How to Have a High-End Ski Vacation Without All the High Prices
Stay outside of town, consider a hostel, buy a pass and eat where the locals do.
A luxury hotel in a tony mountain town will cost a fortune. But if you forfeit proximity you can tap into peak perks without the ski in/ski price tag. Other cost-cutters? An off-peak, midweek visit, advance purchase of lift tickets, eating strategically and taking advantage of resort freebies.
Just 20 minutes from Aspen, Element Basalt Aspen ($159) has an indoor pool, complimentary breakfast buffet and laundry facilities. Close by, Basalt Mountain Inn ($125) has 25 just-refreshed rooms and an attractive Ski and Stay package (standard room and lift tickets for two people, $285). Complimentary on-mountain services: An Ambassador guided ski tour(twice daily, Buttermilk, Highlands, Snowmass, Aspen Mountain), First Tracks (first come first served), where skiers and snowboarders get first crack on freshly groomed runs before lifts open to the public and morning coffee at the base of each mountain.
Aspen is known for standout food. L’Hostaria, Jimmys, and Mezzaluna offer impressive bar menus that give budget-conscious travelers upscale cuisine with a scene. Justice Snows ($5 margaritas/ mojitos, burgers, $12) and Highlands Alehouse ($5 beers, $8 cocktails, wings, baked brie, bison chili and burgers all under $15) are local go-tos. For swank, nothing beats truffle fries ($17) and a beer ($7) at slope-front Ajax Tavern.
The $489 Mountain Collective Pass (valid at Aspen, Jackson Hole and other top resorts) halves lift ticket prices and offers two free days or skiing at participating resorts.
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Lodgings like Anvil and Town Square Inns in Jackson Town Square are Wild West-charming and priced under $200 a night. A ski in/ski out option, at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, is The Hostel, where shared bunks are $43, a private room $129. Jackson Hole’s ski free, stay free packagesshould be considered. For $289 per person (four-night minimum, must book through Jackson Hole Central Reservations), guests receive lodging, lift tickets and a $300 airfare voucher plus a bonus night of lodging and a day of skiing. The resort offers free two-hour mountain tours daily.
Twenty minutes away, travelers can snowshoe (there are also free ranger-led tours) and cross- country ski for the price of park entrance ($10 per vehicle) inside nearby Grand Teton National Park. For dinner, take advantage of happy hour prices. Thai Me Up ($3 egg rolls, $4 pot stickers, $12 Thai wings and $3 craft beer) and Snake River Brewing ($4 craft beer, $7 nachos, $9 wings) are local favorites.
At The Handlebar, diners can lounge at outdoor fire pits with $3 beers and shareable plates (elk and red bean chili, nachos, craft burgers, all under $20).
Minturn, just five miles from Vail, looks like a classic western movie set. Among the timeworn saloon and historic mining A -frames turned cozy cafes are three affordable lodging options: Hotel Minturn, a sleek four-room boutique hotel; the just-revamped Minturn Inn, a homestead house turned bed-and-breakfast; and the Bunkhouse, a cheerful hostel with 38 bunks and shared bathrooms. Each morning there is a guided mountain tour for newcomers to Vail’s 5,289 acres of terrain and frequent tours of Blue Sky Basin.
There are also daytime and evening naturalist-led snowshoe tours (first come, first served). Do-it-yourself grilling is a savvy way to lunch. Transport your own food and head over to on-mountain decks equipped with gas grills that are open to the public. Happy hour fare is a solid dinner option. The slopeside Avalanche Pub has $5 cocktails and shareable plates (cauliflower hush puppies, crab beignets, duck confit tacos) that clock in under $15 each. Or follow the locals to Vendettas for $3 beers and pizza like the Snow Pig (pepperoni, sausage and Canadian bacon), $18.
Park City, Utah
In Midway, 20 minutes from town, the old-world Homestead Hotel ($129) has bright rooms and a hot spring-filled geothermal crater for post-ski soaking. Ice Castles, a local attraction featuring frozen towers and tunnels, is on the property’s golf course. Zermatt Resort in Heber City, also a 20-minute drive, has basic rooms priced as low as $165. In town, try Airbnb or Hyatt Place ($230). New this year: free daily guided mountain tours that double as history lesson. Casual comfort food is plentiful on historic Main Street: Bacon mac-and-cheese ($16) at Windy Ridge Cafe, ramen at Yukiyama ($14), chicken dumpling potpie ($13) at the Boneyard Saloon. The Farm is one of Park City’s top restaurants. The bar menu (sunchoke linguine with confit egg yolk and Pecorino foam, $16) offers a comparable, less pricey dining experience.