The best place to celebrate this end to winter? Small ski hills. Fewer crowds equals more time spent on the hill, not in a lift maze. Plus, small ski hills have some refreshingly low prices.
Here are five small U.S. ski areas where you can welcome spring and send the ski season off in style.
Snow King, Wyoming
Nearby Jackson Hole Mountain Resort gets a lot more press, but Snow King isn’t without its charms. Think night skiing (available Tuesday through Saturday) and a spring skiing staple: closing weekend pond skimming (which produced a video that went viral last year).
Plus, Snow King’s generous uphill travel policy ($7.50 for a season pass) means it’s virtually free to skin or hike 1,500 feet to the top of “the Town Hill” (acre-for-acre, the steepest hill in the United States) and take in the view of town as you fly down Exhibition, one of the most sheer, lift-served runs in North America. For lodging, check in to the historic Wort Hotel in Jackson, which offers aprés-ski cookies and cocoa in its guest rooms. From there, it’s a two-block walk to local hangout Bon Appe Thai.
Bridger Bowl, Montana
Bridger Bowl, about 30 minutes from Bozeman, is all about the backcountry. Bridger’s ski school offers ridge terrain tours that start at $180 (avalanche gear included) for three hours of guided touring. If you’re just looking to have some end-of-season fun, check out the Terrain Park Jam for snowboarding and skiing.
Try the Hopzone IPA at Bozeman Brewing Company, a cozy neighborhood brewery with award-winning brews. If a room with a fireplace and Jacuzzi sounds appealing, check into the Gallatin River Lodge. For breakfast, stop at Clark’s Fork and grab a Trapper Wrap loaded with eggs, sausage, gravy, and potatoes en route to another day of charging.
Berkshire East, Massachusetts
The United States’ first ski area to produce enough renewable electricity to power its operation is also home to one of the best racing programs in New England. But you don’t have to be a pro to take advantage of the area’s wallet-friendly promotions ($15 Thursday nights; Saturday night family deals) and surprisingly diverse amount of terrain.
The Schaefer family has owned Berkshire East for 39 years and recently purchased nearby Warfield House Inn, a quintessential New England B&B that doubles as a 350-acre working farm. Book a room at the inn and they’ll knock $10 off your lift ticket. On certain weekends, they also run a buy-one-get-one-free promotion on lift tickets. Ten miles east, in Shelburne Falls, located right on the Deerfield River, the West End Pub serves up tasty dishes like salmon wasabi wraps.
Monarch Mountain, Colorado
This small area in the Sawatch Range gets just as much snow as the megaresorts along I-70 (350 inches annually), but fewer people. Here, the base elevation is high (10,790 feet), the lift lines are short, and the tickets cost a fraction of its northern neighbors. More challenging terrain is available for those willing to pay for cat skiing or trek 10 minutes out of the ski area boundary to Mirkwood, a 130-acre basin where you can have your pick of cliffs, chutes, and tree skiing. If you’ve been anxiously awaiting spring runoff, consider getting a jump on summer watersports by participating in Monarch’s signature event: Kayaks on Snow on April 11—competitors race down a specially designed course that ends in an icy pond.
Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort is 40 minutes away, but if you book two nights, they’ll cover the cost of two, one-day lift tickets to Monarch. Cabins at Mount Princeton can accommodate a crowd—the largest sleeps 10—and include patios and gas fireplaces. Fill up on crab cakes with saffron aioli and bistro steak chimichurri at the Princeton Club.
Shanty Creek, Michigan
Having a ridiculously friendly staff can make or break a ski day, but realizing you still have money to spend after a day out on the slopes? Cheers to that! Every Sunday, $25 will get you equipment rentals, a group lesson, and an afternoon lift ticket on the beginner hill. Not a never-ever? Ski the trees of Little Red Riding Woods on the north face of Schuss Mountain—the more advanced of Shanty Creek’s two mountains—or cruise down Good Knight, a favorite with racers. Thanks to its wide range of off-the-hill offerings (think dogsled rides, fat-bike trails, and snow tubing), Shanty Creek has plenty to please your crew, including an event most Saturdays and Sundays. On closing weekend, don a tropical-themed outfit and partake in the pig roast during the Last Weekend Luau, March 21 and 22.
Stay at Cedar River, a ski-in/ski-out lodge with modern one- and two-bedroom suites and an outdoor pool and hot tub. Nearby in Bellaire, Short’s Brewing Company hosts live music several nights a week in its hardware store turned brewery and pub.