If you're a skiing or snowboarding fanatic, hearing names like Whistler, Banff, Vail, Park City, and Mammoth tends to evoke daydreams of deep powder, pristine slopes, and breathtaking scenery. These are some of North America's most popular and revered winter resorts, after all.
But there's another side to the coin: the high cost of skiing and snowboarding across North America.
As you prep or finalize your travel plans for the 2022-2023 season, you may be surprised at the cost of lift tickets and rentals this year. Using 2021-2022 data, this article will give you a sense of what it's going to cost for a day on the slopes at your daydream destination this year.
You'll see what nine of the most visited ski destinations charged for rentals and lift tickets last season, what more regional fees look like for comparison, and decide where you can get the best skiing and snowboarding per dollar.
9 of North America's Most Visited Ski and Snowboard Resorts
There are hundreds of winter resorts across the continent, but a handful of resorts are traveled to in numbers far beyond your average mountain. Organized alphabetically, this article consistently refers to the following 9 resorts.
- Breckenridge Ski Resort - Colorado, US
- Holiday Valley Resort - New York, US
- Lake Louise Ski Resort - Alberta, CA
- Mammoth Mountain Ski Area - California, US
- Park City Mountain Resort - Utah, US
- Steamboat Ski & Resort - Colorado, US
- Vail Mountain - Colorado, US
- Whistler - British Columbia, CA
- Winter Park Resort - Colorado, US
Whether it's the quality of skiing, the proximity of the slopes to a major metro, or even a mix of both, the nine ski and snowboard resorts above are packed with visitors every year. And serve as the foundation of understanding high-end resort ticket and rental pricing today.
So let's get on with it and have a look at rental fees.
How Much Is It To Rent Skis and Snowboards?
On average, renting mid-performance adult skis or snowboards costs $60 per day at the most-visited ski and snowboard destinations in North America. For junior skis and snowboards, this cost drops to $38 per day.
Of the nine resorts included in this study, the highest daily rental fee for adult-sized equipment was $83 (Steamboat Ski & Resort), and the highest daily rental fee for junior equipment was $48 (Breckenridge Ski Resort.)
Vail Mountain, which is rated the most visited ski and snowboard destination in the US, charges $60 for mid-performance adult rentals - which is the entire average of the resorts in this study. In contrast, Steamboat Ski & Resort charges a significantly higher daily rental rate than the average and is ranked the fifth most visited destination.
Whistler and Lake Louise are arguably (or inarguably depending on who you ask) the best skiing destinations in North America. And you'd imagine with that kind of reputation they'd charge higher rental fees. But it's quite a different story.
The average daily rental fee for the 7 US resorts in this list, averages $62; both Canadian resorts are well below this price, with Whistler even tying for the lowest cost on the entire list at $46 USD per day.
You'll see a similar pattern in daily ski and snowboard rental fees for junior packages.
It's important to note that at the time of researching these prices, the US dollar was stronger than the Canadian dollar, possibly impacting how the price of rentals in Canada appears compared to US rentals.
That said, for Americans planning to travel on their next ski or snowboard trip, and also plan on renting equipment, Canadian slopes could be more appealing on these fees alone.
Rentals are just one of many fees you'll incur when traveling for snow sports, food, lodging, and flights - it all adds up. But hands down, the most expensive mountain-based fee is the lift ticket.
Let's have a closer look at how all nine of these resorts compare for lift tickets.
How Much Does A Lift Ticket Cost?
For a full-day lift ticket during peak season, the most-visited ski and snowboard destinations in North America averaged $160 in 2021. At the same destinations, junior lift tickets averaged $104 per day. Buying ahead and multiple-day packages significantly reduce this price.
In addition to purchasing in bulk and in advance, getting lift tickets for weekdays and outside of holiday travel windows will always have a lower price tag than peak season or weekend tickets.
It's also worth pointing out that many resorts flex prices based on demand - if it's super busy on certain days, they reserve the right to increase pricing. This is actually great if you've purchased a lift ticket beforehand, this will make lift lines shorter and the slopes far less crowded.
For youth lift tickets, there's not a clear relationship between adult lift prices and youth lift prices. Many resorts try to make youth lift tickets as affordable as possible, creating multiple tiers for age, having restricted area pricing, and even lumping in rentals with the lift tickets.
This makes lift tickets a bit more difficult to navigate for kids, which you can clearly see in the table - for instance, Steamboat Ski & Resort has the 6th most expensive adult lift ticket, but the 2nd most expensive junior lift ticket.
Vail Mountain tops the list of the most expensive lift tickets for adult and junior within the sample of nine resorts - and in the US, Vail Mountain was rated the most visited ski destination by the National Ski Areas Association in the United States in its last report that revealed visits by destination.
With more visitors than any other mountain stateside, it's logical to think a higher lift ticket price makes sense. By the same logic then, if the demand for visits is driving lift ticket prices, you'd expect a pattern across the other resort rankings.
But that's not the case outside of the top 5 most-visited resorts in the US. Winter Park Resort and Park City Mountain Resort (#6 and #10 respectively) break this pattern, charging at least the same or higher than the 2nd most visited ski and snowboard resort (Breckenridge Ski Resort) in the States.
The number of visits is just one metric for evaluating the demand at a resort - quality of the mountain and runs, accessibility, micro-economics of the location, etc - this all plays into the pricing of lift tickets. It's not as cut-and-dry as visits, but an interesting metric nonetheless.
However, when you break down the lift ticket prices by country, there's a similar pattern as the rentals - where two of Canada's best resorts are significantly more affordable than the average American resorts on the list.
The seven US-based resorts in this report average $172 per adult, full-day lift ticket. Whereas Canadian resorts, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Whistler, are priced at $149 and $93 respectively. It quickly becomes even more affordable when you take into account junior lift tickets in Canada vs. the United States.
On average, one-day lift tickets on average will cost you nearly three times as much as a full-day ski or snowboard rental - so if you already own skis or a snowboard, for Americans, traveling to Canada's two premium locations may be more cost-effective than traveling to Vail Mountain or one of the other premium US locations.
The Best Value of North America's Most Visited Ski Resorts
As mentioned previously, you'll get lower prices per day the more days you purchase in bulk. This can significantly lower your overall cost. And many places will have a separate package that combines your lift ticket with a rental, creating a new price altogether.
But for the sake of this article, and the prices laid out above, we will remove any sort of lump packages and multi-day discounts, and figure out which ski resort is the best value among some of the most visited destinations on the continent, for one day.
If you define value as the best price out of the nine most visited resorts in this list, then Holiday Valley Resort is for you, a full-day rental and lift ticket is going to cost $119. And although Holiday Valley Resort is a lot of fun, it's difficult to compare it to skiing in Whistler or Vail.
For instance, on size alone, Whistler has over 8,000 acres with 200 marked runs, to Holiday Valley Resort's 1,400 acres with 58 marked runs.
And that's just one dimension of comparison, there are many ways to define value.
While potential bias and "unscientific," for quality of skiing and snowboarding to price, a more appropriate comparison would be Vail Mountain to Whistler.
A classic US vs. Canada battle.
If you assume the quality of skiing is extremely close for both locations, then it comes down to price. And the clear winner would be Whistler. For one day of rentals and a lift ticket at Vail Mountain, you could rent and purchase a lift ticket for two days at Whistler.
And if you have kids, regardless of how you define value, that is weighting price to the most popular destinations or price to the highest quality of skiing, Whistler is the best value for junior rentals and lifts tickets from this list of 9 locations.
It's pretty rare to travel to any of these locations solo, so in the instance of a family of four - two adults and two children, this is what one full day on the slopes is going to cost.
That's right if you take your family to Steamboat or Vail, it's going to set you back nearly $900 for one full day at the mountain with rentals. The same scenario in Whistler will cost half of that.
Skiing and snowboarding are thrilling in ways that most other activities can't even compare, but that doesn't mean it has to break the bank.
While most Americans might assume that traveling to a ski mecca like Whistler wouldn't be feasible, when you start to look at the daily fees of being on the mountain, it makes the cost of travel and lodging seem far more accessible.
If you're going to go big, don't discount the biggest names across the border, they might be more doable than you'd imagined.
Bringing It Home to the Berkshires
Kenver is nestled in the Berkshires - you can practically throw a snowball at Catamount and Butternut from Kenver. In fact, five of the Berkshires' best slopes are an easy drive from Kenver.
And while Colorado is the darling of alpine sports in the United States, the northeast is also home to fantastic skiing and snowboarding.
So to bring this research a little bit closer to home, you'll find five of the Berkshires' resorts examined under the same scope as the nine most visited ski resorts in North America, that is, you'll learn what rentals and lift tickets look like for great, but less visited locations.
Adding more context to what value looks like as you plot your travel plans for the upcoming season.
5 Popular Ski and Snowboard Resorts in the Berkshires
The following five resorts are not the only options in the region, but they do represent a good variety of proximity to major metropolitans, a mix of traffic, and separate qualities of skiing.
- Catamount Mountain Resort
- Ski Butternut
- Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort
- Wachusett Mountain
- Berkshire East Mountain Resort
Without further ado, let's look at the price of rentals and lift tickets for the sample.
How Much Is It To Rent Skis and Snowboards in the Berkshires?
On average, renting mid-performance adult skis or snowboards at a resort in the Berkshires costs around $50 per day. For junior skis and snowboards, this rental fee averages $40 per day.
For comparison, daily rentals in the Berkshires are $10 less expensive for adult sizes, however, for junior rentals, the Berkshires are slightly more expensive (+$2) than 9 of the most visited ski resorts in North America.
Catamount Mountain Resort had the highest rental fee, with its weekend, full-day rental for adult sizes averaging $65, and $55 for juniors. Compared to the 9 most visited destinations, Catamount would have the 4th most expensive rental fee for adults, and the most expensive rental fee for junior of any resort looked at for this article.
How Much Is A Lift Ticket in the Berkshires?
For adults, among five of the most visited resorts in the Berkshires, the average full-day and peak season lift ticket averaged $80 in 2021. At the same locations, junior lift tickets averaged $68 per day. Adult lift tickets were $99 at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the most expensive.
Even though Jiminy Peak has the highest-priced lift tickets of the five Berkshires' resorts, they are still lower than any of the US resorts from the "Most Visited" list at the start of this article. That would be Holiday Valley Resort (NY) which cost $102 for adult lift tickets and $80 per junior lift ticket.
It's worth pointing out though that Whistler is slightly more affordable than Jiminy Peak for a single-day lift ticket during peak season - $93 for Whistler vs. Jiminy Peak's $99.
Another interesting observation is that Catamount Mountain Resort has the lowest lift ticket prices, even though its rental prices are the highest among the five Berkshires resorts in this study.
How Do Rentals and Lift Ticket Prices in the Berkshires Resorts Compare to Others?
For a day of adult ski rentals (or snowboard) and a lift ticket during peak season, the average price is $130. This is nearly half the cost of renting and purchasing a lift ticket at more visited resorts across North America; which average $220 for the same one-day arrangement.
And of course, there's one exception - that is, Whistler. It's always Whistler.
Skiing and Snowboarding - Destination vs. Domestic
After looking at 9 of the most visited ski destinations in North America, and looking at a more localized destination in the Berkshires, there's a story developing around chasing value.
Destination Skiing? Think Canada
At the time of writing this, a ticket from Boston to Vancouver (75 miles from Whistler) in mid-January was around $400. A ticket from Boston to Denver was $232.
Meaning just a few days at Whistler for rentals or lift tickets would more than make up for the cost of lift tickets and rentals at Vail or Steamboat.
You certainly wouldn't be sacrificing anything in the skiing/snowboarding quality department by heading to Banff or Whistler instead of stateside resorts. Essentially, skiing Whistler vs. Vail is potentially less expensive for just as good if not better skiing. Plus you'll be in Canada, which is always great.
Domestic or Domestic Destination?
If you're price sensitive, sticking closer to regional skiing, places that are less traveled and most often not in the Rockies are going to be far more affordable options. If your criteria for valuing a trip weighs heavily on the quality of the runs over cost, it's difficult to compete with the domestic most-visited places like Colorado or Mammoth in California.
But to the prior point, if domestic destinations in the US are options, then so is international - in which case you may be better served looking at Whistler or Lake Louise. If that's too much of a stretch, and you want to stay stateside, you may want to look at popular regional hubs like Holiday Valley Resort in NY.
That's not to say you can't have an amazing time at super regional destinations like the Berkshires. Great price, and great slopes, it's just a different atmosphere than some of the most visited mountains in this article.