My college ski team had an inside joke about why we were all there, getting our university degrees. While we each had our own academic paths – nursing, finance, engineering, liberal arts – amongst the group of us we were really all pursuing the same major: Having Fun. (And in this particular concentration, we were also all pulling straight A’s, too.)
While we recommend skiing where you can, when you can, some resorts are more conducive than others for good turns and good times. I put this list together based on main factors like ski town culture, friendliness towards the “college kid” demographic, season pass and lift ticket prices, and variety of lodging, food, and nightlife options. Each of these resorts also boast at least a few festivals or seasonal events that are worth your while. Some are worth the weekend trip, while others are top picks for longer vacations. All are worth a road trip – or those airline miles your parents offered you for Christmas last year. Without further ado, here’s our list of the top 5 ski resorts for college students:
Breckenridge is at the top of this list for its fun-loving atmosphere, varied terrain, proximity to major Colorado schools and unrestricted access under the Epic Pass ($559 USD ($765 AUD)). Breck boasts nearly 1,214 ha skiable terrain, world-famous terrain parks, and some of the best snow in Colorado because of its specific location within the Rocky Mountain Range. Some vacationers go for the glitz and glam, but at heart Breck is suited for any budget, and attracts masses of college students – especially during Spring Break. Regional and national live music acts frequent the town; the outdoor concerts in late March are the best.
Best For: Day-trippers from Dillon, weekenders from Denver and Boulder; spring break destination for sun-loving skiers.
When You Go:
Stay…at the Pine Ridge Condominiums for ski-in/ski-out access and decent prices (if you go with some friends).
Ski…Peak 8 for the most variety, Peak 10 for fewest crowds, and Peak 8 summit for some seriously gnarly hike-to terrain.
Eat…at The Lost Cajun for gumbo and biegniets under $10 USD ($14 AUD).
Après…soak up the sun at T-bar, located at the base of Peak 8. Daily food specials (like 75 cent wings on Sundays) abound, and the upwards of 100 skiers and riders sprawl out across the patio on sunny afternoons.
Nightlife…Most clubs are 21+; if you’ve got that going for you, head to Cecilia’s for late night dancing to spinning DJs.
Off The Slopes…Take a day to drive to the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs in Nathrup; Mt. Princeton is a fully developed resort, but you can get day passes for the springs starting at $18 USD ($25 AUD).
Don’t Miss…Spring Fever, Breck’s blowout end-of-season festival with pro competitions, beer and food tastings, and outdoor concerts.
Learn more about Breckenridge
There’s not too much going on at Sunday River compared to major resorts in the West, but it tops our list for New England ski destinations. The resort does their best to cater to college students with events like College Ski Week in early January, a 5-day run of lodging deals and special events for yours truly. There’s also the competitively priced $359 USD ($491 AUD) New England College Pass, which offers access to Sunday River, Sugarloaf, and Loon. Sunday River is just far enough north to dodge the tristate area weekender crowds, so lift lines aren’t as clogged and snow quality stays throughout the day. This is the place to go if you want to get in some turns, hang with friends, and kick back at, like, three bars. (But hey – they’re great bars!)
Best For: New Englanders looking for a local getaway; long days on the slopes and fun nights at the Foggy Goggle.
When You Go:
Ski…Lap Locke and Barker Mountains in the morning, then head to the glades off Oz for some tree line thrills.
Eat…at Smokin’ Good BBQ; chefs smoke fresh meats dry-rubbed with a secret spice recipe in a traditional smoker to serve up the best bbq in Maine. Good prices, too.
Après…at the Foggy Goggle. You’ll find loud crowds, live music, and pretty good pub grub; all ages are welcome.
Nightlife…Head to the Matterhorn for live music and craft brews; Tuesday Deep & Steep deals include $3 USD ($4 AUD) PBRs and half price pizzas.
Off The Slopes…If you’ve got the funds, check out the snowmobiling scene; the Sunday and midweek rate of $99 USD ($135 AUD) for 4 hours is a good deal, and the trail systems are extensive.
Don’t Miss…College Week from January 2nd-7th; the resort puts up “one night stand” lift/lodging packages starting at $69 USD ($94 AUD), as well as 3 nights of entertainment at the Foggy Goggle.
Learn more about Sunday River
Whistler likes to party, so if you're looking to let loose at European underground style nightclubs between days on teh slopes, this place is for you. What can we say? Whistler has slowly but surely gained a sort of monopoly on North American resorts when it comes to every day, every season offerings for every type of person: 2017 marks the second year running that the resort has won the coveted #1 Overall Resort award from Ski Magazine. Skiable terrain spans over 3,237 ha, with thousands more accessbile in neighbouring backcountry. Après is a way of life, the parties are off the hook, and you can find at least 5 different types of international cuisine for under $10 USD ($14 AUD) a meal. That's Canadian dollars, by the way: the exchange rate is the best it's been for the USD in ten years! Note that in terms of lodging, most condos and houses require you to be over the age of 25 to book; here we listed a hostel a solid alternative.
Best For: Nightlife for ages 19+ and the best overall place for outdoor and social pursuits.
When You Go:
Stay…at HI-Whistler, the village’s largest and most modern hostel; most beds are dorm style, some private rooms are available, and amenities include ski storage, free parking, and a self-catering kitchen. If you don’t mind noise but want central location, opt for Blackcomb Lodge.
Ski…the ridge off the Harmony 6 Express lift; Glacier Bowl is a go-to for great snow on a powder day.
Après…Kick back on the deck of Merlin’s with local beers and heaping plates of nachos; this is the spot to meet a fun young crowd before a night on the town.
Nightlife…Garfinkel’s has a theme for every night of the week (Fridays and Saturdays are always packed); get there by 11 – DJs start spinning the good stuff around 12.
Off The Slopes…Book ahead for a thrill at Whistler Bungee; jumps are facilitated off a bridge 15 minutes south of Whistler Village – rides are available, as well as group discounts.
Don’t Miss…The biggest seasonal festival is the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, featuring outdoor concerts, food and drink events, and more in April.
Learn more about Whistler
When you pull into the Bridger Bowl parking lot, you'll see a sign with the ski area's motto: "Ski the cold smoke" -- and they're not kidding. Bridger has a special quality of bringing in some of the lightest density powder known to Noth America. We love Bridger Bowl because it's old school: as a not-for-profit ski area, you won't see any over-commercialized condos, stores, or village area -- just a vibrant community of local skiers looking to get some faceshots and have a good time. It's located 20 minutes from downtown Bozeman, which is home to Montana State University and plenty of good nightlife. Major live music acts frequently drop into Bozeman, and the community is chock full of outdoors enthusiasts who like their food organic and their IPAs hoppy.
Best For: Hardcore skiing in a vibrant university town; all the big mountain and nightlife perks of a major resort without the hefty price tag.
When You Go:
Stay…at the Lewis and Clark Motel, located in downtown Bozeman with close proximity to Main Street’s bars and restaurants.
Ski…Be sure to hike the Ridge off Bridger Lift if you have the backcountry experience and gear; traverse skier’s left for powder curtain’s, and skier’s right for locally named chutes off The Nose.
Eat…at Montana Ale Works for hearty bison burgers after the day at Bridger; the space is huge, the bar lively, and a solid option for big groups.
Après…at Grizzly Ridge (aka "The Grizz") with old-school ski bar eats and PBR tall boys; you’ll be brushing shoulders with local legends while watching clips of famous ski movies on the TVs.
Nightlife…The Molly Brown is the best spot for shooting pool or catching a Tom Petty cover band; it’s also conveniently located in the “Beermuda Triangle” – 3 downtown bars that cluster around one small parking lot behind Main Street.
Off The Slopes…Drive 30 minutes out of town to Chico Hot Springs; there’s a developed outdoor pool fed by hot natural spring water, a restaurant, and live music most weekend nights.
Don’t Miss…Catch local pros and gutsy amateurs send it big in the Bridger Gully Freeride competition, usually held in February.
Learn more about Bridger Bowl
You'll know as you drop over the Wyoming side of Teton Pass on the way to Jackson Hole that you've landed somewhere special. Some call Jackson Hole, "the last of the old west," and while there may be slightly more "western" towns scattered across the state, you won't find one with 4,000 vertical foot drops to ski down. Jackson Hole made a name for itself as a big mountain adventure mecca throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and it is now a world-class destination resort. This comes with its downsides, of course: mainly costly lift tickets and lodging, but college students can find discounts for the former and cheap(er) digs for the latter. Overall, it's a young-at-heart community with an understone of sophistication -- and simply not-to-be-missed as a check off any skier's bucket list.
Best For: A pilgrimage to the mecca of North American big mountain skiing; the classic ski town adventure.
When You Go:
Stay…at The Hostel, the only remaining value option in Teton Village; dorm and private rooms are available, as well as communal kitchen at the base of the resort.
Ski…Saratoga Bowl of Après Vous for secret stashes on a powder day; regardless of your ability, be sure to take a ride up the legendary aerial tram – advanced skiers can drop into Rendezvous Bowl, and others can grab a waffle in Corbet’s Cabin before taking the tram back to the base.
Eat…at Thai Me Up, a local favourite in downtown Jackson; ask for the skid curry (a.k.a. curry of the day) – it’s not on the menu, but it’s a bargain at $8 USD ($11 AUD); award-winning Melvin craft beers are also available.
Après…at the Mangy Moose; this place gets packed on weekend afternoons when local bands start playing. Kick back with classic après grub like heaping nachos and parmesan truffle fries.
Nightlife…You’ll find the most variety in downtown Jackson; The Town Square Tavern brings in everything from funk to blues fusion to decent DJs.
Off The Slopes…Spend some down time walking around town – there are some great outdoor gear shops and funky western wear stores; be sure to hit Teton Mountaineering for adventure gear and clothing. If you're looking for some sky high thrills, spend the cash on a tandem paragliding flight.
Don’t Miss…Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s annual outdoor spring concert series, Rendezvous Fest, which takes place at the end of March; past acts include Michael Franti and Zac Brown Band.
Learn more about Jackson Hole