This season's best bargains around the West

CALIFORNIA

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

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

The deal: Midweek pricing comes in at $25 for adults and $20for 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 ($; breakfastand lunch daily) gets rave reviews as best in the region.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 bonusconsidering its reasonable pricing.

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

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

Après: The Lodge cafeteria ($$; breakfast and lunchdaily) serves rib-sticking burgers and the best chili-cheese friesin Colorado.

Get there: From Boulder, drive 15 miles west on State 119 toNederland, turn south at the roundabout, continue 1 mile, then turnwest 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 thatcan be found days after the last storm.

What we love: A terrain park, compact base, andultra-affordable ski-in/ski-out lodging make Powderhorn hassle-freeand 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 dinnerThu-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-70to State 65, turn south, and continue 20 miles to PowderhornResort.

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

What we love: Once the training ground of World War II'srevered 10th Mountain Division ski soldiers, Cooper's slopes are100 percent natural snow.

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

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

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

IDAHO

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

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

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

Get there: From Boise, go north on 15th St., turn west onHayes St., (which becomes Harrison Blvd. and heads north). Go about2 miles; and Harrison becomes Bogus Basin Rd.

OREGON

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

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

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

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

Get there: From Portland, drive about 30 miles south toSalem, then turn east on State 22 and continue 80 miles to HoodooSki 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 localpolls.

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

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

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 15miles east on State 210 to the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon andBrighton Resort.

WASHINGTON

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

What we love: Exceptional children's learning trails, andadult-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 onweekends; 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 reputedlythe best Bloody Marys in eastern Washington.

Get there: From Spokane, drive 40 miles north on U.S. 395 toChewelah, 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 647inches per year, but Baker holds the record as the biggest snowcollector in the world, with 1,140 inches tallied in the '98-'99season.

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

The deal: At about $38 for adults and $28 ages 7-15, Bakerboasts the lowest weekend and holiday ticket prices in theCascades. 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 salmonchowder. Get there: From Bellingham, drive 56 miles east on State 542to Mt. Baker.

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