Original Article

Published: December 19, 2008

THE price of a one-day lift ticket on a weekend at VailSki Resort in Colorado is $97; at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont it is $89. (And don’t even start thinking about the potentially dizzying costs of lodging and travel.)

But there are ways around high lift costs, without pretending to be sick so you can ski on a work day, or that you are under age 12, or that you know how to skin up the mountain. Skiers and riders can head to some of the country’s lesser-known ski areas, where rates are often a fraction of those at the bigger resorts.

No, a place like Snow King Resort (www.snowking.com) in Wyoming may not boast as much thigh-pounding vertical or skiable terrain as its natty neighbor, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. But both areas share the same town, and many people will find themselves perfectly satisfied with (if not elated by) the $41 Snow King experience — and with a few extra dollars to spend on Jackson’s après-ski scene.

“You don’t have to be a jet-setter,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, who praised smaller, less expensive ski areas for keeping alive the feel of skiing in the 1970s. “You sit in the cafeteria after buying your lift ticket, and it’s a little reminiscent of a less complicated day.”

A day on the slopes at dozens of areas can cost less than $50. As Mr. Berry pointed out, many ski areas in the Midwest qualify, including spots like Crystal Mountain (www.crystalmountain.com) in Michigan and Afton Alps (www.aftonalps.com) in Minnesota. Here’s a nationwide ski sampler.

Camden Snow Bowl

Camden, Me.

Within a lobster claw’s reach of the Atlantic, the 80-acre Camden Snow Bowl gets an annual snowfall of 72 inches and has snowmaking on less than half of the mountain — so it’s best to nose the Subaru there right after a storm. The main draws of this municipal facility (on the verge of a major face-lift thanks to the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Redevelopment Project) are its small-town charm and the views of Penobscot Bay. “You can see the ocean from the slopes,” said Greg Sweetser of the Ski Maine Association. You can night-ski on several runs, too.

The Camden Snow Bowl is also home to the United States National Toboggan Championships, on Feb. 6 to 8 this season. Skiers lucky enough to find a room in town that weekend will find everybody talking toboggan.

One-day adult weekend lift ticket (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.): $33. Information: www.camdensnowbowl.com.

Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort

Vadito, N.M.

Mother Nature has already been kind to this 200-acre ski area in the Carson National Forest, 20 miles southeast of Taos. Some autumn snow and cold temperatures allowed Sipapu to open on Nov. 15. And while skiers and riders won’t find the knee-knocking steeps of Taos Ski Valley, they will discover 41 trails of decent length, including seven double-black-diamond slopes.

Sipapu’s two terrain parks are less crowded than those in larger resorts, making them a good place to try out new tricks. And for those who want to try a whole new sport on snow, Sipapu also offers lessons and rentals for ski biking (just what it sounds like). The ski area gives free lift tickets every day to skiers under 6, fourth graders, 40-year-olds (really) and those 70 and older.

One-day adult weekend lift ticket (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.): $39. Information: www.sipapunm.com.

Ski Cooper

Leadville, Colo.

At 10,152 feet, Leadville, Colo., claims to be the highest incorporated city in North America, and its also lofty playground is this 26-run ski area. It sits atop Tennessee Pass, one of the training sites for the 10th Mountain Division for World War II, and if skiers and riders aren’t giddy from the altitude, they might be from the 2,400 acres of snowcat-served backcountry skiing on the Continental Divide. (Tours are a splurge, costing $290 to $325.)

But for those who want to stay inbound, Ski Cooper caters to families. Long, easy cruisers like Tenderfoot and Sitzmark mosey down the mountain, giving everyone ample time to admire surrounding peaks like Mount Elbert and Mount Massive.

One-day adult weekend lift ticket (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.): $42. Information: www.skicooper.com.

Howelsen Hill Ski Area

Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Receiving the same “champagne powder” as the neighboring Steamboat resort, Howelsen Hill is a town-operated training area that has helped send more than 64 athletes, including the 2003 Nordic combined world champion Johnny Spillane, to the Winter Olympics.

Howelsen has 15 trails served by four lifts. If the fun runs out on the downhill side, visitors can switch over to cross-country skiing on nearly 13 miles of trails or try out the terrain park.

One-day adult weekend lift ticket (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.): $16. Information: steamboatsprings.net.

Bridger Bowl

Bozeman, Mont.

Around Bozeman, the most reliable snow report is found atop the historic Baxter Hotel. If the blue light is flashing, it means that nearby Bridger Bowl has more than two inches of fresh snow.

And chances are that traveling powder hounds can actually stay right in town (and not crash at a friend’s pad) and ski 2,000-acre Bridger, thanks to the affordability of the nonprofit community ski area. “It’s one of those breathtaking places,” Mr. Berry said.

This season, Bridger is adding more than 300 acres of lift-served ridge terrain: steep, ungroomed and unmarked trails that will require expert skiers and riders to carry avalanche transceivers. Beginners and intermediates will find fully half of the ski area devoted to gentler runs.

One-day adult weekend lift ticket (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.): $45. Information: www.bridgerbowl.com.

Badger Pass Ski Area

Yosemite National Park, Calif.

Long after the summer tourists have retreated from Yosemite National Park, winter storms turn Badger Pass into a friendly, low-key ski area. Most of the terrain is beginner or intermediate, and mild temperatures create tolerable learning conditions.

Badger has 10 runs, and plenty to do once skiers and riders have notched enough laps, starting with an expansive deck for soaking up the California sunshine. The park also works with Yosemite Mountaineering School to offer backcountry ski tours throughout the Sierra Nevada range.

One-day adult weekend lift ticket (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.): $42. Information: www.badgerpass.com.

Cochran’s Ski Area

Richmond, Vt.

Blink while driving along I-89 near Burlington, Vt., and you’ll miss Cochran’s, which has just three lifts and six trails on 350 vertical feet. But since 1961, when it first opened for children and had a single rope tow, this little molehill has churned out a mountain of world-class skiers; the family’s own Barbara Ann Cochran won Olympic gold in 1972, while Jimmy Cochran now competes on the World Cup circuit.

Today, Cochran’s is still for kids. The nonprofit area claims to introduce skiing to more than 800 local schoolchildren each year, and teaches parents how to teach their little ones. It’s a rambunctious, winter-loving place and can be just as much fun for adults.

One-day adult weekend lift ticket (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.): $20. Information: www.cochranskiarea.com.

Other Options

Larger, more expensive resorts don’t have to be a washout for those on a budget. Skiers can often find cheaper rates than the standard, one-day pass by checking the Web site of their favorite area and buying lift tickets in advance, or by buying a multiday ticket. In addition, the Web site Liftopia (www.liftopia.com) sells discounted lift tickets to resorts throughout North America.