Crested Butte
Family-friendly corduroy in Crested Butte, CO

What’s the most economic ski destination?

I'd like to take my family of four on an economical ski getaway. Where could I go to find some good deals?—Andy S.Austin, TX

Crested Butte

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While the clouds lingering over the financial world seem to be parting, now is not the time to start spending blindly. Fortunately for you, most of the ski resorts across the country have reported a stellar powder season—and they’re and doing all they can to get your business, which means killer deals for you and the fam. We’re partial to the word “free” and luckily, so are the big guys running the slopes.

Crested Butte

Crested Butte Family-friendly corduroy in Crested Butte, CO

After notching itself into the top ten ski resorts in eastern North America by SKI Magazine, Holiday Valley in Ellicotville, NY, lets kids ski and stay free when their parents purchase a mid-week ski package that includes lodging. Located 50 miles south of Buffalo, Holiday boasts 56 slopes and 13 lifts across 1,400 acres, and with a picturesque base village, there’s always fun to be had. Voted one of America’s 100 Best Adventure Towns by National Geographic Adventure, Ellicotville’s square mile is packed with shopping, dining, and Ellicotville Brewing Company for après ski nourishment. To maximize your free fun, head to Holiday on March 13 to 14 for the Winter Carnival, a weekend packed with cheap thrills for the family, from scavenger hunts and face painting for the little ones to live entertainment and snowbar for the big kids to a Mardi Gras parade for the whole family. If you happen to have a fourth grader under your wing, New York’s Ski and Ride Passport Program even allows fourth graders to learn to ski or snowboard, or simply ski and ride up to three times at select NY ski hills (including Holiday) for a $19 application fee and the purchase of an adult pass—just make sure you apply in advance.

Or head west to the softer snow found in the heart of Idaho where Sun Valley is offering free skiing for your kids, as well as a free lift ticket for an adult when reserving any rooms at the Sun Valley Lodge or Inn. Standard lodging at both include plasma screens and marble baths. And with views of 9,150-foot Bald Mountain, a price of $94.50 per person, per night feels like a bargain, especially when the kids stay free. The resort itself boasts 15 lifts, 75 runs, 3,400 feet of vertical, and a small community packed with an ice skating rink, bowling alley, and European bakeries. Sun Valley Village offers eats on the cheap as well, everything from a gourmet 16-inch pizza under $20 at Bald Mountain Pizza and Pasta, to a half-pound burger at Gretchen’s for just $10.95. Save on lunches and afternoon snacks by brown-bagging it at the Warm Springs or Seattle Ridge Lodge, while enjoying the free views.

Finally, a little resort high in the Rocky Mountains of Central Colorado offers an enticing deal to any family. While their family-friendly ski-stay-fly-for-free program expired mid February, Crested Butte still boasts some of the lowest-cost round trip airfare, including $159 from places like Oakland, CA, San Fran, and Atlanta. If your little one isn’t quite sturdy enough on a board or skis, free lessons are also available at Camp CB. Other activities to entice the little ones include ice-skating, bungee trampolines, a climbing wall, and lift-served tubing at the new Adventure Park, all discounted when booking the above deal. For the bigger kids, Crested Butte has rail and terrain parks and a 400-foot long, 17-foot deep superpipe.

Or consider catching a cheap flight to Salt Lake City. This outdoor mecca has seven ski resorts within a 45-mile radius of its international airport, so there’s always a deal to be had, from skiing for free in the afternoons at Alta to multi-day passes at kid-friendly Brighton. And if ski-in/ski-out lodging becomes expensive, you can always bed down at an inexpensive chain hotel in the city and use the cheap daily bus transport that goes into both Cottonwood canyons, giving you easy, inexpensive access to Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, and Brighton.
–Amy A. Clark

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