Wow - I'm overwhelmed with the response! From what I've been able to figure it looks like traveling to Colorado is cheaper by about $200 per person for a total of $600. I've researched some of the hotels/condos both in SLC and the Dillon/Silverthorne/Frisco areas and they pretty comparable so I'm not sure how much we would really be able to save by going to SLC even though the lower altitude and seemingly better skiing is enticing.
All in all we really aren't interested in all the resort amenities, just having a good skiing experience. Altitude sickness scares us all a little (our ages range from early thirties to early forties) but we're all in reasonably good health so hopefully we can handle it with the right preparation. Loveland still seems like a winner for some good skiing but it's hard to say since not ever having been there.
And just to be clear - I have no preconceptions about skiing in REAL mountains vs. skiing in North Carolina. We're completely unprepared and there's nothing that can change that except going and giving it our best shot (we'll never know if we don't try, right?).
So it looks like Colorado is going to be the place for us this time unless a SLC deap pops up before tomorrow when I plan to purchase the tickets. Maybe SLC will be cheaper next year and we can try that. The flip side of it is maybe I'm purchasing tickets too early - any idea?
So with that said does anyone have reccomendations for cheap hotels and good rentals in the Silverthorne/Dillon/Frico area? We will probably spend three days skiing out of the four. I figure we will get a 4-pack or two for Loveland before we go and maybe spend one day at either Breckenridge or Keystone just to get a different experience.
Thanks again for all the input - I'm going to file all this away for the future too. Any more suggestions you have will be much appreciated!