The view from the lifts at Tamarack Resort includes chalet-style accommodations. Photo by Kathryn Wagner.

Are you looking for an active winter holiday? Want to try a new-to-you sport? Skiing in a winter wonderland should be on your list this winter. Picture snow-covered trees, blue skies, and the feeling of gliding on snow.  

Ski resorts are a great choice for an upcoming winter vacation, though travelers have many options to consider when choosing a ski resort. A primary distinction within the range of ski resorts is between the larger, corporate-owned resorts that are on a nationwide ski pass – and the smaller boutique resorts, many of them independent.  

Skiers and snowboarders assess snow conditions at the top of the mountain in Tamarack Resort near Boise, Idaho.

If you are a new skier, or looking to travel with children who are new to skiing, boutique resorts can offer several advantages to the traveler willing to seek them out. Advantages include demand-based lift ticket pricing, affordable equipment rentals, family-friendly ski programs, and the ability to experience ski terrain as many locals do. 

We will explore these advantages within three options for ski resorts in three states: Purgatory Resort, thirty minutes outside Durango, Colorado; Tamarack Resort, two hours from Boise, Idaho; and Brian Head Resort, in southwestern Utah. Each option offers visitors a unique experience that is friendly to skiers of all levels and is often very affordable for a winter getaway.  

Boutique ski resorts tend to be in locations that are in distinct, off-the-beaten-path areas, and visitors seeking out these experiences are greatly rewarded. They offer more room to ski on the hill, less traffic, and an easier time experiencing the sport as a local does.  

Taking that connecting flight, or renting a car to drive the extra miles to the resort is well worth it. Amber Palmer, marketing manager at Brian Head Resort says, “As a smaller and more independent resort, we place value on originality, uniqueness, and a local feel. Guests enjoy lower skier density, and more affordable ticket prices, ski rentals, and lessons. The lower costs take the pressure off feeling like you have to maximize that investment in the sport, which leads to a more laid-back experience overall.” 

Dave Rathbun, General Manager at Purgatory Resort near Durango notes that they have “made significant capital investments in recent years to improve the overall resort experience, including expanded snowmaking firepower, more parking spaces, and infrastructure upgrades to lifts, restaurants, and guest services. Many new accommodations have also been added to the resort, and many existing lodging units have been renovated and upgraded.”  

Personally, my favorite part about this type of resort experience is the fact that you are able to ski the majority of the trails that are at your current level within a day or two. High-quality terrain is on offer, and you are also able to have time to ski your new favorite trails as many times as you want. With a more approachable resort, it is easy to quickly become familiar with the terrain and even start to link a few of your favorite runs together. This gives the opportunity to progress on a particular ski run and try new lines within that terrain. 

Scott Turlington, President of Tamarack Ski Resort in Idaho says, “Because we’re family-owned, we can be nimbler and more innovative in how we run all aspects of the resort and how quickly we respond to our guests and their desires for unique and personalized experiences no matter what the season.” In my experience skiing at Tamarack Ski Resort, the efficient work of the lift operators meant a lack of lines at the ski lifts during a busy day in prime ski season. I was also able to ski many different runs and confidently push my ability level on terrain that quickly became familiar to me. The resort amenities were never more than a few minutes away, and the apres ski options were top-notch.  

These aspects are present within each of the resorts, including Colorado’s Purgatory resort: “Skiers and riders also love our iconic location in the San Juan Mountains, which means fewer crowds and shorter lift lines for a more authentic and enjoyable Colorado on-snow experience,” says Rathbun. These properties are very family-friendly and also great to visit if you are traveling with a group of friends who have kids. The programs for beginners are affordable and easy to access. At Purgatory, “Our guests appreciate free skiing for all children ages 12 and under, as well as the variety of lodging and amenities available at the resort and in nearby downtown Durango,” says Rathbun.  

Guests who are brand new to the sport of skiing, no matter their age, can seek out new skills with a progression program at Brian Head. “This season we’re opening a new free on-snow experience for first-time skiers and snowboarders,” says Palmer. “The experience is a series of step-by-step clinics to prepare guests for their first time on the snow. As guests move through learning stations, ski instructors provide personalized tips along the way. Guests can stay in each station as long as they need to feel comfortable before moving on to the next station. This takes the pressure out of the learning curve and helps build confidence. From tips on loading and unloading the chairlift to teaching safety and the skier responsibility code, we’re setting them up for success and making the mountain a safer place for everyone.”  

Single-day tickets at these resorts are also very accessible, with price points that are affordable to a family looking to try skiing. “This season we’re expanding our demand-based ticket pricing strategy to make skiing more accessible and enjoyable, resulting in some of the most affordable lift tickets in the U.S. starting at $9 on select days. Of course, we’re bringing back popular favorites like Power Kids for free unlimited skiing and riding for all kids 12 and younger, plus exclusive discounts for season pass holders and guests,” says Rathbun of Purgatory Resort.  

Seeking out an independent ski resort will definitely provide you with the benefit of staying and skiing at a resort that is more approachable in terms of terrain, and geared towards those seeking a unique winter vacation experience. A smaller ski resort can also be a great place to expand your skill set as a skier and can be an affordable way to get a taste of what skiing has to offer.