130 per night.