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Skiing isn’t cheap. There’s equipment, lift passes, technical apparel and essentials—not to mention on-mountain food and drink and the gas to actually get where you’re going. Skiing or snowboarding just a couple of times a season will put the squeeze on your bank account.
But slim wallets, rejoice! You’ve got a friend in the industry: the indie ski resort. At Colorado’s smaller and lesser-known ski areas, you’ll often find more affordable lift tickets and season passes, and even better deals on rental gear, lessons, and on-mountain conveniences.
Here, our six favorite spots for skiing and snowboarding on a budget.
- Located: Dillon
- Odometer (from Denver): 57 miles, one way
- Full-day lift ticket costs: $99 for adults, $37 for children (free for kiddos under five), and $89 for seniors
- Snow report: 442 inches annually
Far too many Front Rangers drive past Loveland and through the Eisenhower Tunnel to hit up resorts in or past Summit County. But this roadside gem is worth a stop. It boasts 1,800 acres of skiable terrain and a little bit of everything, from green groomers for new skiers to wide-open, steep bowls for diehards. One of the best things about this low-key resort (other than the early exit off I-70), though, is that you can ski there without breaking the bank.
A Loveland season pass costs $549 and day passes peak at $99. You can also snag package deals like a four-pack for $229. And if you don’t want to fork over all the cash at once, Loveland offers a unique loyalty punch card where you pay $89 up front and receive discounts on each subsequent day pass, plus free days every fifth time.
- Located: Salida
- Odometer (from Denver): 157 miles, one way
- Full-day lift ticket costs: $69–$114 for adults, $59–$84 for teens, $49–$74 for children (just $5 for kiddos under six), and $5 for seniors
- Snow report: 350 inches annually
Monarch is loved by Arkansas Valley locals for good reason: It gets great snow, has an embarrassment of fun terrain (67 total trails), and you won’t find any of the pomp of the bigger resorts. It’s also a great value for skiers on a budget. Ski everything from groomers to steeps, including the hikeable bowls and glades of Mirkwood—some of the best riding in the state.
Adults can lock in a season pass for $559. Kids six and under and folks 69 and older can score a season pass for—wait for it—just $25. Monarch also serves up deals for Coloradans who call a different resort their home mountain: Called a Migration ticket, this midweek day pass costs $64 for riders who can show off their home lift pass (like an Epic or Ikon).
Another reason to ski Monarch: If you’re looking to hone skills on your backcountry touring setup in a safe area (or just trying to stay fit), you can ski uphill at the mountain all day long (a special pass is required but costs only $59 for the season).
- Located: Eldora
- Odometer (from Denver): 49 miles, one way
- Full-day lift ticket costs: $94–$169 for adults, $74–$129 for juniors (ages five to 15), $29 for kiddos under five, and $74–$129 for seniors
- Snow report: 300 inches annually
Cheap lift tickets, these are not, but there are other reasons to visit Eldora, which nestles in the mountain folds behind Boulder. For starters, the boutique resort has free parking, reasonable rates on rentals and lessons, and courtesy access to a renowned cross-country trail network. But the best part about Eldora is, of course, that it doesn’t necessitate a gridlocked trip on I-70. Save gas money and time by sticking to the Front Range.
Eldora has its fair share mellow groomers for beginners to learn to carve on, as well as a bevy of intermediate terrain for progressing. A logical trail map puts most of the beginner areas on one side and expert terrain on the other, so you can’t very well end up outside your comfort zone. Eldora is also one of only two mountains in Colorado to feature a Woodward park, so if you want to add air or metal into your shredding repertoire while staying close to home, this is the spot.
- Located: Dillon
- Odometer (from Denver): 64 miles, one way
- Full-day lift ticket costs: $69–$139 for adults, $79–$99 for juniors (ages 15 to 18), $39–$79 for children (free for kiddos under five), and $89–$129 for seniors
- Snow report: 350 inches annually
Go where the diehards go: The Basin has all the rowdy terrain a skier could ask for with the low-key vibes of a true local’s resort. It has a summit elevation over 13,000 feet, top-grade snowmaking, and the longest season in Colorado (often October well into June). The on-mountain fare is a step above, with the new Steilhang Hut serving local sausages and German draft beer. Have we mentioned the award-winning bacon bloodies?
What Arapahoe Basin doesn’t have: the steep ticket prices you’d expect at a resort like this. A season pass costs $639, and day passes start at $69. But the real deals at A-Basin are in the details: Score deep discounts on weekday- or Sunday-only season passes with the bonus of no Saturday crowds. If you don’t plan to ski all season—maybe you just want to get out for the holidays with family—the fall pass is a steal. Ski from opening day until the new year (all holidays included) for a mere $279.
- Located: Glenwood Springs
- Odometer (from Denver): 169 miles, one way
- Full-day lift ticket costs: $59–$72 for adults, $29–$45 for children (free for kiddos under five), and $49–$72 for seniors
- Snow report: 250 inches annually
While it’s a longer trek for folks on the Front Range, Sunlight is well worth the haul for the great skiing and even better deals. Hone skills on one of the many mellow green groomers, then head for the steeper glades on the east ridge to test your ski legs. Day passes start at $59 or go for a six-pack, which allows you to ski whenever, even on holidays, for $359. For newbies, the Learn-to-Shine deal is unbeatable: One $445 payment nets you three two-hour lessons with day passes and rental equipment included, plus five additional days of shredding after you complete your training.
- Located: Denver
- Full-day entry costs: Free
- Snow report: 57 inches annually
No, it’s not a ski resort, but yes, it is a spot you can shred for free in the heart of the Mile High City. At Ruby Hill Rail Yard, strap in and play on boxes and rails that range in difficulty. Like a winterized urban skate park, it requires a certain amount of know-how before dropping in, but then allows for skiing without spending money or logging a ton of car time. Also nice: If you don’t have gear of your own but want to try it out, free ski and snowboard (and helmet) rentals are available on certain days of the week. You won’t stack vert here, but you can have a lot of fun without spending any money at all.