This article is brought to you by INNO Racks. Their ski racks are designed to securely, gently carry up to 6 skis or 4 snowboards, so you can bring all your friends along to your favorite group ski trips.
There’s a perplexing paradox affecting ski resorts around the country— runs feel more crowded than ever, even as slopes struggle to make ends meet. Backcountry skiing is getting more popular as skiers compete for freshies while resorts tout season passes that promise extra access to runs off piste. And then there’s the weather. Even when it’s dumping, like it has in the northeast this year, sensational weather reports can scare people into staying home.
There’s a handful of independent resorts, however, that have found a clever answer to connecting skiers to fresh powder, keeping the lifts running, and maintaining a regular schedule for loyal locals. It’s surprisingly simple: focus on group ski trips and rent the whole mountain out for a flat fee.
This isn’t the same business model as the exclusive, luxury ski clubs that you have to be in the 1% to afford— outfits like Vermont’s Hermitage Club, for example, charge $60,000 for up to 99 skiers to have access to their 194-acre mountain. In southeastern Colorado, Silverton Mountain will run you a cool $14,000 a day. Others like Colorado’s Cimarron Mountain Club have a residential component. For a $30,000 membership you can build your dream ski home and have access to Snowcat action from your backyard.
Similarly, the Yellowstone Club in Montana costs a quarter of a million to join in addition to the cost of mountain real estate. The annual dues alone add up the better part of a ski instructor’s salary. These high-value projects don’t always pay off— plenty of these high-end clubs have gone bankrupt in recent years or have had to seek out hefty infusions of cash. And all that money doesn’t even add up to a group ski trip, just hype-exclusive access for individuals and families.
A New Approach to Group Ski Trips
Meanwhile, mom and pop destinations charge a comparatively modest amount for group ski trips to take over the slopes for a day, usually during the week when ticket sales are low anyways. Plattekill Mountain in Vermont, for example, charges $4,500 a day for up to a hundred guests. For an extra $900, you can add in the snow tubing hill. And you can pick any non-holiday weekday date to reserve the whole mountain just for your crew.
Group ski trips ranging from corporate teams to the Jehovah’s Witnesses have booked this secluded, independently operated ski mountain for a private day or weekend of skiing the mountain’s 38 runs and relaxation at the lodge. At just three hours from New York City, Plattekill is convenient while still feeling off the beaten path. And this new arrangement helps Plattekill stay open for the devoted regulars who have been coming here for decades to enjoy the old-school vibe, technical off-piste runs, and up-to-date grooming and apres ski amenities.
That’s the kind of community focus and attention to detail that’s sustaining many mom-and-pop resorts in an era of big ski conglomerates. Even as western cities grow rapidly, bringing hundreds of new skiers to hotspots like Mt. Hood, Winter Park, and Mt. Baker, these lesser-known slopes are inspiring some of those powderhounds to spread out. And for skiers who don’t have the technical skills or gear for backcountry skiing, or even the desire to go off-piste, rent-a-mountain group ski trips might be just the thing to get a little space.
More Resorts Offering Rent-A-Mountain Group Ski Trips
These indie outfits are more easily able to find their niche, whether it’s families, beginners, or the rent-a-mountain game. Take the Turner Mountain ski area in Montana, which has been giving group ski trips private access to its steep basins since the 1990s. Or Pico Mountain in Vermont, where you can book the whole hill on Tuesday and Wednesdays for $6,500 for up to 250 guests, with options to arrange for lodging, food, beverage, and lessons, too.
Eagle Point, Utah, is close to Salt Lake City, but you won’t have to sleep in the parking lot the night of a big dump to beat the crowds. Instead, you can visit on a regularly scheduled day when the lifts are running, or rent the whole mountain out for $10,000 a day. Their “As Your Wish” package gives group ski trips unprecedented flexibility in setting up the ski day of your dreams— even if it’s as weird and wacky as split-ski laser tag or downhill paintball.
Sure, the four or five figure fees are more than the cost of a day’s lift tickets or even a season pass. But once you divide by the number of people that covers, you’re looking at as little as $10-20 a head. If you’re on a budget or planning a special event like a wedding, corporate retreat, or party for a major milestone and your group is bigger than a backcountry cabin or hut can accommodate, renting a whole ski area suddenly looks like a great deal.
Where to Camp During Rent-A-Mountain Ski Trips
Because so many ski areas have land deals with the National Forest Service, too, it’s fairly easy to find cheap or free group camping nearby if the mountain you’re hoping to reserve doesn’t have lodging on-site or it isn’t included in the deal.
Plattekill Mountain near Roxbury, NY
Plattekill Mountain ski area, for example, shares a name and location with Plattekill State Forest, which has plentiful at-large primitive camping. While there nearest official campground is almost an hour away at Little Pond, further south in the Catskills, backcountry aficionados will have no problem doing the dispersed thing at Plattekill.
Campsites in Plattekill State Forest must be at least 150 feet away from the nearest road, trail or body of water, and since it’s dispersed camping in ski season, you’ll want to be prepared for cold weather camping. Camping for more than three nights or in groups of ten or more requires a special permit from a forest ranger. As long as you stay within those regulations, you’re good to go.
Turner Mountain near Libby, MT
Just twelve minutes from Turner Mountain is Pipe Creek Campground, one of numerous camping destinations in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest. Timberlane Campground, however, is especially well-equipped for groups with a 20′ x 20′ shelter, with picnic tables, a grill, and electrical hookups that can accommodate up to a hundred people. In addition to skiing, you can also enjoy the David Thompson Historic Route, 67-mile Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway, Scenic Tour of the Kootenai River bike route, and nearby hiking trails.
Eagle Point in Beaver, UT
Or consider the plethora of free camping in Utah, including some close to Eagle Point’s slopes. You can camp in the heart of Fishlake National Forest at sites like Three Creeks Reservoir, a dispersed campground that is just five and a half miles from the ski area. These free, primitive sites leave the amenities up to you, but they definitely come fully loaded on scenery. If you don’t mind a longer drive after your powder day at Eagle Point, head to the stunning Capitol Reef area, or Utah’s “little Grand Canyon” at the San Rafael Swell.
There are just a handful of ski areas in the country that let you rent the whole mountain. Resorts that have opted for the season pass model simply can’t shut down the resort for a day here or there for private groups. But for those that are still rolling customers up the mountain one lift ticket at a time, weekday mountain rentals are a clever approach that flies in the face of the “no friends on a powder day” mantra. When you can pack your ski rack and meet up with a hundred of your favorite friends on slopes groomed just for you, it’s easy to feel that winter magic.
This article was brought to you by our friends at INNO Racks
Whether it’s you or your entire crew, their snow racks will get your gear to the mountain.