Picture this: 5 girls, 2 cars, 10 planks, 1 playlist, an air mattress, a case of beer, a Costco run, a couple of new years resolutions, and a big desire to get the most out of our Ikon passes. It was a snowy Thursday morning in Fort Collins, Colorado when the five of us girls set out on our 10-day ski trip to Bozeman, Montana.
When choosing Airbnb’s we kept a couple of things in mind. Firstly, price. When booking Airbnb’s it is important to start the process early, as many ski towns fill up quickly in the winter. We planned our college ski trip in October so we could book Airbnb’s that fit our needs; a close proximity to downtown nightlife and a decent kitchen so that we could cook most of our meals. We made a conscious effort to cook most of our meals, choosing one restaurant in each destination, this saved us a lot of money long-term.
Bozeman and Big Sky
We were in Bozeman for New Year’s, so being in town was a big factor for us. We were able to find a cute house just off Main Street on the East side of town, an excellent location for 5 college students. On our first night, we decided to check out Bozeman Spirits Distillery, suggested to us by a local. They had knowledgeable bartenders, who suggested many amazing signature cocktails, some including Montana’s huckleberry vodka and whiskey.
Other spots off Main Street that we enjoyed during our time in Bozeman included The Cider House and Montana Ale Works; enjoying sharing the queso blanco dip, kale caesar salad, mac & cheese, chicken enchiladas rojo, classic & local burger, and smoke stack burger. All received five stars from us! We spent New Year’s Eve bar hopping between El Camino, The Crystal Bar, and Rocking R Bar… all with rockin’ dance floors and fun crowds, what a way to ring in 2023.
Big Sky has its name for a good reason, being the largest resort in the United States, it did not disappoint. Both days started with good vibes, fresh powder, low visibility, and some pump-up parking lot jams. We were blessed with sunshine in the afternoons, being able to see that big sky we had heard so much about. There were beautiful scenic views visible from all over the mountain. The days we skied, we brought along clementines, uncrustables, granola bars and trail mix. They kept us away from the high cafeteria prices, and still fueled to shred.
Getting to the mountain from Bozeman was very feasible; the drive to the resort averages about an hour. We used the free parking lots and took the shuttle over to the base of the mountain. We never waited more than 10 minutes for the shuttle. As a resort, Big Sky had a plethora of terrain spanning over 4 different mountains. We were fortunate to know friends that offered to guide us around the mountain one of the days, but even without a guide, this mountain is super accessible.
Over our two days on the mountain we were able to explore a lot. We started on the Swift Current lift which easily led us to the right side of the mountain and explored the Iron Horse and Six Shooter lift. There are also great spots off of the Shedhorn lift on the back side of the mountain. One of our favorite spots easily became the runs off of the Challenger Lift like Midnight and Moonlight. Definitely do not miss out on this mountain; it is safe to say that all of us will be back!
Now, with 5 girls, 2 cars, 10 planks, 1 playlist, 1 air mattress, and slightly less beer- we set out to Ketchum, Idaho.
Ketchum and Bald Mountain
When we finally arrived in Sun Valley, it was well worth the 6+ hour drive; coming in at sunset we were blessed with magical golden-hour views, we knew that this place was going to be special. There are several Airbnb and hotel options located in Ketchum, the Sun Valley resort is a great option for a stop on the ultimate college ski trip. This was by far the closest any of us had stayed to a mountain, allowing for us to have leisurely mornings in comparison to the other stops we made on the trip.
Some of us were in need of a ski tune up and wanted to try out some skis to demo while in Sun Valley. At PK’s Ski and Sports there was great staff that helped us figure out exactly what we needed and we could easily pick up/drop off our skis coming to and from the mountain.
The days we skied, we parked in the free Greyhawk parking lot on the Warm Springs side of the mountain. We started on the Challenger lift which takes you to the top of the mountain. We lapped the run College, to Flying Squirrel, to lower Warm Springs a few times in the afternoons. The snow conditions on Bald Mountain were packed powder on the ungroomed runs. We stuck to mostly groomers but were able to find some good snow on Rock Garden and in the bowls on the Seattle Ridge side of the mountain.
To finish off each day we took Hemingway or Cozy off of the Greyhawk lift and were able to ski right to the car! While we didn’t get to enjoy any fresh powder during our stay in Sun Valley the views and sun sure made up for it! We had two amazing bluebird days allowing us to see the five separate mountain ranges from the top, the Pioneers and Boulder Mountains to the east, Smokey Mountains to the west and the White Clouds and Sawtooths to the north!
On the mountain, once again in hopes to avoid large cafeteria prices, we opted for Irving’s located at the base of Warm Springs right across the street from the lodge; they have great hotdogs for the perfect price. Cash only, though. Another choice is the Tater Trailer which is located a few yards down from the hot dog stand with loaded tater tots and fresh potato chips made with Idaho potatoes. Both were great options for sticking to the college ski trip budget.
In the lodge, the temptation of the ringing bell followed by the smell of fresh baked cookies was too good to pass up. Warm Springs monster chocolate chip cookies are almost big enough to share. Off the mountain, there are some great Apres ski spots right in town, Apple’s, located at the base of Warm Springs and Grumpy’s, a town favorite…make sure to swing by and grab yourself a schooner of beer! We had a late lunch at Lefty’s, the burgers and beer were just what we needed after a day on the slopes. Lefty’s also has a big deck, which is an ideal place to sip your post-pow beer in the afternoon sun.
In the evenings, we were looking for a little bit of nightlife. The Casino had bang-for-your-buck drinks, a great atmosphere, pool tables, and arcade games. Following the Casino, we headed across the street to check out Whiskey’s, which had more of a later crowd with a dance floor and live DJ.
After a great couple of days in Sun Valley, we hit the road again to continue this epic college ski trip. The same 5 girls, same 2 cars, same 10 planks, same playlist, same air mattress, and an upcoming pitstop at the store to refresh our beer supply. We made our way to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Salt Lake and Alta
After a quick four-and-a-half-hour drive and lucky weather, we arrived at our cozy Airbnb rather close to the downtown scene and only a 40-minute trek to the resorts. We liked the proximity to the nightlife of downtown, but there were plenty of Airbnbs and other places to stay closer to the mouth of Little/Big Cottonwood Canyon. Overall, Salt Lake City has an abundance of affordable places to stay all within a reasonable commute to the mountains making this a great spot for the last stay of our college ski trip.
While in Salt Lake we spent our days skiing at Alta. Luckily we had a local friend to show us around the mountain, hitting bowls and lines that we would have never found on our own. We hiked up the left off of the Collins lift to High Traverse down High Sunspot. This was the perfect spot to have a snack and drink a beer. The panoramic views from this area were indescribable.
As special as these resorts are, they can be a bit unpredictable. We strongly suggest that before going to sleep for the night, you make sure to check the @UDOTcottonwoods on Twitter or Instagram for any canyon closures. This saved us when it came to the powder dump that night. Our second day of skiing, the snow gods blessed us with 10” of powder. As spectacular as this was, it ensured the canyon was closed till 8 am. This closure had us in a long line of powder hounds at the base of the canyon playing trivia with our breakfast bagels in hand.
If the canyon had fully closed, our backup plan was to head to Deer Valley, which is also 40 minutes from downtown Salt Lake with no traffic, in Park City. The big storm had some parts of the mountain closed off, so we found ourselves lapping the trees to the left of the Wildcat lift. We had a blast challenging ourselves and go off of some small jumps and cliffs, and even try to get our 180s. Since the snow was so deep, and we were hucking it, a few of us had to spend some time looking for a ski in the snow that had popped off in Glory Gulch.
After a thigh burning day, we waited for the canyon to reopen with a pitcher of beer and the iconic Alta Bombs at the Goldminer’s Daughter Cafe. An Alta bomb is a PBR (half drank) with a shot of espresso dropped into it. This rather weird drink combination will really get you jazzed and ready to hit some freshies or a great reward after a long day-although very bizarre-sounding, we all really enjoyed it.
We made it off the mountain, we returned to our Airbnb where our crockpot chicken had been cooking all day. With some sautéd peppers, lettuce, cheese, and chicken we made a super tasty dinner. After some suggestions from local friends, we checked out a variety of bars including Bar X, Good Grammar, Twist Bar, and Shades; spending most of our evening on the Twist Bar and Shades’ dance floor.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes to Salt Lake and started the 7 hour journey back to Fort Collins. While driving back we reminisced on all the fun new experiences we had around the Mountain West, feeling ridiculously fortunate to have experienced a multitude of different runs, snow, resorts, ski towns and of course, the mountain bars.
While our home is Colorado, and we will always love our home resorts, not much will compare to sharing the ultimate college ski trip experience with your college best friends, shredding world-famous mountains, and making life-long memories.