What's a day of skiing worth to you? The answer to that probably varies from person to person, but I know it's not worth $300 for a single day.
Unfortunately, if you look at lift ticket prices at mountains across the United States this winter, you'll routinely see rates eclipse $200 a day. During the peak times around Christmas, New Year's, President's Day, and Spring Break, those numbers drift closer to $300 at the major resorts in Colorado and Utah. While there are ways to chip away at that cost, the sticker shock might be enough to dash your hopes and dreams of a ski trip this year.
Not so fast! With flight prices falling all over Europe this winter and most European ski resorts offering cheaper rates than even some of the most budget-friendly mountains in the U.S., it's time to look abroad for your 2024 ski trip instead.
To prove it, I dug into the cost of a weeklong ski trip at two of the most famous and popular ski resorts in the world, one in the Rockies and one in the Alps, to see how everything from skiing and flights to lodging and transportation match up. When comparing the costs of a skip trip to Europe versus the U.S. this year, Europe is a clear winner, and it's not even close.
So read on to see why Europe might be your best option to save on a ski trip in 2024. And if after reading you're still dead set on booking a domestic ski trip this year, I'll share some of my best money-saving tips for that, too.
Ski Costs: Europe vs. U.S.
First, let's just look at what it costs to ride the lifts and ski. Strip away the other costs of skiing like the gear, food and drink, and other day-to-day expenses, and you'll see there's already a huge difference in prices between skiing in Europe and the U.S.
For this exercise in cost comparison, we'll primarily look at two of the biggest and most popular ski resorts in the world: Vail, Colorado, and Chamonix, France. These examples are for a week-long trip running from Jan. 23-30, which is an off-peak time of the winter that doesn't fall on any major holiday weekends.
To ski one day at Vail Mountain Resort in Colorado, you're looking at $229 for adults. That number is a much more palatable $110 per day if you buy the ticket in advance through Vail's parent company Epic Pass.
If you want to ski for six days at Vail, you're looking at a price tag of $1,140 total (or $564 when booking in advance through Epic.)
While you stand to save about 50% by booking through Epic instead of Vail, lift ticket prices to ski the famed Colorado resort are still astronomically higher than to ski Chamonix, France.
A single-day lift ticket at Chamonix starts at…wait for it…$46. For the first day of our hypothetical ski trip starting Jan. 24, that number is a whopping $50.
No, I didn't miss a digit or mistype there. A day of skiing is normally $50 or less in Chamonix – one of the skiing meccas of the world. It's less than half the price of the cheapest possible ticket at Vail.
For a six-day pass at Chamonix, you'll have to shell out $232…total! That's only $3 more than the walk-up price for a single day at Vail. Insane.
Of course, Vail is one of the most expensive ski resorts in the world. But this pattern plays out when comparing other popular ski areas in the U.S. and Europe, too.
At the bougie Alps resort under the famous Matterhorn mountain called Zermatt, a single-day ticket will run you $91. That's about the highest-end European resort you'll find. Six days at Zermatt is $397 total.
At the equally bougie Rockies resort of Big Sky, Montana, a single day will cost you $181 if purchased in advance ($230 at the ticket window) and a six-day pass will cost you $909 (or $1,164 at the window) for the same dates we searched in January. When you compare Zermatt and Big Sky, it's still about half as expensive to ski in Europe as it is to ski in the U.S.
Travel Costs: Europe vs. U.S.
You might be thinking that the travel expenses are going to be the equalizer in this comparison. You might ski for half-off in Europe, but the cost to fly there, get around, and stay is going to make up for any savings you may get on the slopes.
Let's start with the flights. Say you're based in the Northeast and you're trying to snag a flight to Vail. I chose the dates for this hypothetical ski trip (Jan. 23-30) around the cheapest days you can currently fly from Boston (BOS) to Vail (EGE) for a weeklong trip.
Frankly, that's not a horrible roundtrip fare to a tiny, regional airport like Vail-Eagle. If you want to save at least half on your airfare, look at flying into Denver (DEN) instead. On the same dates, the nonstop Delta flight into Denver is just $198 – an awesome deal. But then you're still looking at two-plus hours along the infamous Interstate-70 to get to Vail.
You could rent a 4×4 car if you want to make the trek yourself, but it'll cost you. Or you can take a shuttle to and from Vail starting at $218 per person roundtrip.
The same shuttle from the Vail-Eagle Airport (EGE) to Vail Resort is $120 per person roundtrip. So if you fly directly into Vail (EGE), the full journey (flights + transportation) will cost you a total of $561, compared to $416 flying into Denver (DEN). It's up to you to decide whether that two-hour drive is worth the savings.
Once you get to Vail, lodging is also going to sting a little bit.
When I filtered Google Hotels for 3-star accommodations or higher, the lowest price I found for hotel lodging was $501 per night…ouch. If you're staying with a group, you might be able to do a little better than that through Airbnb, but it will still be a pretty penny to stay in Vail for your trip. At $500 per night, over the course of six nights, it would cost you $3,000 to stay in Vail for the week. And that's assuming you only need one hotel room.
Based on the low-end projections of everything I've tallied up in this trip, your trip to Vail in the last week of January is going to cost you about $3,416. Add in the cheapest six-day lift ticket you can buy, and you're looking at $3,980 total for this Colorado ski trip.
There's a better way.
Instead of heading west on Jan. 23, we're going east to the Alps instead.
If you're keeping score at home, those flights to Geneva (GVA) are only $2 more than the flights to Vail (EGE) from Boston (BOS) for those same dates.
From GVA, the 1.5-hour bus ride into Chamonix will cost you – and I'm not kidding – $23 roundtrip.
You might think that lodging in a place like Chamonix would drive up your travel costs. But if you've read this far, you can probably discern a pattern…
Hotels in the town of Chamonix aren't expensive at all right now, either. Like when I searched for lodging in Vail, I filtered for hotels that were three stars and up. The lowest I found was $119 per night with only a few others topping $200 or $300 a night. If you grabbed that cheapest option, six nights in Chamonix would run you a grand total of $714 – cheaper if you're splitting the room costs with other travelers.
Between the roundtrip flights, bus to Chamonix, and lodging in the mountain town, you're looking at a grand total of $1,180 in travel costs Add in a six-day Chamonix lift ticket and this European ski trip comes out to $1,412. For one of the best mountains in Europe.
For those of you keeping score at home, here are the total (low-end) costs for a Jan. 23-30 ski trip at the time of publication. Keep in mind that these estimates are for a single traveler before any gear rentals, checked baggage fees, food, drinks, or any other expenses you might incur. You might end up spending more or less on lodging depending on whether you're traveling with a group, of course.
- 6 days of skiing: $564
- Flights/busses roundtrip: $416
- Lodging: $3,000
- Total: $3,980
- 6 days of skiing: $232
- Flights/busses roundtrip: $466
- Lodging: $714
- Total: $1,412
The choice is yours.
How to Save on a Trip in the U.S.
While you likely stand to save money by booking a ski trip abroad this winter, it's just not an option for some skiers and riders. If you follow a few guidelines, you can work the system a little bit and save some money on your ski trip within the U.S., too.
Buy a Ski Pass
Mega ski passes that give you access to dozens of resorts worldwide come at some huge price tags. The two biggest – Epic and Ikon – come at a price tag of $949 and $1,259 respectively. While that might not seem like a bargain at first, take into account that your six days of skiing at Vail would cost you at least $564, and you can see why unlimited skiing at $949 is so valuable.
Here's how I always think about the mega passes: If you plan to ski more than a week at the ski areas on the pass, it's usually worth it.
Plus, if the Epic or Ikon passes don't seem appealing to you, there is the more budget-friendly Mountain Collective pass which gets you two days at each of a long list of resorts for a total price of $650.
The Indy Pass, which features two days at each of hundreds of small, independent ski resorts around the world is available for just $499, too.
The resorts on each pass vary, as do the pricing tiers. We have a full guide to these mega ski passes that can help you with your decision.
Plan Trips Around Your Ski Pass
I call this “skiing within your pass” and it can save you hundreds of dollars – even after factoring in the cost of the pass itself. However, maximizing the value requires some planning.
Let's say you're thinking of taking a week-long getaway to the Cascade Mountains outside of Seattle with your Epic Pass in tow. You ski a few days at Stevens Pass but then you want to try something new, so you head to nearby Crystal – an Ikon location. On top of the $949 you already spent on the Epic Pass, you'd be spending more than $150 a day to ski at Crystal … while your Epic Pass collects dust.
Instead, head north from Stevens Pass and spend a few days at Whistler-Blackcomb in Canada, another Epic location, which means you can ski there for free.
Ikon Pass offers a handy guide to string together a few of its resorts at a time, helping you squeeze some more value and ski days out of your winter.
Buy your pass first and then plan your trips. If you ski two, three, or even four-plus resorts on one pass, you are beating the ski conglomerates at their own game.
Go Off the Beaten Path: Ski Small
If you're not going to buy one of the mega passes, this is your best bet at saving on a U.S. ski trip this year: Ski small.
The U.S. is littered with cool, hole-in-the-wall ski hills and mountains that are definitely worth your time. The sub-$100 lift ticket still exists, and you don't have to sacrifice awesome terrain to find one.
My favorite example of this is Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana. In the shadow of Glacier National Park, this gem formerly known as Big Mountain lives up to its name. The 3,000-acre ski area is more than big enough to busy yourself for a week, and the lift tickets come at European prices. Last year, $94 a day was all Whitefish asked of its skiers and riders. It's one of my favorite places to ski in the world and I can't wait to go back.
Another great example of this is Brundage Mountain in Idaho. Also at a single-day ticket cost of $94, Brundage features some big mountain terrain all the way down to a stunning intermediate (think “blue” runs) section called Lakeview that has a…well…beautiful view of Payette Lake.
Another great value in skiing is Colorado's Wolf Creek, which is home to the most snowfall in the entire state with a weekend and holiday day maximum day ticket price of $100.
Finally, maybe the best value in skiing anywhere is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan's Mount Bohemia. Boasting an insane $200+ inches of average annual snowfall thanks to the swirling winds over frigid Lake Superior, the 1,000-vertical-foot mountain has a season pass (not a day pass) for $110 per year.
When you get off the beaten path from the major ski resorts, you're also likely to save on things like lodging, food, and equipment rentals, too.
Fly With Bags in Mind
If you have ski equipment, make sure you are booking flights with bags in mind. Budget airlines may entice you with low fares into mountain towns, but then charge you up to $100 for baggage when you get to the airport.
When you are booking airfare, consider upgrading to a ticket that includes bags so you don't have the hassle of paying for them in the terminal.
Two things to keep in mind as you check ski bags:
- Ski and snowboard bags are not “special items” according to the airlines. So don't pay extra to check a ski bag! Airlines price ski bags as regular – not oversized – luggage, even though they come out in the oversized baggage areas at baggage claim when you arrive.
- Some airlines will consider your ski bag and a separate boot bag as one bag, so make sure you don't overpay to fly your gear to the mountains!
These things are especially important to remember if you're flying from somewhere that isn't in the mountains. The check-in agents in Salt Lake City (SLC) won't make this mistake, but I've had to politely remind a few airline agents in Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) about this rule over the years. Be kind, but firm. Know the rules yourself in case you get an agent who isn't sure.
Southwest Airlines is a great option for skiers, as every passenger gets two free bags. Otherwise, consider getting an airline co-branded credit card like the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, the Citi / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, or the United℠ Explorer Card. All three cards get you a first checked bag free, which includes a boot bag, too.
If you want to consolidate your boot and ski bag, buy a wide-bodied rolling ski bag with a boot compartment. I love my Dakine Fall Line Roller bag, for instance. It could save you money – not to mention the hassle of carrying around multiple bags during your travels.
Here's the bottom line: Be sure to check the airline's baggage policies before booking. You don't want to be stuck ponying up at the terminal.
Plan Your Trips Later in the Winter (& Avoid Christmas!)
Christmas seems like a logical time for a ski vacation, but the week before and after the holiday always has the biggest crowds of the season – and the least amount of snow.
Skiing during Christmastime will almost surely have you waiting in long lines to ski less of the mountain. I avoid skiing over Christmas like the plague. In fact, most years I won't even bother taking a ski trip until January.
Most North American ski areas have only 50-70% of their runs open by the end of December – on a good year. The best snowfall in almost any region comes between January and March. And over the past couple of years, many resorts have been getting winter-like snowfall well into April, while December is dry as a bone.
Choosing a ski trip in February or March will help you avoid crowds and ski the mountains when they are fully open and at their snowiest. Plus, you are maximizing your chances of catching a storm and skiing some fresh powder!
Other times to avoid a ski trip include New Year's, President's Day, and Saturdays, as weekends can get crowded if the ski area is close to a major city like Denver, Salt Lake City, or Seattle. Skiing on weekdays in January, February, and March will provide the best experience.
If the rising costs of ski trips around the U.S. are intimidating, consider looking to the Apls in Europe instead.
Not only are ski lift tickets half as expensive as day rates in the U.S., but flights to the Alps are very cheap right now, and things like transportation and lodging can all be found at much lower rates than their North American counterparts.