You're right that skiing has gotten expensive: prices for lift tickets have climbed to above $100 per day at some resorts. If you take up telemark skiing, you can hit the powder for free all season. But if you insist on sticking to the groomed stuff, there are still affordable passes to be found, if you know where to look. Some suggestions below.
Mad River Glen, Vermont ($45)
With its single chair and hardly-groomed slopes, going to this cooperatively-owned, old-school ski resort (snowboarders are still not allowed) is like stepping into a time machine. Fortunately, the lift ticket prices are also stuck in a time warp. Mid-week passes cost $45. On Valentine’s Day, the price will be $14 per person for couples who kiss at the ticket booth. Stats: 45 trails, 2,037 feet vertical.
Pebble Creek, Idaho ($40)
This homey, low-key ski area near Pocatello in southeastern Idaho is overshadowed by the likes of Sun Valley and the not-too-distant Utah resorts, leaving only locals in the know about its absurdly low day pass price. Pebble Creek’s location in the Caribou National Forest means that lift lines are nonexistent, yet its annual snowfall is equal to what the resorts in the nearby Sawtooth Mountains get. Stats: 54 trails, 2,200 feet vertical
Monarch Mountain, Colorado ($49)
What blissfully underdeveloped Monarch lacks in length (the vertical is only 1,162 feet) it makes up for with prodigious snowfall (350 inches a year) and cheap lift tickets. Its location in south-central Colorado make the mountain a popular stop for Texans and Oklahomans, but the lift lines stay relatively short. Stats: 63 trails, 1,162 feet vertical
Badger Pass, California ($42)
Badger Pass is too tiny to be a destination ski mountain unto itself, but its location within Yosemite National Park makes it a fantastic winter side trip when you’re in the neighborhood. Its 10 runs cover 90 acres, and are serviced by five lifts. The price is nice, too. Stats: 10 trails, 800 feet vertical
Park City, Deer Valley, and Canyons Resort, Utah (Free!)
You read that right. Generally, lift tickets to ski or snowboard the champagne powder at Park City or nearby Deer Valley or Canyons Resort run for upwards of $90. But you can go for free if you provide a boarding pass showing that you flew into Salt Lake City earlier that day. Here’s how it’s done: Before you fly, pre-register at this site. You’ll then be e-mailed a redemption voucher. Bring it, a valid state ID, and your boarding pass to a ticket window at one of the three resorts, and you’ll be able to redeem your free day pass. I advise that you book a very early flight. Stats: Park City: 114 trails, 3,100 vertical; Deer Valley: 90 trails, 3,000 vertical; Canyons: 182 trails, 3,190 vertical