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If you’ve gone up to a lift-ticket window at a major ski resort in the U.S. over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that prices aren’t what they used to be. According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), the average weekend regular-season walk-up ticket price across the country is now $142.
“The majority of the ski areas in the U.S. are not selling $200 lift tickets on a daily basis throughout the season,” says Adrienne Saia Isaac, spokesperson for the NSAA. “A $200 lift ticket is generally the walk-up rate during peak season at large, western-destination resorts. These ski areas tend to have more terrain, infrastructure, and amenities, and often that leads to higher operating costs. Ski areas that are smaller in size, with less acreage and fewer lifts, tend to have lower daily ticket prices.”
Ask a ski-resort operator about the endless uptick of lift-ticket pricing, and they’ll remind you that the cost of doing business at all resorts—big and small—continues to rise. “The infrastructure and the cost of running a ski area are not insignificant,” says Jeff Hanle, director of public relations for Aspen Snowmass, in Colorado. “It’s an expensive undertaking to run the lifts and the snowmaking and to pay employees and insurance. The prices are always increasing.”
Let’s say you don’t want to commit to a full-season pass but you still want to go skiing and you’d rather not spend the equivalent of a month’s rent on a single day at the slopes for you and your family. Can you ski for under $50 a day per person? Is that even possible? Yes. Here’s where and how to find the best deals.
Avoid Peak Periods
At ski resorts big and small, midweek ticket pricing is considerably cheaper—and less crowded—than on the weekends. At Brian Head in southern Utah, if you go midweek this winter, you can snag lift tickets starting at $39; weekend tickets start around $57 a day. In New Hampshire, Black Mountain sells midweek lift tickets for $50; weekends and holidays are $72. Or you can score discounted lift tickets through Ski New Hampshire, which partners with Black Mountain and other resorts for lift tickets starting at $39 a day.
Also consider planning your trip during off-peak months, like early April, or look for resorts that offer half-day or night-skiing tickets at reduced rates. At Beaver Mountain, in northern Utah, you can nab a half-day ticket—either from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.—for $50.
At Bogus Basin in Idaho, adult full-day tickets cost $73, but if you want to ski under the lights, you can hit the slopes from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. for just $34. (And if you fly Alaska Airlines into Boise, you can ski free the day of your arrival.)
Porcupine Mountain Ski Area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula isn’t big by any standards—the resort has one triple chair and a rope tow—but the place gets a respectable 200 inches of snow on average annually. You can access the whole mountain for $45 a day, or ski from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for just $35.
Head to Smaller Ski Hills
If you’re willing to stray from the well-known bucket-list resorts, you can find more affordable rates at smaller ski areas nearby. In Colorado, a day lift ticket to Steamboat Mountain Resort starts around $205, but at Howelsen Hill, the Olympic training grounds and community ski area in downtown Steamboat Springs, adult tickets are just $39 a day. Elsewhere in the state, Copper Mountain has advance-purchase lift tickets starting at $99, but at Ski Cooper, a smaller hill about half an hour away outside the town of Leadville, midweek adult tickets from Mondays through Thursdays are $50.
In Washington, day tickets to Crystal Mountain or Stevens Pass will run you over $100 a day, but across Puget Sound you can ski inside Olympic National Park at Hurricane Ridge, one of three ski areas in the country located within a national park. All-day access to its two rope tows costs $49.
Skiing Killington in Vermont runs around $112 a day, depending on when you buy, but weekdays at Middlebury Snow Bowl, 35 miles north, are only $40. Yes, Snow Bowl is smaller—Killington has 21 lifts and 1,509 skiable acres compared with Snow Bowl’s three lifts and 600 acres. But if you want to take some turns away from the crowds and save money, it’s a great option.
Look for Deals
Don’t forget to check for deals online before you go. Some resorts have perks like discounted rates on select midweek days, kids-ski-free weeks, or friends-and-family deals for season-pass holders. Mount Rose, Nevada, north of Lake Tahoe, has a Friday afternoon deal that’s $59. Or have a girls’ day on a Thursday with Mount Rose’s Ladies Day, which trims tickets to $69 for women.
Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia has a Snowshoe 2’Fer deal: two days of midweek skiing for $99. Or head to the Hoodoo Ski Resort in Sisters, Oregon, where a normal lift ticket is $65, but on Thrifty Thursdays from January 6 through March 17, tickets are discounted to $29 and you can ski from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Get Tickets to Limited Terrain or Uphill Access
Some ski areas offer discounted tickets that just access beginner terrain—perfect if you’re teaching kids to ski or just getting started yourself. Loveland in Colorado has a $50 adult lift ticket that works only at Loveland Valley’s beginner-friendly Lift 7 and magic carpet. (If you want to ski the rest of the mountain, a regular ticket starts at $69.)
It’ll cost you $75 to ride the lifts at Snow King, the in-town ski area in Jackson, Wyoming. But if you just need the magic-carpet learning area, it’s only $20. Or if you’re willing to hike for your turns, an uphill access ticket is $20, too.
Other ski areas allow uphill access for free—check out this list of resorts with uphill-access policies. That includes Ski Santa Fe in New Mexico, but be sure to follow its uphill policy. Ski Santa Fe also has a beginner lift ticket for $42, with access to limited terrain.