Originally Posted by Katieski
To clarify, I'm in Oregon currently but looking to get out! Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, etc. A main goal of this trip is to explore the US and see where I want to settle down. Oregon might be an easy starting place since I know it, but I really want to get out and see new places/learn new things.
Cool--sounds like fun! For exploring the US and cheap downhill skiing, I recommend you check out the Powder Alliance (http://www.powderalliance.com/), which gives you up to 3 free days (generally no Saturdays or holidays) at a bunch of different areas--you can let your free skiing possibilities help guide your exploration--and you get 6 free days on Mt. Hood, so you might start your learning closer to home. Not all the snow is dry, and a lot depends on the particular weather, but it's a nice assortment, and the price can be very reasonable (getting a Mountain High pass mailed to you is something like $370 right now, or the Mt. Hood Fusion Pass is only $349 if you're 24 or under). Leavenworth, Flagstaff, Eden, Gunnison, Wrightwood, Angel Fire, Fresno, and South Lake Tahoe are wildly different towns/cities, but I've had a lot of fun in all these places, and they're a pretty decent sampling of what the Western US has to offer. Alpine skiing can get very expensive very quickly, so something like this seems like a good fit for you.
As for sleeping in your van, I don't have much guidance for you... but in the Western US, most mountains are in the National Forest system, which in most cases allows pretty much unrestricted dispersed camping: you can find a pretty spot--maybe at a lower elevation to avoid the coldest weather--pull off, and camp. Definitely check with the local ranger offices first, though, for any restrictions or tips.