The Ultimate Winter Bucket ListSo you call yourself a skier, eh? Prove it. We’ve compiled a list of the 30 things every winter lover needs to do in a lifetime—from shredding iconic runs and exploring must-visit locales to skinning in the backcountry and mastering crucial survival skills.
Snag First Chair on a Powder DayGetting first chair on a powder day, especially at a major resort, requires some strategic planning. Wake up early, have your gear ready to go, and nab a front-of-the-lot parking spot. Bring a thermos of coffee and a warm jacket and post up in the lift corral when it’s just you and a tired-looking liftie. You may need to get there at least an hour before the scheduled opening to ensure your premier spot. Wait for the crowds to line up behind you and the heckling to begin. When you drop in on that flawless powder, it’ll all be worth it.
Drink at the Pub Mont FortThere are many places to drink after a day of skiing at Verbier, Switzerland, but none are quite as legendary as the Pub Mont Fort, located on a hill near the ski resort’s base area. After a powder day, saddle up to the wooden bar for a pint of Feldschlösschen, the local lager, and a signature Mont Fort burger, or grab a table outside if it’s sunny. Go in March during the annual Verbier Xtreme contest and the place will be packed with pro skiers and snowboarders, plus celebratory fans dancing on tabletops.
Skiers! Go Snowboarding.If you’re a skier, try snowboarding at least once. Rent some gear, sign up for a lesson or ask a snowboarding friend for tips, then hit the bunny slopes. Being a beginner again gives you a whole new appreciation for what you’re good at. Plus, snowboarding gives you a new perspective. “Having your ankles totally free and seeing a mountain from a sideways point of view provides a third dimension and a level of fluid freedom that is missed in skiing,” says pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones, whose snowboard film Higher came out this fall.
Attend a Ski Movie World PremiereEvery fall, ski movies make the rounds at theaters across the country. Snag tickets to the world premiere of one of the big ones—Teton Gravity Research, MSP Films, Warren Miller—in a place like Boulder or Jackson Hole. Buy tickets early: the premieres sell out quickly. Then soak up the scene, from logo-clad athletes signing autographs to excitable pint-sized groms to industry insiders talking shop. It’s a rite of passage, with movie premieres signaling the official start of ski season. No screening has more energy than the film’s debut.
Rent a Hut, But Not Just Any HutNamed after the men of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division who trained in Colorado during World War II, these 34 backcountry huts are sprinkled throughout Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Book a hut well in advance—they fill up quickly during the winter months. Then fill your packs with food and whiskey, sleeping bags, and backcountry safety gear and skin into a remote mountain cabin, surrounded by skiable terrain and deep snow. Our favorite huts are the Eiseman Hut near Vail, Francie’s Cabin near Breckenridge, and the Friends Hut between Crested Butte and Aspen.
Learn the Real Meaning of Après at the Snorting Elk CellarOne of the best après ski scenes we’ve found anywhere happens to be in a musty basement bar at Crystal Mountain, Washington. After a day of floating through waist-deep Pacific Northwest powder, head to the Snorting Elk Cellar, located on the bottom floor of the Alpine Inn, and grab a booth. Order a pitcher of Manny’s Pale Ale, the local brew, and a towering platter of nachos from the deli in back. They have live music on weekends and ski movies play around the clock. You may never want to leave.
Get Interlodged in Little Cottonwood CanyonBook a room at one of Alta or Snowbird’s ski-in-ski-out lodges, then wait for the storm to arrive. When big dumps hit Utah’s Wasatch Range, the road up Little Cottonwood Canyon, which accesses Snowbird and Alta, is closed for morning avalanche control. That means the only people on first chair are those staying in the canyon. We like the cozy, dorm-style rooms at Alta’s Peruvian Lodge (from $139, including meals) and the swankier, high-rise digs at Snowbird’s Cliff Lodge (from $139).
Suffer Through the A-Basin EnduroEvery April, Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin hosts the Enduro, one of the hardest inbounds endurance ski competitions we know of. You and a partner will ride the 1,329-foot Pallavicini Chair nonstop from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., lapping designated routes on bumpy, steep, ungroomed terrain until your legs become noodles. The team that completes the most laps wins, and the money raised goes to a local cause. The current record? Seventy-two laps, which is more than 95,000 vertical feet.
Learn How to Tune Your SkisSure, you can drop your skis off at the local ski shop for a base grind and a fresh wax. But real skiers should know how to tune their skis themselves. Check out Doug Coombs’ “Q and P” (“quick and painless”) school of ski tuning on YouTube, then get a basic ski tuning kit ($50). “You don’t need a $100,000 Wintersteiger machine to tune up your bases and edges—just a little wax and a hand file will do,” says former Freeride World Tour champion Drew Tabke, who’s worked in a ski shop for 12 years. “I travel with a small block of biodegradable wax, a stick of P-Tex, and a Skiman pocket file for the edges.”
Jump Out of a HelicopterIn Alaska, the snow is light and generally stable, the terrain is steep and pillowy, and if the weather cooperates, you’ll get turquoise skies and sunshine. The heli ride to the top of a peak in the Chugach is almost as much fun as the powder-filled descent. Book a trip with Points North Heli ($5,575 for a week, all inclusive) in Cordova for entire mountain ranges to yourself and a week’s stay at a cannery turned boutique lodge. Or stay closer to Anchorage and fly with Girdwood’s Chugach Powder Guides (from $1,275 for full-day package).
Go Chest-Deep in Japan's PowderJapanese powder is like nothing else on Earth—light, dry, and made even better when followed by a soak in a natural hot springs and a sushi feast. “Japan is the pinnacle of pow,” says ski filmmaker Nick Waggoner of Sweetgrass Productions, whose film, Signatures, was shot entirely in Japan. “It will ruin you for life—no snow will ever measure up to Japan’s hyper cold, ultra dry fluff that defies the laws of physics.” Book a trip for January or February to the north island of Hokkaido for the best chance at deep snow. Hire a guide for insider knowledge and to find the best stashes inbounds and out.
Go Back in Time. Ride a Single-Chair Lift.Mad River Glen, a cooperatively owned ski area in Vermont, first installed their original single chair in 1948. In 2007, the board voted to replace the aging single chair with a brand new single chair, which had become an iconic symbol of the throwback ski area (which still doesn’t allow snowboarders). Visit the Green Mountains and ride the one-person lift, which is slow and entirely inefficient, but it’s quirky, charming, and offers a nod to the past, when skiing was less about amassing vertical and more about enjoying the slow pace of the great outdoors.
Don't Be Reckless. Take an Avalanche Safety Course.If you plan on skiing in the backcountry, an avalanche level 1 safety course is a prerequisite. “There’s been a big shift in education, so now avy 1 courses focus on giving you the tools to access information to make sound decisions,” says Lel Tone, an AIARE-certified instructor and avalanche forecaster. “There are also a ton of free resources out there, and your local ski patrol probably offers free clinics.” Check out avalanche.org for online tutorials, access to your local avalanche-forecasting site, and to find a course near you.
Party at the World's Most Intense Downhill Race“No other ski race is as respected and feared as the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel, Austria,” says former U.S. Ski Team member Daron Rahlves, who won the Hahnenkamm downhill in 2003. “The ultimate challenge of speed over crazy terrain produces insane action, making it the most desired win for a ski racer.” The run itself is called the Streif, a steep, icy slope that drops over 2,600 vertical feet. To celebrate the race, which takes place over a three-day weekend in January, the entire village of Kitzbühel, and the 60,000-plus people who attend as spectators, throw a massive party in the town square.
Sneak into the Yellowstone Club—Even if It Means Applying for a JobUnless you’re friends with Bill Gates, Warren Miller, or Justin Timberlake, it’s tough to get an invite to the Yellowstone Club, an exclusive and private ski area in Big Sky, Montana. You have to get creative to find your way in. Apply for a job, inquire about membership, or start hobnobbing with the ultra rich. Once you’re in, private powder and “sugar shacks,” on-mountain cabins full of tasty snacks, await you. If you can’t get in, you’ll be more than happy skiing neighboring Big Sky resort’s iconic Lone Peak, which is open to regular Joes like you.
See Aspen Like Never BeforeAt the top of 12,392-foot Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands, you’ll feel like you summited a remote backcountry peak with panoramic views of Colorado’s Maroon Bells and steep, untouched powder below you. But this is controlled, inbounds terrain, and one of the most epic hikes in the U.S. The 45-minute bootpack up a steep staircase is worth the sweat. Insider tip: Stop at the ski patrol shack at the top of the Deep Temerity lift and buy one of their ski-carrying straps to make schlepping your skis to the peak a little easier.
Ride KT-22 Chairlift (and Embrace the Terror)“There’s no chairlift in the world that puts a skier as quickly and as easily on top of world-class challenging terrain quite like KT-22 at Squaw Valley,” says pro skier and Squaw native Cody Townsend. “Nearly every run off the chair leads into steep, varied terrain that funnels you straight back to the chairlift. It’s the mothership of all chairlifts.” On a powder day, the queue at KT stacks up early, so grab coffee and breakfast from Wildflour Baking Company and wait in line for the chair to open. Or hit it midweek to avoid the crowds.
Complete the Haute RouteThe Haute Route, a ski traverse from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland, is one of the world’s classic ski tours. You’ll spend a week skiing some of the highest peaks in the Alps and retiring to mountain huts, called rifugios, each night. “While many other hut-to-hut long route options exist in the Alps and beyond, the Haute Route remains the gold standard,” says American ski mountaineer Kim Havell. “It’s best to have a guide—map reading, GPS, snow safety, and glacier travel skills are a must.” Hire a certified IFMGA guide from International Alpine Guides ($2,675).
Drop into Corbet’s CouloirArguably the country's most legendary inbounds couloir—a mountaineering term for a steep, narrow gulley—Corbet’s at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is accessed from the top of the Rendezvous tram. It’s a steep, full-throttle entrance: point your tips over a cornice, drop into a vertical straightline, then make a hard right turn to avoid a rock wall. You’ll be rewarded with creamy, untracked powder. “Corbet’s is legendary because it sits atop a magnificent mountain in full view of the tram, but it’s also a mind game,” says Jackson Hole native and pro skier Max Hammer. “Wait too long up top and you’ll explode. Watch someone do it well, then copy their technique.”
Ski Tuckerman Ravine“Tuckerman Ravine [on Mount Washington in New Hampshire] is the true birthplace of America’s skiing heritage, where you can still have the same skiing experience down the infamously steep headwall as many of the legendary founders of American skiing,” says Ben Leoni, a skier with the East Coast film company Meathead Films. “The steep terrain, which features tight chutes, 40-foot cliffs, and 55-degree rollovers, would seem more at home in the Rockies than among the rolling hills of New England. It’s easy to see why generations of skiers have flocked to Tucks as a rite of passage since the first descent in 1914.”
Test Yourself at Silverton MountainThere are no groomers at Silverton Mountain, the highest elevation ski area in North America. (It tops out at an inhospitable 13,487 feet.) You’ll need a guide and avalanche safety gear to tackle the foreboding steeps and backcountry-style bowls at this rugged Colorado ski area, which has just one chairlift and an old bus that runs shuttles. At the end of the day, sip beers inside the base-area yurt. If your backcountry skills are solid, you can save money by coming early or late season, during the mountain’s unguided days.
Experience the Rush at Spanky’s LadderEvery skier needs to visit Whistler/Blackcomb, one of the top resorts in North America. When you’re there, make the trek out to Spanky’s Ladder at Blackcomb. “Spanky’s Ladder is the only place I’ve been in North America that offers a true European-style steep skiing rush,” says freeskiing pioneer and Whistler local Mike Douglas. “After an easy three-minute hike, you can choose between three bowls, all steep and full of surprises. But be careful—there are unmarked cliffs and that track you’re following might lead you off an 80-foot cliff.”
Play in the RainWhen it’s raining at the ski hill, the weak skiers bail. Only the strong and fully Gore-Tex’d survive. Be one of the tough ones. Throw a garbage bag over your jacket, toss an extra pair of gloves into your pocket, and pack a goggle cloth or one of those SkiGee tools for wiping off your lenses. You don’t have to last all day out there in a downpour. Just long enough to say you did it. You may be surprised at how much fun you have when you get a soggy mountain entirely to yourself.
Ride the Aiguille du Midi TramFrom the French village of Chamonix, you’ll board a fabled cable car, called the Aiguille du Midi, and rise to a towering 12,605 feet atop Mont Blanc. A panoramic platform offers widespread views of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps. From there, you can download the tram. Or you can ski down via a 12-mile glaciated route, called Vallée Blanche, that requires crampons, ropes, and can take up to six hours to complete (including a stop for wine and cheese). Hire a mountain guide if you plan on skiing down.
Visit a New Zealand Club FieldNew Zealand’s club fields—places like Craigieburn, Broken River, and Temple Basin—are small, community-run ski hills that have no snowmaking, no grooming, and no lifts—just rope tows powered by diesel tractors from the 1960s. As a guest at one of these establishments, you’ll be required to take part in the chores—sweeping floors, cooking dinner, stacking wood, and more—and some require mile-long hikes just to access the base lodge. Visitors come for the experience of hanging out with quirky Kiwis in bunkrooms and also for the skiing—steep, unbridled, backcountry-style terrain. If you time it right, bottomless powder, too.
Suffer Through the Elk Mountain Grand TraverseYou and a partner will leave Crested Butte, Colorado, at midnight, bound for Aspen, skinning some 7,800 vertical feet and 40 miles away over multiple mountain passes. You’ll start in the dark and descend into Aspen the following day. “I love the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse because it follows in the tradition of many storied European ski-mo races—starting in one town and finishing in another,” says Sari Anderson, a national champion ski mountaineering racer. “At the finish you have an awesome sense of accomplishment knowing you just skied from town to town, a trip that takes at least five hours by car in the winter.”
Work for a Ski Resort (You'll Get Paid!)Working at a resort is a rite of passage for ski bums who do stints bumping chairs, checking tickets, or operating grooming machines during their 20-somethings. So say you’ve got a real job, but you still want to pull a shift at a ski hill just to experience it. Most resorts have what’s called “mountain hosts,” typically a volunteer position where you put in a handful of days during the winter in exchange for a free season pass. The job itself is easy: Stand and greet arriving skiers and be available to answer questions. Sign up at your local resort’s annual job fair each fall.
Ski the Super C CouloirChris Davenport has called the Super C Couloir in Portillo, Chile, one of his all-time favorite ski descents. It’s a classic couloir—over 4,000 vertical feet with a 50-degree narrow entrance that opens into a wide, powder-choked apron. You’ll ride the five-person Roca Jack poma at Portillo ski area, then start bootpacking. Two-plus hours later, you’ll reach the top of the couloir with views of the Chilean Andes. For your best chance of nailing the Super C, sign up to ski Portillo with Davenport during his Superstars Camp each August ($2,500 for the week).
Do a Dawn Patrol MissionThe skier’s definition of dawn patrol: an early-morning backcountry tour completed before your 10 a.m. conference call. You’ll be up before the sun, sipping espresso on the drive to the trailhead. You and a partner will skin to a snowy ridgetop, descend through powder under a glowing sky, and you’ll be back at work feeling inspired, refreshed, and ready to tackle the day. Salt Lake City, Utah, is known for their easy-access dawn patrol culture. Hire a guide for an early-morning tour of the Wasatch (from $179).
Teach Someone Else to SkiYou say you love to ski, yes? It’s your thing. Your passion. Well, it’s time to pay it forward. Share your favorite sport with someone else, be it a friend, your significant other, or your three-year-old son. There’s no joy quite like watching someone else master their first parallel turn, ride their first chairlift to a snow-covered peak, and eventually, get their first taste of powder. Suggest a lesson for total newbies. Once they’ve gotten the hang of the basics, take a day off from the steeps and enjoy the slower pace on the learner’s side of the mountain. Soon, your new ski buddy will be checking things off the skier’s life list, too.
- Start over