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Dirt-Cheap Travel: Vail, CO

Ski two days, stay two night, and feed yourself at Vail...all for just $300.
posted: 01/26/2009

“Ski Vail for under $300,” they said. “Don’t do anything illegal,” they said. “Two days, two nights, no freebies,” they said. Usually I just show up to the end-of-season Spring Back to Vail party without a plan. If I have to, I sleep in my car in the parking garage (illegal) and try to scam concert tickets (freebies). I knew this assignment was destined for failure. But I tried.

I started with, a new social networking site that arranges rides between Denver-area skiers. Just don’t use a screen name like MrVann, as I did, since it implies that you’re both an elderly gentleman and a person prone to coaxing strangers into a shag-carpeted Econoline. (Unlike Ben Hewitt, I don’t actually own a van.) Despite a spring storm dropping 10 inches on Eagle County, I had zero takers.

I fared no better on the lodging end. I went to, but it’s facing a lawsuit and no longer books properties in town. The closest I could find for that April weekend was a $160-a-night East Vail condo on But Vail, like life, is more about whom you know. Or whom whom you know knows. In this case, my girlfriend knew a New Jersey family who had an unused time-share near Golden Peak. “Go ahead,” they said. “We never use it.” We scooped it up (freebie).

Vail Resorts makes every effort to ensure people pay the full $90 lift-ticket price (almost two thirds of my budget), but I found one chink in the armor: season-pass holders (freebie). Every pass holder can buy discount lift tickets for friends and family or, say, random people accosting them on their way to the Eagle Bahn. After April 1, the discounted tickets drop from $67 to $45.

After shaking a couple of pass holders down, we chased locals and Front Rangers alike through the Back Bowls all weekend. They knew their last turns were upon them, and that those turns were in boot-deep fluff. Tensions ran high. Skiers fought for scraps. Lift lines were out of control. We mined the last remnants in Riva Glade and went to watch the annual World Pond Skimming Championships. PBRs were pulled from backpacks (illegal?). A pair of skiers dressed as Saturday Night Live’s Ambiguously Gay Duo made their way to the top of the course as a snowboarder wiped out in the freezing water. At a bar called The George, we downed $7.75 fish and chips and $2.50 beers on happy-hour special. That night, instead of forking over $45 apiece to hear Ben Harper whine into the cold night air, we used the money for dinner at Montauk Seafood in Lionshead Village. With the white linen, fine wine, and just-FedEx’d Hawaiian fish, failure never tasted so good.

Adult Full-Day Lift Ticket Price: $90
Vertical Drop: 3,450 feet
Price Per Vertical Foot: 2.6 cents
Cost of Burger: $9.25
Colorado’s Minimum Hourly Wage: $7.02
Min.-Wage Hours Needed to Buy Lift Ticket: 12.82
For More Info:, (kids eat free at Vail),,


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