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Colorado’s most popular ski lifts often come with hefty price tags. But if you’re willing to forego the name recognition of saying you skied at Breckenridge or Vail, you’ll find scores of locals-only mountains worth your time. These well-kept secrets might not have fancy spas or heated lifts, but with day tickets for under $100 and hostels and cheap hotels close by, it’s possible to spend a day on the slopes and a night out in town for less than $150.
Loveland Ski Area
Price: From $135
One of the greatest things about Loveland (day tickets from $75) is how close it is to Denver: just 90 minutes west of the airport. But its greatest asset? Free snowcat skiing. Anyone with a lift ticket can pick up a Ridge Cat pass, which are first come, first served, to ski right along the Continental Divide into expert-only terrain that lift takers can’t reach. Loveland also offers free access to its terrain park and to slopeside cabins that you can reserve during the day for picnics and BBQs. Then there’s the Marry Me, Ski Free deal, where, if you join in the annual Valentine’s Day Mountaintop Matrimony celebration, you and your new spouse can ski for the price of one.
Where to Stay: The Mountaineer Hostel (from $60) in Silverthorne is minutes away from Loveland and within walking distance from the Summit Stage bus stops, so you can easily get to Dillon, Keystone, Frisco, and Breckenridge if you want to ski a day elsewhere or just explore another town. The five-room hostel has both bunk and private room options and includes a continental breakfast.
Price: From $117
What Monarch Mountain (day tickets from $94) lacks in fancy amenities, it more than makes up for in its proximity to several of Colorado’s best hot springs. Located three hours southwest of Denver and 20 miles west of Salida, Monarch has 54 trails for skiers of all levels and an extreme-terrain area called Mirkwood. For those looking to splurge, there’s also cat skiing (from $400) that gets you to wide-open bowls and steep chutes. After a day on the slopes, soothe your muscles at Cottonwood (from $24) or Valley View Hot Springs (clothing optional; from $9), the latter an hour southeast, but both with affordable private rooms and dorm-style accommodations (from $30). For the nonskiers in your group, book a day of tubing (from $24).
Where to Stay: The Salida Hostel offers comfortable, spacious private rooms and basic bunks (from $23 for a bunk) just a short drive from restaurants in town. The Simple Lodge and Hostel (from $24 for a bunk) has is very basic, but is right in the heart of downtown.
Wolf Creek Ski Area
Price: From $106
When it comes to powder, Wolf Creek (day tickets from $76) is king. This small mountain typically gets more snow than any other resort in the state, averaging around 480 inches each year. And because it’s one of the least convenient to access—from Denver it’s a 4.5-hour drive southwest—it doesn’t get skied out as quickly as the big resorts, and you never have to compete with crowded lift lines. If you’re looking to shred, you can do it here from the lifts or in the backcountry, where expert-only terrain is a short hike from the top of the Treasure and Bonanza chairs.
Where to Stay: The Divide Rider’s Hostel, an eight-person cabin, is small but cheap (from $30). It’s about a 40-minute drive east of Wolf Creek. If you want to splurge with your lift-ticket savings, stay at the Springs Resort and Spa in Pagosa Springs (from $330), a half-hour northeast, which has nearly two dozen hot-spring pools (or stick with your budget and opt for a day pass, from $30).
Price: From $95
If you’re looking for a family-friendly mountain, Ski Cooper (day tickets from $62) might be it. Cooper has mellow trails ideal for beginners and is also expanding its expert terrain for the upcoming season. A new lift opens in December, offering access to steeper and more challenging runs. For more a advanced option, you can book a seat in Cooper’s Ridge Cat (from $400). And for those in your group who prefer to ski on mostly level ground, the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, a resort with wide skate lanes on a groomed trail system, is right across the parking lot.
Where to Stay: The Leadville Hostel (from $32) offers a wide variety of accommodations 17 minutes north of base camp and is within walking distance of shops and restaurants downtown. For more rustic luxury and closer proximity to the mountain, book a night or two in a Tennessee Pass yurt ($240 for up to six people). You’ll have to work for it by skiing in, but you can arrange for your luggage to be transported via snowmobile to make the journey more enjoyable.