Jackson Hole, Wyoming
NO RESORT IN THE UNITED STATES can match Jackson's jumbled package of steep chutes, cliffs, and huge, open bowls, and that doesn't even include the truly harrowing stuff just outside the boundary ropes. This terrain attracts high-caliber skiers (maybe America's best), and watching them from the chairlift is akin to popping in a video by Teton Gravity Research. It can take 40-50 inches of snow to cover Jackson's rocky underpinnings, a fact that sometimes limits the early-season possibilities. That's why Jackson is at its best in the heart of winter. Sure, it can be cold (below-freezing temperatures aren't uncommon in February), but there's always the enclosed tram or gondola for weather protection. Plus, the fall line will make you work up a sweat.
COOL DIGS: Alpine House (doubles, $110-$245; 800-753-1421, www.alpinehouse.com), an inn run by two former U.S. Ski Teamers, Hans and Nancy Johnstone, is in the town of Jacksonively than Teton Village, at the ski-area base.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 10,450 feet; vertical drop, 4,139 feet; skiable acres, 2,500; annual snowfall, 400 inches
LIFT TICKET: $61 Contact: 888-838-6606, www.jacksonhole.com
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
WHEN A MIDWINTER CHILL settles in over the central and northern Rockies, head to New Mexico. That might seem crazy if you're already in Albuquerque, where February temperatures commonly reach the fifties and the monthly precipitation is less than half an inch. But three hours north in Taos, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rise 5,000 feet from the surrounding desert to 12,000 feet, an orographic bull's-eye where passing clouds relinquish the driest snow in America. Taos is also a four-letter word for steep: More than half of the terrain is rated expert, legitimately so. But on the dry, ice-free snow, skiers (snowboarders are not allowed) can be confident of holding an edge.
COOL DIGS: The Hotel Saint Bernard, a slopeside French-alpine-style hotel, is run by Jean Mayer, a legend in North American ski instruction (seven-day, all-inclusive packageslodging, meals, lifts, lessonsstart at $1,490; 505-776-2251, www.stbernardtaos.com). Mountain Stats: summit, 12,481 feet; vertical drop, 3,244 feet; skiable acres, 1,294; annual snowfall, 312 inches
LIFT TICKET: $49 Contact: 800-347-7414, www.skitaos.org