How to plan a cheap Colorado ski vacation

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Colorado skiing
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Think snow! It’s not even fall yet, but it’s the optimum time of year to plan a 2020 ski getaway to Colorado.

As a retired travel agent, I’ve book countless trips to the slopes and I’ve got tips on how to get to the snow on the cheap.

Enjoy a Colorado ski vacation without breaking the bank

Getting there

The first thing you have to do (unless you are lucky enough to live in or near Colorado) is figure out how to get there.

Book the first essential part of the trip with airfare deals to Denver from a number of airports across the country with one-way rates from $49 on nonstop service.

There’s a sweet spot for airfare deals and that is just after the New Year and before President’s Day weekend (February 17, 2020).

Here are some examples of the one-way rates (lowest available to average) for January through March*:

  • New Orleans: $33 – $79
  • Chicago: $60 – $86
  • Dallas Ft. Worth: $40 – $60
  • Atlanta: $49 – $125
  • Detroit: $90 – $130
  • Orlando: $56 – $100
  • Cincinnati: $69 – $100
  • Phoenix: $69 – $109
  • Seattle: $62 – $118
  • San Diego: $59 – $128

*Fares listed are as of this writing

Where to ski in Colorado for less

Now about those pricey ski lift tickets…

According to their websites, both Beaver Creek and Vail ski resorts are charging $209 per day for a same-day/walk-up lift ticket ($199 if bought online).

Aspen Skiing Co. is charging $179 for the walk-up window price for a one-day lift ticket. Deer Valley charges $180 per day and Breckenridge charges $189 per day at the window and $179 if purchased online. If you must visit these fancy resorts, you can save a bit of coin by purchasing multi-day tickets in advance.

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But you’ll save the max if you look beyond these popular mega-resorts. Plus, you’ll probably enjoy the winter experience with fewer people, shorter lift lines, plenty of parking and nicely priced packages on board and ski rentals.

Here are some ideas of value resorts that pack in the perks (All lift ticket prices shown here were for the 2017/2018 season. Prices might climb higher for the ’19/’20 season):

Ski Cooper

Ski Cooper is one of Colorado’s most affordable ski resorts with family fun. Per day lift tickets are a deal at $35 for ages 6-14 and $56 for adults.

The resort is located west of Vail and remains a ski destination for locals. It features all-natural snow, wide-open spaces and an award-winning ski school for all levels (from age 3). It also offers snowcat access skiing on Chicago Ridge that features terrain that’s similar to the back bowls of Vail.

Besides the historical attractions and an authentic Old West pub dating from 1877 (The Silver Dollar Saloon), the nearby town of Leadville offers budget-friendly hotels. Ski Cooper offers very low prices on rental equipment, lesson packages, meals, and daycare.

Sunlight Mountain Resort

Located just above Glenwood Springs in the Roaring Fork Valley, Sunlight Mountain Resort is a best-kept secret. There are no champagne bars, but inexpensive lift tickets.

Kids ages 7-12 paid $45 in 2017/18; $65 for adults. Nearly three-quarters of the terrain is for beginner and intermediate skiers, and all 60+ trails lead to the lodge. The Pump Haus Terrain Park features jumps, fun boxes, rainbows, rails, wall-ride and a quarter pipe.

The Children’s Center, conveniently located at the base area of Sunlight Mountain Resort, offers lessons and childcare for a family-friendly day on the mountain (ages 2-6). Families can also enjoy snowmobile tours through aspen groves, powder-filled meadows, and evergreen forests. Nearby is Glenwood Hot Springs, the largest hot springs pool in the world.

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Ski Granby Ranch

Ski Granby Ranch is located between Winter Park and Steamboat Springs (80 miles west of Denver; 20 miles west of Winter Park) and offers gentle slopes perfect for beginners. This family-owned and family-favorite resort features free snow play area and a sledding hill for the little ones, lift-served tubing on select Saturdays, and night skiing.

The Ranch offers convenient access to the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, ideal for snowshoeing among jaw-dropping scenery in the winter. Last season’s one-day lift tickets were $49 for ages 6-12; $84 adults.

Loveland

Just 53 miles west of Denver and 12 miles east of Silverthorne, Loveland hosts 1,000 acres of terrain with high alpine bowls, long bump runs and free snowcat skiing along the Continental Divide.

Loveland has two base areas. Loveland Basin is geared for intermediate/advanced skiers and riders while Loveland Valley is perfect for beginners and is home to the ski school. Children ages 5 and under ski free at Loveland! Last season prices for lift tickets were $34 for ages 6-14 and $79 adults. Look for affordable lodging in nearby Georgetown and Silver Plume.

Final thought

If you thought a Colorado ski vacation was out of your price range, you might want to think again. If you take advantage of low airfares from much of the country and choose a less popular (but equally fun!) place to ski, you could be hitting the slopes this winter without getting snowed.

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