Economical Holiday Vacation - With Skiing?
November 24, 2009 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Vacation planning two part-er: Does cheap, decent skiing over the holidays exist? And if not, where else should I spend my time off from work?

My office is going to be closed from December 23 through January 3. I’ve got family obligations through December 25, but after that I can do whatever I want (!).

So far my skiing/snowboarding experience has been limited to hills on the Niagara escarpment, so if this is my opportunity to actually experience real snow on real mountains, I’d love to take advantage of that.

The difficulty: I can’t spend more than a grand, and would prefer to spend less if at all possible. I’m guessing this will involve staying away from the major resorts, and so I’m hoping to get some recommendations for some lesser-known but still decent ski areas that might not be as expensive.

I’ll go pretty much anywhere. I’m not looking for necessarily world-class skiing - just something that is enough of an improvement over the Great Lakes ice I’m used to, to make the trip worth it. I can fly out of either Buffalo or Toronto, or, alternatively, I have a car with snow tires that can be driven from that vicinity. I’m looking for probably 3-4 days as opposed to a whole week but I’m flexible there too.

If the ski thing isn’t going to pan out, I’m open to traveling just about anywhere that won’t be absurdly expensive or frustrating this time of year, so feel free to suggest something else if it comes to mind.
posted by AV to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
If you can get out to Colorado, you can do well there. If you're able to rent a car and get to Durango on your budget, you can stay at a Super 8 or whatever, and drive to either Wolf Creek or Durango mountain Resort. Wolf Creek rocks and it's not horrifically expensive.
posted by azpenguin at 10:16 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wolf Creek is a great resort, but flying into Durango can be expensive. You could fly into Denver and make the drive; it's around 6 or 6.5 hours if the passes are good. I'm actually going to be down there for that week, mefi mail me if you're interested in heading out that way and I might be able to show you around.

There are other good, small resorts that are accessible from Denver. Check out Eldora, Loveland, Monarch, and Cooper for more affordable options. Copper and Winter Park are also not hugely expensive. Keystone is probably the next step up, cash-wise. Check local towns for lodging options, but something can generally be had for $120 a night or so.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:50 AM on November 24, 2009

I'm going to be spending most of this winter in a Salt Lake City motel and taking the city buses up to the Cottonwood Canyon resorts (Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, Solitude). If you stay off the mountain, there are motels in the $50-70 a day range. If you rent a car, you don't even have to care about where the motel is in relation to the bus.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 11:25 AM on November 24, 2009

You can fly from Toronto (Guildwood) to Calgary for about $350. Beautiful skiing in the Banff area. You can take the shuttle from Calgary to Banff for about $60 each way. The Same Sun hostel in Banff has stay and ski packages for $99 a day for shared lodging and lift ticket. Not sure about availability. Other option could be to head to New England, but there is really no experience like skiing the mountains out west.
posted by white_devil at 11:32 AM on November 24, 2009

Come west -- the Mt. Baker ski area outside Bellingham, in Washington, is nice. Crystal Mt. down south near Mt. Rainier is excellent as well. Both have lots of options fairly close by for hotels if you get a rental car, though neither are great for staying "on the hill" if that's important to you.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 12:03 PM on November 24, 2009

If you can find a condo with friends or a VRBO, the cost per night will easily be $70 or less, plus you have a place to cook and will not be forced to eat out all the time. Check out
posted by kenbennedy at 12:04 PM on November 24, 2009

It's going to be a tough early season everywhere in eastern North America this year. Even a month from now, things won't be as good as they were last year.

Anyway, if this year wasn't starting out so slow for the east, I'd suggest looking into Le Massif (de Charlevoix.) Plenty of vertical, and all the yahoos go to Mont-Sainte-Anne so LM never gets stupid crowded. Lots of great long intermediate runs, enough to keep experts entertained, and beautiful views of the Saint Lawrence. Big enough for 3-4 days, maybe not for a week.

You can usually find very reasonable lodging in Quebec (city,) which is about 45 min-1 hour away and Hey! You're in Quebec! Great town to kill a few nights in. Or if you want to go native there are lots of good ski and stay deals closer to the mountain. These are usually listed double-occupancy/per-person but I bet if you call around they'll cut you a good deal.

Caveat: it's a looong drive from Toronto/Buffalo. 8 hours TOR -> QC.

Tip: Wherever you end up, if you fly, and can afford to rent skis at your destination do that. Flying with skis is nerve-wracking and a pain in the neck. Plus they'll have better skis for powder if you end up out west.

Do bring your boots, though.
posted by Opposite George at 12:42 PM on November 24, 2009

Forget going west. The flight out will kill your budget at that time of year and even staying in a hostel, you'll be hard pressed to keep costs under $1000. Instead, head east, either to the Montreal area (you can take the train from Toronto and then there is bus service to many ski areas) or to the Quebec area if you want to go further afield. You could also consider VT (e.g. Jay Peak) either by car or by train from Buffalo.
posted by ssg at 1:01 PM on November 24, 2009

Another option is that you could drive to Gore Mountain...but as Opposite George said above it's not shaping up to be a great early snow year for the northeast. Gore is probably the closest big mountain from the Buffalo area. About 5.5 hrs or so. You can stay for 4 nights in most hotels in $250-$350 range.4 day adult lift ticket is $230. Even with gas and food should be under $1K.
posted by white_devil at 1:43 PM on November 24, 2009

Oy, yeah, after looking at Kayak, flying to the rockies is going to be tough unless you've been saving up some ff miles.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:20 PM on November 24, 2009

What about Okemo? It's a great mountain, Ludlow is adorable, and they'll be blowing snow for sure by Christmas. It's reachable by car from... wherever you are.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:39 PM on November 24, 2009

Okemo is a very, very good suggestion.

Not huge vertical, but a real mountain and a big step up from the WNY/Niagara-area places. It's big, which means lots of variety for intermediates (their core customers) but it has enough to keep experts happy for 3-4 days, especially if you like groomers. They take a lot of pride in their conditions. If anybody in that part of the world is going to keep the ice at bay, it's them and their sister resort Sunapee. And they're very serious about blowing tons of snow.

It can get a bit busy at the base but it's wide enough that you can always find a quiet spot. Look at the South Face, Solitude and upper Jackson Gore trail pods; mid-week, even holiday weeks, they're all good bets for short, if any, lift waits.

Lodging costs are out of control in that area IF you look at the standard options. BUT -- there are several ski clubs with lodges in Ludlow and the surrounding towns. If you don't mind sharing a house with skiing-crazy strangers it can be dirt cheap to stay overnight. For my club the cost is $20-$25/night, for other clubs it can be as low as $10-15. Membership costs vary, as do requirements. I pay $50/year for membership, which is on the low end for clubs with lodges. Happily, my club doesn't make members do any work -- some do, others don't -- or have any residency requirements, so at the risk of self-shilling it sounds like a good fit for you.

PM me if you want details on my club, or look at the Connecticut Ski Council's website for a full list of CSC clubs. There are also Western NY, New Jersey and Long Island clubs with lodges in the area so you might want to Google around for those. Look for the Niagara Frontier Ski Council, New Jersey Ski Council and Metropolitan NY Ski Council and you'll end up with more leads than you'll know what to do with.
posted by Opposite George at 4:13 PM on November 24, 2009

Oh, and most ski councils offer discount lift vouchers which are good any operating day, including holidays. The catch is that a) you need to show a current ski club card at the mountain to use them, and b) orders need to be in by late September, but many clubs order extras to sell to new members. Or you can try seeing if any members have extras to unload at cost -- there's usually a pretty active secondary market in that.

This year, the CSC rate for Okemo vouchers was $54, which $25 less than the one-day holiday rate which will be in effect from 12/26 through 1/3, and smaller, but still significant savings over their 2, 3 and 4-day holiday rates.

Actually, I have a couple Okemo vouchers to burn this year; let me know if you do make it there and maybe we can get a couple runs in together.
posted by Opposite George at 4:27 PM on November 24, 2009

Don't forget though, you aren't just going to pay for the lift tickets and the room. You will pay for rentals of all gear, food, and, if you are smart, lessons! If your experience is limited to east coast, and very limited even there, going anywhere else will be tough. My suggestion is, if you want to ski/snowboard- TAKE LESSONS!

The snow is pretty non-existent on the front range right now, which doesn't mean a thing for christmas. I would also try and stay away from the crowds, yes yes I know it's christmas. I've heard wolf creek is a good place to do so. Monarch is also a great place to go as well as winter park for colorado. Those are all pretty close to the front range as well, except wolf creek of course.

Don't forget a helmet!
posted by TheBones at 9:00 PM on November 24, 2009

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