The Big Weather Worker in the Sky doesn't care if a ski area charges $40 or $20 for a lift ticket or a hotel gets $350 or $50 a night for a room. And the Rockies snare the same soft snow from one end to the other.
To give an idea of how much skiing you can get for how little money, consider these packages at some lesser-known resorts. For ease of comparison, prices are per person for five days' lifts and five nights' double-occupancy lodging, unless indicated otherwise. Most are for non-holiday midweek skiing. Call to inquire about shorter or longer packages, weekends and other deals.
The Big Mountain, Mont., has 4,000 acres of terrain that include cut runs (treeless), glades (with widely spaced trees) and bowls, 2,200 vertical feet, a year-old high-speed quad (four-seat chair), night skiing and a slopeside village. A giant of the northern Rockies, it ranks as Montana's largest ski area. Five nights are $275 at the Hibernation Lodge, the resort's economy bed and breakfast inn, and $365 in the well-appointed Kandahar Lodge (kids under 12 stay free in parents' room). Condos, private homes and January value season plans are also available. Amtrak, Delta and three commuter airlines serve nearby Kalispell/Whitefish. Phone (800) 858-5439.
Bridger Bowl, just outside of Bozeman, Mont., is an advanced skier's paradise, with more than 300 annual inches of snow falling on a 2,000-vertical-foot mountain, with 75% of its terrain for experts and intermediates. The rustic Silver Forest Inn, a charming B&B close to the ski area, offers a five-night, four-day package for $227 to $266, including one ski lesson. Downtown motels offer the same deal for about $165-$205. Phone (800) 223-9609.
McCall, Ida., 110 miles north of Boise, is an enchanting lakeside resort, and its winter carnival (Feb. 1-10) is one of the West's best. Brundage Mountain is known for minimal lines, maximum friendliness and ample powder. A new triple chairlift has upped the vertical to 1,800 feet and expanded the skiable terrain to 20 slopes and trails. A five-night ski vacation is $305-$350 in the well-appointed Shore Lodge overlooking Payette Lake, including breakfast and dinner. At the Hotel McCall, a recently restored B&B in the center of the village, it's about $220. Phone (800) 888-7544.
Monarch, Colo., is an unpretentious ski area just east of the Continental Divide, and one of the Rockies' great snow pockets. In addition to the 600 skiable acres arranged around a high bowl, the area this year is introducing snowcat powder tours to another 600 acres of steep chutes, headwalls and glades. Five-day ski packages are $243 (children 6 and under free) at the recently renovated Monarch Lodge, which includes an indoor pool and fitness center. Phone (800) 332-3668.
The mountain and namesake town of Red Lodge, Mont., six miles apart, are equals in low-key Western funkiness. Five chairlifts serve 32 runs and more than 500 skiable acres on a 2,016-foot vertical. There's no on-mountain lodging, and most of the in-town motels are bargain basics (four nights, $150-$165), but Colorado-style class has come to the Beartooth region with the development of the new Rock Creek Resort by Vail's Pepi Gramshammer ($160-$190). Red Lodge, an easy 60-mile drive south of Billings, even has great deals at Christmas. Phone (800) 444-8977.
Schweitzer Mountain, Ida., in the first phase of a $100-million expansion, has a new high-speed quad on a 2,400-foot vertical, with 2,000 skiable acres and breathtaking views of the Selkirk Mountains and Lake Pend Oreille. A five-nighter in the brand-new slopeside Green Gables Lodge is $325. In the Old McFarland Inn, a lovely B&B in Sandpoint, 11 miles away, it's $236-$289. The resort condos and five participating in-town motels offer free lodging and lifts for kids 12 and under for four nights or longer. Phone (800) 831-8810.
You can combine skiing the West's newest ski area with a stay in one of its poshest hotels. A European-style feeder lift (the world's longest gondola) leads to Silver Mountain's 44 runs and 650 skiable acres on a 2,200-foot vertical with four chairlifts. Five nights at the luxurious Coeur d'Alene Resort, roughly halfway between Spokane and the ski area, costs $290, including welcome champagne, lifts, continental breakfast and shuttle between resort and ski area. Phone (800) 695-7587.
Colorado's Ski Sunlight packages rooms at 16 Glenwood Springs lodgings, with lift tickets and entry to the famous hot spring pools for $40-$60 per night. Some hotels require a two-night minimum for the package. A majority of hotels exclude the package during Christmas. Phone (800) 445-7931.
If you can't imagine skiing Colorado without sampling the glamour slopes, Lynx Tours' seven-night Ski Safari is $459 for a rental car from Denver, a room at Glenwood Springs' Ramada Inn, daily breakfast, hot springs entry and five days of skiing--one day at Vail or Beaver Creek, one at Snowmass, one at Aspen Highlands and two at Sunlight. A midweek budget version runs $359, including car, three days at Sunlight and one at Highlands. Phone (800) 422-5969.
A new offering from Glenwood Springs Central Reservations combines five nights in Glenwood Springs, four days' skiing at Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Buttermilk or Sunlight, transportation to and from Glenwood Springs by Aspen Limo and entry to the hot springs pool. Adults, $248-293 per person; children, $82. Phone (800) 221-0098.