Vail is expensive, no doubt. Not quite on par with Aspen, but it's in the same ball park. Still, plenty of ski bums are doing it in Vail. I think a lot of peeps stay in Edwards. For the cheapest area, Minturn is the spot to look.
For all the glitz and expense there, Vail has it's charm. Vail Village is one of the nicest wannabe European ode to the retail gods center of any ski area. All joking aside, it's nice. Easy to walk around, lot's of restaurants and bars. Good stuff.