Colorado Gems: 11 Affordable Ski Resorts

Discover the best affordable ski resorts in Colorado with this roundup of the 11 Colorado Gems and take the family skiing without the crowds!

Small ski resorts exist all over the West, including Colorado, which is typically known for glitzy resorts such as Vail and Aspen. Understandably, major ski resorts aren’t an option for everyone – they’re expensive and often very crowded. Thankfully, Colorado has eleven ski areas nicknamed the “Colorado Gems” and they’re among the most affordable ski resorts in Colorado.

Scattered across the state, these hills harken back to an older time. Lift ticket prices and crowds are significantly reduced, the mountains are smaller, and the lifts are a bit slower. But what these ski resorts lack in modern efficiency, they make up for in old-school ski-vacation charm. All of the smaller resorts below are budget-friendly ski areas that are worth checking out!

Start planning your next ski vacation to the one of best affordable ski resorts in Colorado


About the Colorado Gems

Skiing is the lifeblood of Colorado. Back in the mid-twentieth century when mining towns were shutting down, it was skiing and tourism that saved them from extinction (the lucky ones anyway). Small tow-ropes and single and double chairlifts eventually turned places like Aspen, Telluride, and Crested Butte into resort towns.

Since then, the Colorado resort lifestyle has gotten bigger and more glamorous. But with this expansion, the resorts have also lost some of the old charms of expansion-era ski hills. Plus, even with the improved lifts and amenities, there are still plenty of frustrations; just ask anyone waiting in line for Lift 5 out of Vail’s back bowls on a Saturday in February, or the day-tripper who dropped over $100 for a single-day ticket!

Luckily, the magic of small Colorado ski hills has not been completely lost. The Colorado Gems are a series of eleven small and affordable ski resorts in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains that still have old-school charm with far fewer crowds.


Colorado Gems – Mapped


11 Affordable Ski Resorts in Colorado

1. Loveland Ski Area

  • Location: Dillon, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $85
  • Nearest mega resorts: Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain

Loveland is the closest ski area to Denver on I-70. It spans around and over the Eisenhower Tunnel and it sits at the Continental Divide. On a powder day at Loveland, riding the bowls from the second-highest quad lift in the world is the best feeling in the world!

Loveland Ski Area // Discover the best affordable ski resorts in Colorado with this roundup of the 11 Colorado Gems. Take the family skiing without the crowds!

2. Arapahoe Basin

  • Location: Dillon, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $69
  • Nearest mega resorts: Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain

Arapahoe Basin is located over the Loveland Pass from 1-70 outside of Denver. The extra effort is worth it though! A-Basin has the highest in-bounds skiable terrain in North America. As a bonus, Arapahoe Basin is also part of the multi-mountain Ikon pass, giving you no excuse to miss out on this Gem experience if you are an Ikon pass holder.

Arapahoe Ski Basin // Discover the best affordable ski resorts in Colorado with this roundup of the 11 Colorado Gems. Take the family skiing without the crowds!

3. Eldora Mountain Resort 

  • Location: Nederland, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $99
  • Nearest mega resorts: None

Eldora is a true winner when you don’t want to fight the traffic on I-70. If you are staying in Boulder, you can even catch the local bus to get to the mountain.

Time your visit with an up-slope storm – the kind that shuts down Denver. Everywhere east of the divide gets pounded with snow and the major resorts on the west side only get a dusting. Eldora is part of the Ikon pass, so you get unlimited skiing at this affordable ski resort in Colorado.

Eldora Mountain Resort // Discover the best affordable ski resorts in Colorado with this roundup of the 11 Colorado Gems. Take the family skiing without the crowds!

4. Monarch Mountain

  • Location: Salida, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $99
  • Nearest mega resorts: Crested Butte

Monarch Mountain can be experienced as its own trip or as a warm-up mountain to those heading over to Crested Butte. The resort is about a three-hour drive from Denver on US-285, which allows you to avoid traffic on I-70. Monarch Mountain is known for its deep snow, diverse terrain, excellent tree skiing, crowd-less slopes, and backcountry snowcat operation.

Monarch Mountain // Discover the best affordable ski resorts in Colorado with this roundup of the 11 Colorado Gems. Take the family skiing without the crowds!

5. Cooper Mountain

  • Location: Leadville, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $90
  • Nearest mega resorts: Vail and Copper Mountain

Cooper, (formerly Ski Cooper) is situated at the top of Tennessee Pass above Camp Hale, just west of Vail and Copper Mountain. This area outside of Leadville was the training ground for the 10th Mountain Division during World War II. While 10th Mountain Alumni went on to start Vail and Aspen, modeling them off European ski resorts, Cooper has remained a humble local ski hill.

If you are looking for something a bit more extreme and personal, Cooper also offers snow-cat access skiing up on Chicago Ridge with terrain similar to Vail’s back bowls. If you’re overwhelmed by the size of the mountain (or the crowds) at the nearby big resorts, pop over to Cooper for some old-school mountain time.

Cooper Mountain Resort // Discover the best affordable ski resorts in Colorado with this roundup of the 11 Colorado Gems. Take the family skiing without the crowds!

6. Sunlight Mountain Resort

  • Location: Glenwood Springs, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $59
  • Nearest mega resorts: Aspen-Snowmass

While Cooper plays little brother to Vail and Copper, Sunlight Mountain Resort is second (well really, fifth) fiddle to the four-mountain monolith that is Aspen-Snowmass. Sitting above Glenwood Springs on the west end of the Roaring Fork Valley, Sunlight offers just about the opposite of everything Aspen. Glitz, modern gondolas, and champagne bars turn into humble, old-school double-chairs and hot chocolate from the tiny ski patrol hut.

Sunlight is a favorite with families. But don’t let the kiddos trick you into thinking this mountain is all beginner’s luck: the Gibson and Sundown Glades on a powder day is the definition of steep and deep, peaking out at a vertigo-inducing 52 degrees…inbounds.

Sunlight Mountain Resort // Discover the best affordable ski resorts in Colorado with this roundup of the 11 Colorado Gems. Take the family skiing without the crowds!

7. Ski Granby Ranch

  • Location: Granby, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $109 (minimum 2-day pass)
  • Nearest mega resorts: Winter Park and Steamboat

Ski Granby Ranch, formerly known as Solvista Basin, is sandwiched halfway between Winter Park and Steamboat Springs on US Highway 40. A lot of people overlook this little mountain because it has gentle terrain. But for families that want a more laid-back and budget-friendly spring break, this is a smart way to go.

Stay in Grand Lake and fill your days with runs at Ski Granby and snowshoe on the quiet side of nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

8. Powderhorn Mountain Resort

  • Location: Mesa, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $79
  • Nearest mega resorts: None

Powderhorn Mountain Resort is the only truly Western Slope ski area. When I say there are no mega-resorts nearby, I mean it. Telluride and Aspen are the closest—over 100 miles away. If you are looking to get far away from the standard ski tourist, Powderhorn is your spot.

Located on Grand Mesa, the largest flattop mountain IN THE WORLD, this gem has weather systems practically all its own. On a sunny and dry January day down in Grand Junction, Powderhorn is likely getting dumped on if there’s a cloud cap on Grand Mesa. 

9. Echo Mountain Resort

  • Location: Idaho Springs, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $57
  • Nearest mega resorts: None

Since 2016, Echo Mountain has prided itself on being the closest and most affordable ski area to Denver. Thirty-six miles from downtown, this is a great place to take your family skiing or tubing for cheap. Plus, you can do it all in a single-day adventure.

Due to its proximity to the city, it’s best to make a reservation, especially for tubing. People say they admire the “mom and pop” family feel of this Colorado Gem with affordable skiing near Denver.

Echo Mountain Resort // Discover the best affordable ski resorts in Colorado with this roundup of the 11 Colorado Gems. Take the family skiing without the crowds!

10 . Hesperus Ski Area

  • Location: Hesperus, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $45
  • Nearest mega resorts: None

Hesperus Ski Area is one of the most affordable ski resorts in Colorado. Nestled in San Juan National Forest, this ski area is minutes from downtown Durango. At nearly 9,000 feet at the summit, the mountain offers 700 feet of vertical downhill. When you’re done skiing with your family, go tubing down the mountain for a sunset cruise. By the end of the day if you’ve still got it in you, hit up the slopes again for night skiing. Their claim to fame is that they’ve got the largest night skiing operation in all of the southwest.

11. Kendall Ski Area

  • Location: Silverton, Colorado
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Average adult weekday ticket price: $26
  • Nearest mega resorts: None

Companion to Hesperus in the San Juan National Forest, Ski Kendall is nearest to the town of Silverton. These two are much smaller than other ski areas in Colorado, but you can’t beat the stunning beauty. Kendall is beginner and family-friendly, so take your kids skiing here for a scenic, affordable ski trip this winter.

Also, look out for their free ski days once a month. Though its 300 vertical feet isn’t extreme, you honestly cannot get a cheaper ski trip than this in a more picturesque place.

Warm up with cocoa in the charming town of Silverton once you’re off the slope.

Kendall Mountain Resort // Discover the best affordable ski resorts in Colorado with this roundup of the 11 Colorado Gems. Take the family skiing without the crowds!

Have you been to one of these affordable ski resorts in Colorado or are you making plans to visit some? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by Ben Thomas

Ben and Jenna Thomas are a pair of newlyweds who both grew up exploring the mountains of Colorado. Right now, they’re working their way around the world, from one exciting adventure to the next. Follow their journey at WildImagining.com and make sure to check out their awesome photography on Instagram and Facebook.

12 comments on “Colorado Gems: 11 Affordable Ski Resorts

  1. Oh man, you have me dreaming about skiing out West. Pennsylvania just doesn’t have the same sort of trails. Although your greens are probably more like our blacks. I’d be scared out of my mind, but I bet it’s awesome. Bookmarking this one in the dream pile! I’m headed to Colorado this winter so hopefully this can be a reality.

    1. I’m learning how to ski this winter up at Alta above salt lake. It’s got a reputation for being a challenging mountain but as it turns out there is plenty of “easier” terrain. Hopefully you can make it out here for a visit sometime this winter!

  2. I have friends in CB and have been planning a trip there, hopefully to take place around Feb 2016. I haven’t heard much about Monarch (maybe because those in CB seems obsessed with staying there? haha) Will definitely try and swing over and check it out.
    Is Purgatory very much on the radar? That might be another less visited mountain your readers might enjoy and I think passes at Monarch work there too, or there is some sort of exchange system.

    1. Hey Yok – You know, I’m not familiar with Purgatory, but a quick read on the website sounds like if you get a monarch season pass you get a few free days at Purgatory. Not sure if that’s applicable to you since you’d just be visiting, but lift tickets at either are pretty reasonable. Hope you have a great trip and can’t wait to hear about it! -Kristen

  3. Just moved out to Colorado a few months ago and am super excited to do some “real” mountain skiing. I haven’t been skiing since high school but am encouraged that there is a lot of “easier” terrain at many of these resorts. I also had no idea about the gem pass so thanks for the tip. Enjoy the slopes this winter!

  4. The gems are great for new skiiers! I always felt like my learning days were so expensive because I wasn’t enjoying the full mountain yet! Great list!

  5. Hi there! I’m not sure why this popped up in my news feed this morning (1/22/2020) but it’s a fantastic piece. One thing to note: Arapahoe Basin is no longer on the Epic Pass, so if people are still finding this they won’t get the most current info. Arapahoe Basin joined the Ikon Pass with 5 or 7 days. Thank you!

  6. Thanks for the information! Now which one to pick. My husband and I want to bring our 13 and 15 year old to ski for the first time. Which would be your top pick?

    1. Hmmm… that’s a tough one, they’re all good! Kendall is beginner and family-friendly, so that would be a great first-time experience.

Leave a comment

You can leave a comment, but you wont be able to add any links.

* You can not add any links to your comment as was previously mentioned above