By Amanda Jones
8:51 PM EST, December 6, 2013
Has it struck you that skiing has become a preposterously expensive family pastime? With lift tickets close to $100 a day, plus ski school, rentals, food and accommodations, it's not unheard of to spend $1,500 a day for a family of four, and that's without transportation.
There are, however, places in the West where skiing is still affordable. Here are some overlooked but awesome ski hills.
Durango Mountain Resort
When TripAdvisor analyzed 25 top North American ski resorts, weighing the cost of items such as lift tickets, accommodations and, naturally, beer, Durango was the best value for the money, at half the average price of the others (and one-quarter the price of Vail, the most costly).
Its location in the Purgatory range of the dramatic San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado means you don't have to sacrifice snow quality or "steeps" to ski here. With a base elevation of 8,800 feet and the summit at 10,800, it offers the deep, light powder Colorado is known for.
There are eight lifts and dozens of runs, many of which are groomed and good for families, but black-diamond skiers will discover plenty to keep themselves amused, especially on the backside, while the kids are in ski school. To mix it up, you'll find tree skiing, terrain parks, a tubing hill, dog sledding, snowshoeing, a Nordic center and backcountry snowcat skiing when conditions allow.
The resort's village, at the base of the mountain, has seven restaurants and accommodations, from lodge rooms to designer condos, for all budgets. It's tempting to stay in the village, but Durango, the historic silver and gold mining town a 45-minute drive away, is a must-see. It's thriving with chic clothing stores, western apparel and busy restaurants. Try the site-made beer at Steamworks Brewing Co., a gastropub serving pizza and gluten-free meals, or the locally raised beef and farm-grown produce at the fine-dining Mahogany Grille. Après ski, stop at Trimble Spa & Natural Hot Springs en route to town for a dip in the thermal pool.
Durango Mountain Resort, (800) 525-0892, http://www.durangomountainresort.com. Double slope-side rooms start at $124 a night. Adult lift tickets, $77. Go to http://www.skipurg.com to book lodging, lift tickets, Ski & Ride School, and ski and snowboard rental packages such as the Kids Ski Free package, which includes four nights' lodging and four days of lift tickets for adults starting at $229 per family per night.
Steamworks Brewing Co., 801 E. 2nd Ave., Durango; (970) 259-9200, http://www.steamworksbrewing.com.
Mahogany Grille, 699 Main Ave., Durango; (970) 247-4433, http://www.mahoganygrille.com.
Discovery Ski Area
At first glance, Discovery is a throwback to a 1960s ski hill. There are few crowds at this family-owned operation, where everyone is laid-back and friendly. This impression lasts until you discover the backside, with incredible tree skiing; chutes; steep, long runs and even bump runs if that's your thing. The snow is excellent, and there are no lift lines with five triple lifts and two doubles. Thirty percent of the runs are deemed expert and the rest are ideal for learners and improvers. And if you show up for a group ski lesson, you may get a private or semi-private one, especially on weekdays.
Although there are several cafeterias and bars on the hill, there are no slope-side accommodations. Discovery does offer ski-stay packages, starting at $85 a night for a room and two lift tickets midweek. These packages cover stays in many categories of hotels, including the Broadway Hotel in nearby historic Philipsburg starting at about $135 a night, including two lift tickets.
Discovery Ski Area, (406) 563 2184, http://www.skidiscovery.com. Adult lift tickets $40.
Broadway Hotel, 103 W. Broadway, Philipsburg; (406) 859-8000, http://www.broadwaymontana.com. Doubles from $80 a night, including continental breakfast. Lift ticket and room packages available.
Grand Targhee Resort
Targhee, one of the most overlooked ski resorts in the country, is just over the Tetons from Jackson Hole, its bigger, richer, flashier cousin. It also gets nearly twice the snowfall and costs about two-thirds as much. An adult ticket at Jackson is $101 a day; at Targhee it's $59 off-peak to $72 peak season.
This place has a "Leave it to Beaver" family vibe. There's not much to do at night other than build gingerbread houses, watch movies, observe an avalanche dog demo or play Clue — all free — but there's a lot to be said for that kind of family time.
The resort has four lifts covering 2,600 skiable acres, with many runs quite challenging. It's also one of a handful of resorts that runs a snowcat skiing operation, and it's perfect terrain to introduce your advanced-skills kids to outback powder.
If you're tired of the hassle in getting your young ones into ski school — all that schlepping, filling out forms, lining up and losing gloves en route — it all disappears at Grand Targhee. The ski school is line-of-sight from your accommodations, and you can show up a little late and no one will give you attitude. There are no crowds (the biggest day of the year has 2,500 skiers. Vail has 20,000), and everyone is friendly and relaxed.
The ski hill is above the town of Driggs, Idaho, so if you need a little action you can drive 20 minutes and be in the gentrified Western township with bars, shops and restaurants. Otherwise, you don't need to leave the hill, which has four restaurants and several places to stay at the base (none of them five star). If you're dying to try the world-class vertical slopes and chutes at Jackson Hole, it's an hour's drive over Teton Pass, so it can easily be done in a day. And then you can scamper back to Targhee and eat a burger for half the cost.
Grand Targhee Resort, (800) 827-4433, http://www.grandtarghee.com. Stay and ski free packages from $65 per person per night. Cat skiing $349 a day per seat; half-day $199.
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