The specific prices described in this article have now passed, but it remains online so that the resources named will be of future use to travelers.
A ski vacation can be a wallet-buster, complete with $100 lift tickets, sky-high room rates and $15 hamburgers. But it doesn't have to be this way. There is plenty of great terrain in the Rocky Mountains not affixed to an exclusive, expensive zip code.
Loveland Ski Area
Disclaimer: I live in Denver and have a season pass to Loveland Ski Resort (303/569-3203; www.skiloveland.com). But it's a bargain, there's hardly ever a crowd, and it's an easy commute, 60 miles west of Denver This bare-bones local's favorite is right atop the Continental Divide where I-70 dives into the Eisenhower Tunnel. The lift tickets are among the most affordable in Colorado, rooms are reasonable in nearby Georgetown and Idaho Springs, and downtown Denver is less than an hour away. The lift lines are short, especially so on weekdays, and, sure, the lifts aren't very fast, but the vibe is mellow, the scenery is superlative (even for Colorado), and you'll find plenty of varied terrain. However, this is one of the Centennial State's highest resorts, with base areas that are over 10,000 feet above sea level and lifts that max out over 13,000 feet—during storms, the climate is not for the wary or underdressed.
Despite Purgatory Mountain's foreboding name, Purgatory Resort (800/982-6103; www.purgatoryresort.com) is family-friendly and affordable, with reasonable adult lift tickets and quick access to one of the greatest downtowns in Colorado. The resort, once known as Durango, is 25 miles north of Durango proper, but it is more than worth the drive to stay in the historic and vibrant city, full of great restaurants, nightlife, and shopping.
Whitefish Mountain Resort
In northwest Montana, there's Whitefish Mountain Resort (406/862-2900; www.skiwhitefish.com), where lift tickets, accommodation, and breakfast can be purchased for just $88, all in. Whitefish, the historic railroad town at the foot of the resort's Big Mountain, is a blast, complete with a brewery and a wide range of lodging options, and the resort has condo complexes and lodges surrounded by great terrain and otherworldly frozen trees known as snow ghosts.
Alta Ski Area
The legendary powder at Utah's Alta Ski Area, just 25 miles southeast of Salt Lake City (801/359-1078; www.alta.com), doesn't come with an extreme price tag. Adult lift tickets and lodging rates are reasonable both on the mountain and even more so in Salt Lake City. Open since 1939 and thoroughly, old-school Alta is one of the few North American resorts catering to skiers only—snowboarding is not allowed.
On the west side of the Tetons, Grand Targhee Resort (307/353-2300; www.grandtarghee.com) offers similar terrain and scenery as its more famous neighbor on the east side of these magnificent peaks, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, only with less expensive lift tickets and lodging options. The resort offers a number of "Twofer" days where two lift tickets are the price of one.