Less is More: Small Ski Resorts That Pack a Big Punch

Credit is: Photo by iStock. Design by Lauren DeLuca for Yahoo Travel.

Bigger is not always better when it comes to skiing.

While the big-name resorts in North America like Vail, Aspen, Squaw Valley, and Park City have thousands of acres of skiable terrain, dozens of lifts, and hundreds of ski runs, these features come with a price.

This season, Vail ski resort is charging $175 for a one-day holiday lift ticket. For one person! And no, it doesn’t come with a free pair of skis and a gold medal. Add in lessons, lunch, rentals and parking, and a family of four will be paying well over $1500 for a single day on the slopes. Yes, good pre-season and package deals exist (look into an Epic Pass for next season), but unless you’re a Russian oligarch, walk-up pricing at Vail and similar mega-resorts feels like skiing into a tree without wearing a helmet. And that’s without evening mentioning the big crowds and big attitude that sometimes go with these large resorts.

Fortunately, there are many smaller ski hills which offer outsized savings on tickets, a family-friendly atmosphere, and a simpler skiing setting minus the pre-fab village, the remote-lot parking shuttles, and without the hard-core shredders and banzai skiers that can wreck your day. Beginners and families in particular aren’t going to be missing out on the vast acreage and double black diamond runs of the mega-resorts. For these following eight pint-sized ski hills, less can definitely be more:

1. Snow King, Wyo. — 400 acres, three chair lifts

Save money on your lift tickets at Snow King Mountain. (Photo: Snow King Mountain/ Facebook)

Yes, it’s tiny compared to the nearby Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, but with lift tickets at almost one-third the price, a convenient location right next to town, and a few decent ski runs, Snow King has a lot to recommend it. It also has perhaps the coolest ski resort feature in all of America: the new Winter Cowboy Coaster—an actual roller coaster that sends you twisting and screaming nearly a mile down the slopes. It is awesome, go try it.

Cost: Lift ticket: $47 (or free if you ski uphill)

2. Red River Ski Area, N.M. — 290 acres, five chair lifts, two surface lifts

While most advanced skiers visit New Mexico to ski Taos Ski Valley, the little-known hideaway of Red River Ski Area boasts some surprisingly challenging terrain and powder skiing opportunities to go along with its beginner and intermediate runs. It has a friendly small town atmosphere (with a winter carnival), offers mid-mountain snowcoach dinners, and features the unintentional comedy of watching a bunch of Texans learning to ski in their camouflage hunting gear.

Cost: Lift tickets $68

Related: 5 American Ski Resorts You’ve Never Heard Of

3. Mad River Glen, Vermont — 120 Acres, four ski lifts,

“Ski it if you can” has been their bumper sticker motto for years, given Mad River Glen’s intense steep runs, staking a claim to the toughest skiing in the Eastern United States. And we do mean skiing: Mad River is one of three resorts in the U.S. that still ban snowboarding. Given its fame for advanced skiing, Mad River’s 24 beginner and intermediate runs offer a lesser-known and thus less-crowded learning environment for beginners and families. The mountain’s daycare center is also an added bonus for families.

Cost: Lift Tickets from $65-$82

4. June Mountain, Calif. — 1500 acres, six lifts, one surface lift

It’s fun for all ages at June Mountain. (Photo: June Mountain)

While it’s not exactly tiny, June is less than half the size of nearby Mammoth Mountain. But this is the place to go on a crowded days when Mammoth is mobbed — June has sections with surprisingly advanced terrain for its size (the face runs are a challenge), but the hill is dominated by wide-open groomed intermediate runs. June is focused on family skiing, with kids 12 and under getting free lift tickets, and it has plenty of children’s ski and snowboard lessons. Plus, every Saturday, Bucky the deer mascot leads activities including face painting and helmet-decorating.

Cost: Lift tickets: $89, kids 12 & under ski for FREE

5. Sundance Ski Resort, Utah — 450 Acres, Four ski lifts

Founded by all-around cool dude Robert Redford (and named for his cowboy character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) Sundance ski resort is a mellow spot tucked away from the glitz and crowds of Park City. While only a fraction of the size of the nearby ParkCityCanyonsMegaplex resort, Sundance still has plenty of terrain to fill a day of skiing or snowboarding. It has family-friendly ski lessons, a Nordic Center, and even an art studio, if you’d like to work on your pottery skills after a day on the slopes.

Cost: Lift tickets $65

6. Arapahoe Basin, Colo. — 960 acres, six chairlifts, two surface lifts

A-basin proves the fact that not all smaller hills are easy ones. Although only one-fifth the size of Vail, Arapahoe’s advanced terrain and 13,000 foot summit provide a challenge for even the best of skiers and snowboarders. It has an old-school feel with just a parking lot and base lodge, keeping the experience focused on the skiing. The lift tickets aren’t the cheapest, but it is also part of the Colorado Gems program with the state’s smaller resorts, where a $20 membership card gets you a 2-for-1 lift ticket day at eight different mountains.

Cost: Lift Tickets $60-$93

Related: How to Take a Ski Trip Without Going Broke

7. Tahoe Donner, Calif. — 120 Acres, 2 chair lifts, one surface lift

Awww, fresh powder. (Photo: Tahoe Donner/Facebook)

This ski resort is tiny compared to nearby Squaw, Alpine and Northstar, but it is tailored for beginners and families, with an accessible newbie ski area conveniently located near the lodge, so you can watch your kids learn while drinking a Bloody Mary beside the trail. If the kids decide they hate skiing, try the nearby snowplay center. Tahoe Donner has the added bonus of hosting a large cross-country ski area with a new lodge, providing yet another option for visitors.

Cost: Lift Tickets $49 Adults, $22 Kids, 6 and under for free

8. Mt. Brighton, Mich. — 130 acres, 5 charlifts 7 surface lifts

A popular spot for Midwesterners and University of Michigan students (like myself), Mount Brighton will benefit from its recent purchase by the Vail Corporation, which is planning to spend some of the cash from those $175 Vail tickets on this pint-sized, but fun resort. Runs stay open until 10PM, so you can get in nearly a full day’s worth of skiing after work. A new kids’ Adventure Zone and improved terrain park make it a good spot for the family.

Cost: Lift Tickets: from $29 to $61

WATCH: Why Women Skiers Need a Woman Ski Instructor

Let Yahoo Travel inspire you every day. Hang out with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.