Does Affordable Skiing Still Exist? The Top 9 Best Value Ski Areas in the United States

Tucker Morin | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Chest deep powder at Wolf Creek in Pagosa Springs image: Wolf Creek /

With the advent of mega passes, higher participation in snow sports, and the desire to appear ‘sought after’, buying a day ticket at the resorts we know and love has now become a financial investment affordable to only the ultra-dedicated or financially well-off. A little over a decade ago, $100 ski tickets were unheard of. Now, the likes of Breckenridge, Big Sky, Park City, and Palisades will charge well over $200 for a single day on weekends or holidays. This past winter Arizona Snowbowl took the mantle and said, ‘Hold my beer!’ by charging $309 for a day pass using surge pricing after a massive storm. With ticket prices steadily increasing, many are discouraged about the future of the sport but fear not because there are still ski areas holding the line and defending the tradition of family fun and affordable skiing.

Mt. Abram, Greenwood, ME; $35 for an adult day pass

Dubbed a “classic New England resort,” Mt. Abram of Greenwood, Maine, lies just minutes from the stalwart that is Sunday River but shares very few characteristics outside of geographic location. Founded in 1960, Mt. Abram is not the oldest resort, but it operates with the class and integrity that you would expect from one. The four chair lifts service 450 skiable acres with a healthy mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced terrain. If the congestion of surrounding resorts becomes too much for you, drive down the road to Mt. Abrams for a breath of fresh Maine air.

Mt. Abram on a rare Maine bluebird day image: Mt. Abram /

Whaleback Ski Mountain, Enfield, NH; $50 for an adult day pass 

Located (quite literally) alongside Route 89 in Enfield, New Hampshire, Whaleback Ski Area has had a rollercoaster of history but stands strong today. Founded in 1955, it steadily operated until 1990, when it closed due to bankruptcy. It reopened in 1993 under new ownership but again closed in 2001. Resiliently, it reopened AGAIN under new ownership in 2005 and has been operating since. Served by one chairlift and three surface lifts across 85 acres, Whaleback has been a part of the Enfield community for nearly a century. Today it operates as a non-profit designed to introduce new skiers and riders to the sport we all love.

A winter storm descends on Whaleback image: Whaleback Mountain /

Discovery Ski Area, Phillipsburg, MT; $50 for an adult day pass 

Situated between Phillipsburg and Anaconda, Montana, lives Discovery Ski Area, or Disco as the locals know it. Discovery is about a 90-minute drive south of Missoula, in the heart of southwestern Montana. Seven lifts, five of them triples and two of them doubles, and a rope tow cover this 2,200-acre behemoth. Discovery is known for its three faces; Frontside, Granite, and Limelight, which is littered with double-black terrain to keep even the best skiers challenged all day.

Discovery Pass shows us why southwestern Montana is a great place to ski image: Discovery Pass /

Lost Trail Ski Area, Sula, MT; $59 for an adult day pass 

A little under two hours south of Missoula, Montana, lies Lost Trail Ski Area. Opened in 1938, Lost Trail has served locals with a smile and a heavy dose of Montana powder every winter. Averaging 325” of snowfall annually across 1,800 acres serviced by five fixed-grip double lifts and two rope tows, Lost Trail packs a serious punch. On top of the pristine mountain, Lost Trail offers rentals, lessons, an all-mountain ski school, and a freeride ski school to boot. 

Sunny skies and empty slopes at Lost Trail image: Lost Trail Ski Area / davegardnercreative/

Willamette Pass, Crescent, OR; $66 for an adult day pass

Just outside Eugene, Oregon, Willamette Pass has been serving powder hunters the goods since 1941. Willamette Pass averages 441” of snow annually and does not disappoint with its 555 skiable acres served by four chair lifts and one surface lift. This mountain doesn’t have many frills, but it makes up for that with a deep love for its patrons.

Snowboarder navigating through the trees at Willamette Pass image: Willamette Pass Resort / Brian Peais/

Bogus Basin, Boise, ID; $79 for an adult day pass

Unlike most ski areas situated outside metropolitan areas, Bogus Basin breaks the mold by continuing to prioritize the skiing experience over profits. Only 16 miles north of Boise, Bogus Basin is the home mountains for many Idahoans. Contradictory to its name, Bogus Basin is no slouch; boasting 2,200 skiable acres accessed by ten chairlifts, four of which are high-speed quads, and an average of 250” of snow annually,  there is plenty of room to explore while escaping the city. On top of this, Bogus Basin is the largest non-profit recreation area in the United States.

Full cover and clear skies at Bogus Basin image: Bogus Basin /

Wolf Creek, Pagosa Springs, CO; $85 for an adult day pass

In the current world, skiing in Colorado is not synonymous with affordability, but many would say that Wolf Creek is akin to skiing in another world. Far from the congestion of I-70, Wolf Creek lives in Southern Colorado off state route 160 in the Rio Grande National Forest. They claim to receive the most snow in the Centennial State, and the 490” they received in the ‘22-’23 season helps bolster their claim. What sets Wolf Creek apart from others is its hike-to-backcountry terrain, particularly Knife Ridge, which provides steep chutes, cliffs, and boundless features for the ultimate thrill seeker. Couple this with 1,600 skiable acres, eight chairlifts, and one surface lift, and you’re in for the trip of a lifetime.

Skiers traverse the Knife Ridge at Wolf Creek image: Wolf Creek /

Magic Mountain, Londonderry, VT; $89 for an adult day pass

Resorts such as Stowe and Killington often dominate the headlines in Vermont, but any skier worth their salt in New England knows to look past the glitz and glamor to find the best skiing. Enter Magic Mountain; founded in 1950, Magic has stayed true to its roots for the past 80 years by prioritizing the experience overall. The “Magic” experience, paired with 260 acres of boundary-to-boundary skiing (some of which include chutes, mandatory airs, and 45-degree pitches), keeps New Englanders returning to this independent mountain season after season.

Powder Magic at Magic Mountain image: Magic Mountain /

Brian Head, Brian Head, UT; $97 for an adult day pass 

Going toe to toe with the Cottonwood Canyons is no easy feat, but Brian Head Resort in Brian Head, Utah, has been doing it since 1964. Averaging 222” of snowfall annually, with 419” this year, allows Brian Head to serve skiers with a smile all season long. The terrain may not be the most legendary in Utah, but it still challenges all ability types, while the eight lifts across 660 acres allow skiers to explore all day long.

Brian Head draped in white after a record-setting Utah Winter image: Brian Head Ski Resort / Life Of Brian Head/

Bonus Ski Area: Living Memorial Park, Brattleboro, VT; $5 for an adult day pass 

Driving by Living Memorial Park in Brattleboro, Vermont, you would never guess that skiing occurs there. But if you happen to pass it during a winter’s day, you will see a small T-bar pulling people of abilities up this 204’ slope. Living Memorial Park defines community and truly demonstrates the spirit of skiing by allowing residents of the greater Brattleboro area to ski nearly for free.

Children line up to practice their ski jumping at Living Memorial Park image: Living Memorial Park /

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9 thoughts on “Does Affordable Skiing Still Exist? The Top 9 Best Value Ski Areas in the United States

  1. There are other places you can cheap tickets at, but they do have variable pricing. We got $9 lift tickets to Sipapu (NM) last year. Purgatory was under $100 during the week. Basically anything in the Purgatory group has cheap tickets if you buy early. But if you are looking to buy close to your date because storms are coming, prices will be high.

  2. I’m glad to see this article.. I will take a look at these ski areas. I’ve been skiing since I was 11 in Colorado and now I’m 55. I gave up on skiing about 5 years ago because the cost for family of 6 was staggering.

  3. Northeast Slopes, on Route 25 in East Corinth, Vermont. Run by volunteers, been going since 1936. $15 on weekends, $10 on Wednesdays.

    1. And where else could you find an Olympic gold medalist in Women’s Slalom possibly serving up your food order in the base building?

  4. I’ve skied since I was 8. I was ready to skip college to flip burgers at night and ski during the day. At 18 I found snowboarding and that made me question my path. Now at 52 I am so glad I didn’t put my eggs in that basket. It used to be a season pass was the way to save on ticket prices. But now even buying a season pass, in the Northeast, you have to go 25 times for the pass to start saving you anything. Even if I drive an hour to southern VT. There hasn’t been 5 days of good snow a year to justify it. Now maybe I’ll go 2 times a year if a good snow of 6 inches falls. (She says 6 inches is enough for her so we both make due)

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