Ski deals

This season's best bargains around the West
Ted Alan Stedman
CALIFORNIA

Donner Ski Ranch, 530/426-3635
One of California's oldest ski resorts. With snow sliders decked in blue jeans and denim jackets, the rustic mom 'n' pop facility is like a '70s time capsule ― with prices to match.

What we love: The terrain has enough surprises to keep everyone happy, and the wide beginning runs are within easy view of the lodge deck, so parents can watch their kids.

The deal: Midweek pricing comes in at $25 for adults and $20 for 13- to 17-year-olds. On twice-per-month "Old School Thursdays," ages 13-plus can snag $10 tickets; $5 for kids ages 6-12.

Après: Ward off the chill with savory burgers, chicken, and steak grilled on the deck barbecue. The Old Bar ($; breakfast and lunch daily) gets rave reviews as best in the region.

Get there: From Sacramento, drive 80 miles east on I-80 to exit 174 (Soda Springs/Norden), turn east onto U.S. 40 (Donner Pass Rd.), and continue 3 miles to Donner Ski Ranch.

Homewood Mountain Resort, 530/525-2992
Stellar views of Lake Tahoe. Known for its knee-deep tree skiing (an average of 450 annual inches) and sheltered location that reduces winds.

What we love: It's homey and courts families with all kinds of incentives ― from its Parent Exchange ticket program to a Children's Center, terrain parks, and crowdless lifts.

The deal: The resort's Value Day tickets ($27 Mon-Thu non-holidays) are a penny-pincher's dream. Kids ages 10 and under are always free.

Après: Mahogany Ridge Bar ($; open daily) specializes in handmade margaritas and microbrews. Try the Homewood hamburger with pepper bacon and a side of onion rings.

Get there: From Reno, drive 32 miles west on I-80 to Truckee, exit on State 89 south, and continue 13 miles to Tahoe City. Turn right and drive 6 miles along the west shore of Lake Tahoe.

COLORADO

Eldora Mountain Resort, 303/440-8700
Front Range's closest ski area (21 miles west of Boulder) offers an alternative to I-70 traffic ― a nice bonus considering its reasonable pricing.

What we love: No-frills resort has a family-friendly central base area, runs up to 3 miles long, and three terrain parks. Nordic skiers find solitude on an extensive groomed trail system.

The deal: Eldora has one of the most affordable ski rental packages around. Best value: Join its TEN-8 Club for $69 and ski all day every day at half-day rates.

Après: The Lodge cafeteria ($$; breakfast and lunch daily) serves rib-sticking burgers and the best chili-cheese fries in Colorado.

Get there: From Boulder, drive 15 miles west on State 119 to Nederland, turn south at the roundabout, continue 1 mile, then turn west on County Rd. 130 and follow signs 5 miles.

Powderhorn Resort, 970/268-5700
A desert-meets-mountain location on the edge of Grand Mesa, Powderhorn gets upward of 250 seasonal inches of airy dry snow that can be found days after the last storm.

What we love: A terrain park, compact base, and ultra-affordable ski-in/ski-out lodging make Powderhorn hassle-free and easy on the wallet.

The deal: Stay at Powderhorn's Inn at Wildewood (from $79) and earn free lift tickets for the next day.

Après: Wildewood Restaurant ($; lunch and dinner Thu-Sun) has après-ski specials, pizzas, grilled sandwiches, and many TVs that go hand in hand with watching sports events.

Get there: From Grand Junction, drive 15 miles east on I-70 to State 65, turn south, and continue 20 miles to Powderhorn Resort.

Ski Cooper, 800/707-6114
Rightly bills itself as "The Affordable Family Area." Uncrowded family bargain with all-abilities terrain, a beautiful nordic trail system, plus the adrenaline option of snowcat skiing.

What we love: Once the training ground of World War II's revered 10th Mountain Division ski soldiers, Cooper's slopes are 100 percent natural snow.

The deal: Cooper's regular day tickets are plain inexpensive. Adults pay $36, kids ages 6-14 pay $18.

Après: Cooper's unassuming restaurant ($; breakfast and lunch daily) serves burritos, chicken wraps, green-chile chili, and grill offerings.

Get there: From I-70 at exit 195, drive 24 miles south on State 91 to the U.S. 24 junction, turn west, and follow signs 9 miles north to Ski Cooper.

IDAHO

Bogus Basin Mountain Resort, 800/367-4397
The mountain's back side has jumps and trees for advanced skiers; beginners and intermediates play on the gentler front. What we love: It's got the most expansive night skiing in the Northwest. Big terrain and high-speed quad lifts mean plenty of runs.

The deal: Bogus's regular day tickets are a steal: $42 for adults, $20 ages 7-11, ages 6 and under free. Some area lodges offer "Stay & Play" two-for-one day-ticket specials.

Après: Mid-mountain's Firewater Saloon and Bogus Bob's Grill ($; lunch and dinner daily, breakfast Sat-Sun), both in Pioneer Lodge, offer sustenance and stunning views.

Get there: From Boise, go north on 15th St., turn west on Hayes St., (which becomes Harrison Blvd. and heads north). Go about 2 miles; and Harrison becomes Bogus Basin Rd.

OREGON

Hoodoo Ski Area, 541/822-3799
Locals like to say it's "cheaper, deeper, and steeper" at this funky non-resort that targets families with its discount programs.

What we love: Elite skiers frequent Hoodoo's back side, known for deep powder stashes and ledge hops, while the mile-long Over Easy run is perfect for beginners and intermediates.

The deal: The Tightwad Tuesdays ticket, good through the last week of March, pleases all ages. Regular midweek tickets are only $32 (adult) and $24 (ages 6-11).

Après: The 60,000-square-foot North Lodge has deep chairs, a roaring fireplace, full-service bar, and one of the country's best historic displays of snowboard evolution.

Get there: From Portland, drive about 30 miles south to Salem, then turn east on State 22 and continue 80 miles to Hoodoo Ski Area.

UTAH

Brighton Resort, 800/873-5512
Friendly, laid-back, and brimming with pro-family discounts, Brighton consistently wins the "Best Family Value" slot in local polls.

What we love: Brighton's stats will impress powder hounds, especially when it comes to the main ingredient: a whopping average annual snowfall of 500 inches.

The deal: Adult ticket prices are $44, a deal by today's standards. But the real family incentive: Kids 10 and under are free.

Après: Slopeside, the Alpine Rose ($; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily) does the trick for good cafeteria-style eats.

Get there: From I-215 south of Salt Lake City, drive 15 miles east on State 210 to the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon and Brighton Resort.

WASHINGTON

49º North, 866/376-4949
It's all about the love of snow at the no-nonsense northeastern mountain, where the clientele runs from wheat-farming families to inconspicuous corporate types from nearby Spokane.

What we love: Exceptional children's learning trails, and adult-size fun as well ― more than 2,000 acres of terrain, including a classic alpine ridge and steep fall-line chutes.

The deal: Adults can't pay more than $37 for day tickets on weekends; it's $30 for ages 7-17, 6 and under free.

Après: The Boomtown Bar ($; lunch and dinner Fri-Tue, breakfast Sat-Sun) is known for its 12 draft beers, plus reputedly the best Bloody Marys in eastern Washington.

Get there: From Spokane, drive 40 miles north on U.S. 395 to Chewelah, turn east onto Main St., which becomes Flowery Trail Rd., and continue 10 miles to 49º North.

Mt. Baker, 360/734-6771
Snow, and lots of it. Not only does it post an average of 647 inches per year, but Baker holds the record as the biggest snow collector in the world, with 1,140 inches tallied in the '98-'99 season.

What we love: Special kids-only programs take the sting out of ticket prices. Learner-friendly runs designated "Kids and Beginner" help encourage skills and confidence.

The deal: At about $38 for adults and $28 ages 7-15, Baker boasts the lowest weekend and holiday ticket prices in the Cascades. Midweek prices knock off $8 and $5, respectively.

Après: Cozy up in the White Salmon Day Lodge's cafe ($; breakfast and lunch daily) with the signature dish: smoked salmon chowder. Get there: From Bellingham, drive 56 miles east on State 542 to Mt. Baker.