Affordable ski and boarding resorts? In most cases, we’d call that an oxymoron. Pursuing the sport of skiing or snowboarding isn’t cheap; the average family digs deep into their pockets to spend a day on the slopes, with the top resorts in New England often charging $100 or more a day for a single lift ticket. Ouch! And that doesn’t include food, lodging, clothing, and gear.
Luckily, there are still some small areas in New England with throwback charm and (relatively) retro prices. Here are 10 easier-on-the-wallet mountains to ski and snowboard this winter. Rates listed are for an adult weekend all-day lift ticket; youth and senior rates and season passes are further discounted, and sometimes you can get a better deal if you book in advance and online.
Middlebury College Snow Bowl
Nope, you don’t have to be a student to ski here; this Vermont resort in Hancock has been open to the public since 1936. It’s not dirt cheap but it has some big resort-style amenities, like a cafeteria, equipment rentals, and lessons. There are three chairlifts and a magic carpet and 17 trails. If you like tree skiing, there are 500 off-piste acres to play in. At the end of the day, warm up next to the large fieldstone fireplace in the historic lodge. 802-443-7669, www.middleburysnowbowl.com, $60
Families love this laid-back resort in Madison, N.H., home to the longest-running kid’s ski camp in the country. There are 17 trails crisscrossing 50 acres of varied terrain dotted with giant pine trees. Six lifts get people up the mountain in a hurry so there’s little time spent waiting in line. The ski area is part of Purity Springs Resort, with a range of accommodations and services, including an on-site restaurant, and an indoor pool and fitness area. Other activities, like ice skating, tubing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing are included with your daily lift ticket. 603-367-8896, www.kingpine.com, $72.
The low-key vibe and easy to get-around terrain make this New Hampshire area a great learner’s hill. It was founded in 1956 to serve Dartmouth University students but today it welcomes anyone looking for a relaxed, uncrowded day on the slopes. The 104-acre ski area has 30 trails across two hills, two lifts and two magic carpets. The longest run is the Big Green Trail, an easy beginner cruiser meandering 1.25 miles down from the 1,943-foot summit, but you’ll find plenty of intermediate trails and a handful of black diamond runs to keep it interesting. 603-795-2143, www.sites.dartmouth.edu/skiway, $53.
Cochran’s Ski Area
Mission statement: No child will be denied the opportunity to ski or ride. In 1998, this small ski area in Richmond, Vt., became the first nonprofit ski area in the country, dedicated to making skiing and riding affordable and accessible to every family. It’s conveniently located off I-89 about 13 miles south of Burlington. Kids will spend the day grabbing the rope tow to the top of the hill and bombing down the slopes to their heart’s content. There are three surface lifts and only eight trails — but plenty enough for kids and beginners, and anyone looking to perfect their turns. 802-434-2479, www.cochranskiarea.com, $19
Abenaki Ski Area
This tiny, beloved ski area, dubbed America’s Oldest Small Ski Area, is community owned and operated in Wolfeboro, N.H. It’s a perfect spot for kids who are just learning to ski or snowboard. Warning: wear rugged rawhide gloves as you’ll be using a rope tow to get up the mountain. There are seven easy-peasy trails, a terrain park, and a small lodge. 603-569-2513, www.wolfeboronh.us/abenaki-ski-area, nonresident season pass $160 (last year), $20 midweek, check website for up-to-date pricing.
It hasn’t always been easy being Whaleback. The modest ski mountain located in Enfield, N.H., has been open and closed several times since its founding in the 1950s. Today, it looks like it’s on the right track with a bold and optimistic improvement plan and bright-looking future. It operates as a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing affordable winter recreation to the community and visitors beyond. There’s plenty of varied terrain on 31 trails, served by four lifts, along with a pub, café, and rental shop. Everything you need for a fun, uncrowded day on the slopes. 603-448-5500, www.whaleback.com, $50.
Black Mountain of Maine
If we lived closer, we’d be skiing BMoM a lot. This nonprofit ski area, located in Rumford, Maine, has some of the cheapest ticket prices in New England, a friendly staff, a down-home, relaxed vibe and some decent skiing. There are 50 trails and glades spread across 600 acres, with a little something for all skill levels. Head to the 2,300-foot summit and you’ll have nice views of Maine’s western mountains. Kids in Grade 2 and under and folks 75 years and older get free season passes, and the resort offers several free skiing, snowboarding, and tubing days throughout the season, and two L.L. Bean-sponsored days when lift tickets are just $15 (note: last year’s rate). There are lots of other specials, too, plus a cool lodge, café, pub, and rental shop. 207-364-8977, www.skiblackmountain.org, $45.
When this longstanding gem opened in 1932, the rope tow up the mountain cost 25 cents. Well, it’s a bit more now, but this ski area, located in Pittsfield, is a local favorite, where generations of families have learned to ski. Set in the Taconic Mountain Range, with a summit elevation of 1,818 feet, the 200-acre ski resort has 24 trails, two lifts, and two magic carpets. The terrain park is a hit with the younger set and the ski school is well-regarded. There’s also a rental shop, café, and a new lodge. 413-442-8985, www.bousquetmountain.com, $72.
Let’s just start with this: there’s a brewpub located in the main ski lodge (and the brewery is in the basement of the lodge). It’s one of only two breweries in the country located on-site at a ski area.
This popular ski resort, located in Auburn, Maine, is a one-stop shop for winter fun. There are 22 trails and nine glades for skiers and riders of all abilities (though mostly it’s a beginner and intermediate hill). Two chairlifts and two surface lifts get the crowds up the mountain fast and keep the lines short. They provide lessons and rentals, and there’s tubing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, cross-country skiing, and night skiing. 207-784-1561, www.lostvalleyski.com, $60.
Once known as Ward Hill Ski Area and formerly Union Hill, this area has been in operation since 1939 and is one of the oldest continuously operating ski areas in the country. It’s a close-knit, family-owned operation, with nine trails and four lifts. There’s also tubing, a rental shop, ski school, 100 percent snowmaking and the Slopeside Bar & Grill. This Shrewsbury resort also offers a slew of weekday deals, including two for one lift tickets, and two-hour afternoon lift tickets for $18, perfect if you’re looking to get a few turns in while you’re in the area. 508-842-6346, www.skiward.com, $57.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com