The Mountain Maximus

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Winter Travel Guide 1996

The Mountain Maximus

You can't ski in the fast lane without plenty of high-speed quads

Lake Louise Ski Area | Aspen/Snowmass Ski Area | Vail | Squaw Valley USA | Steamboat | Breckenridge Ski Resort | Big White Ski Resort | Whistler Resort | Killington Resort | Jackson Hole Ski Resort | Mammoth Mountain Ski Area | Sun Valley Resort

Claim to Fame: Scenery, for one, thanks to the resort's near-wilderness setting in Banff National Park. Runs down the front side of Mount Whitehorn offer panoramic views across the U-shaped Bow Valley to the peaks of the Continental Divide. Paradise Bowl on the backside beckons mogul maniacs; speed freaks tuck and banzai down a 40-plus-degree pitch on Ptarmigan Chutes. In the Rock Garden, you can slalom around huge boulders shaken loose by a slide; it's a great intermediate run with a backcountry feel. Snow consistently falls early enough to schedule World Cup events in late November.

What's New: A new 4,000-foot-long intermediate trail called Cameron Way eases traffic down the front of Whitehorn. Additional snow-making on the Ptarmigan and Pika runs boosts total coverage to more than 1,400 acres, best in the West (U.S. or Canada).

Snowboarding: All trails are open to boarders. Lake Louise closes in early May, but the snowboard park re-opens for the month of June, weather permitting (it usually does).

Where to Party: At the Glacier Saloon in the lower lobby of Chateau Lake Louise, Brits, Germans, and a sprinkling of Quebecois belly up to the bar, while buttoned-down middle-management Americans sit politely at tables. On Tuesdays, Lake Louise staffers turn the sports bar Charlie Two's in the Lake Louise Inn into Animal House North.

Where to Stay: A $46 million renovation made the grand Chateau Lake Louise worthy once again of its setting facing Victoria Glacier (doubles, $102- $200; 800-441-1414). The up-market Post Hotel (doubles, $96-$277; 800-661-1586), a chalet-style Relais & Chateau property in Lake Louise village, has 96 rooms furnished with solid Canadian pine, duvets, and original artwork. (All prices are in U.S. dollars.)

Off-Slope Action: Sixty miles of cross-country trails fan out from Chateau Lake Louise. In front of the chateau, the frozen lake is cleared for a broomball court (very popular with the Yanks) and ice skating. In local slang, "hanging out at the lake" means dangling from an ice ax on the frozen waterfalls at the head of the basin.

How to Keep Costs Down: Summer is the big season in Banff National Park, so winter accommodations cost far less than comparable properties in, say, Colorado. Prices plummet 25 percent before December 20, for three weeks in January, and after April 7. The best bargain is the Canadian Alpine Center and International Hostel (beds, $18).

Kid Stuff: Excellent day care, ski lessons, and programs at the Alpha Play Station.

Information/Reservations: 800-258-7669

David Dunbar

Claim to Fame: Aspen is so renowned for its bacchanalian excess that people tend to forget that it's one hell of great place to ski. Aspen Mountain's fast, groomed steeps and tricky bumps are for advanced skiers only. Aspen Highlands' Steeplechase face lures top mogul skiers and snowboarders. Buttermilk's rep is that of a beginner's paradise, but experts know there's choice powder skiing in the trees of Tiehack. The Big Burn is what gives Snowmass its cruiser's mountain label, but there's plenty of tough terrain off Sam's Knob and in Campground. And when you gaze back into the extraordinary beauty of the Maroon Bells Wilderness, you'll find it easy to shrug off all that over-the-top consumption down on the gilded valley floor. Try not to protest too much, though, about the town's ostentation--sooner or later you're bound to find yourself tucking gleefully into some sun-dried tomato/ chŠvre/couscous concoction.

What's New: On-mountain Tech Centers on Aspen, Snowmass, and Buttermilk allow skiers to stop in, Ì la Speedy muffler, for instant video analysis and equipment modification by technicians. Snowmass also has 90 acres of new intermediate terrain in the Two Creeks area, and greatly expanded snowmaking capability.

Snowboarding: Welcomed everywhere except on Aspen Mountain. Snowmass has a half-pipe and park; Buttermilk has a park and hosts the BoarderFest December 14-15, during which the mountain is open only to riders; lift and lesson packages are available.

Where to Party: Do the classic deck thing at Ajax Tavern at The Little Nell, or walk a few blocks over to celebrity magnet Mezzaluna (yes, it's related to that Mezzaluna) for $1.50 beers and $5 pizzas. Later, head to Double Diamond for live music and dancing, then go study the habits of the excruciatingly hip at the Cigar Bar.

Where to Stay: Splurge at luxurious The Little Nell (doubles, $425-$550; 888-843-6355), just steps from the gondola; each of the 92 rooms has a fireplace and a lavish marble bath. The rooms at intimate Molly Gibson Lodge (doubles, $89-
$349, breakfast included; 800-356-6559) have both Jacuzzis and fireplaces.

Off-Slope Action: Dogsled outings can be arranged at Krabloonik Kennel (970-923-3953) in Snowmass. The Aspen/Snowmass Nordic Council maintains 80 kilometers of free trails between the two resort centers. Ashcroft Touring Center (970-925-1971), in a ghost town 30 minutes away, has 30 kilometers of tracks with access to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass backcountry. On each of the four mountains, naturalists guide two-hour snowshoe tours every afternoon. There's ice skating at the outdoor rink at the Ritz-Carlton hotel (800-241-3333) or the indoor Aspen Ice Garden (970-920-5141) in town.

How to Keep Costs Down: Book lift and lodging packages pre-Christmas and in April. The never-ever program offers novice riders and skiers three days of lifts and lessons for $149.

Kid Stuff: Programs are best at Snowmass, where activities for kids and teens are top-notch. Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands offer lessons, but no day care. There aren't any programs at Aspen Mountain.

Information/Reservations: 800-525-6200/800-262-7736

Meg Lukens Noonan

Claim to Fame: No other resort matches the alchemy Vail achieves in its pairing of great skiing with a great town. The terrain stretches seven miles across and encompasses everything from the undulating flats of Simba and Born Free in Lionshead to the killer steeps of Northstar. But it's Vail's unfathomably expansive back-bowl skiing that truly sets the resort apart. Despite the area's colossal size, the planned village itself manages to exude a level of intimacy that defies explanation. Somehow, neither Vail nor its posh sister resort, Beaver Creek, ever overwhelms; they simply suck you into their nearly flawless machine and spit you out, happy and babbling and ready to book another week's stay.

What's New: Look for a new 12-passenger, high-speed, heated gondola linking Lionshead to Eagle's Nest. Over on Golden Peak you'll find a lavish $31 million base lodge and a high-speed quad. And at Beaver Creek, a new chairlift will connect Arrowhead Mountain with Beaver Creek.

Snowboarding: Vail/Beaver Creek has the largest snowboarding school in the country. Rentals and lessons are offered at Golden Peak, Lionshead, and Beaver Creek. There are 12 snowboard-specific trails--featuring logslides, bonks, hits, and gullies--on Vail Mountain, and seven at Beaver Creek. Two new lighted half-pipes at Eagle's Nest open this season; Beaver Creek has a half-pipe and play park.

Where to Party: If you quit for the day in Vail Village, bounce among the decks at Vendetta's, the Hong Kong Cafe, and The Red Lion. Later, The Club, just past the covered bridge, gets a young, hopped-up dance crowd. Garton's Saloon and Nick's, both in the village, get an older but not necessarily more sedate clientele. And Sheika's has been transformed in the past year into the snowboarder's hang.

Where to Stay: The elegant Alps-
influenced Sonnenalp Resort (doubles, $230-$390; 800-654-8312) has mini-suites ($350-$1,500) with fireplaces, marble bathrooms, and a fitness center. Cozy 22-room Christiania Lodge (doubles, $160-$475; 970-476-5641) has studios to large suites.

Off-Slope Action: Try the 2,900-foot bobsled run on Vail Mountain, or skate at Dobson Arena (970-479-2270). Cross-country ski and snowshoe atop Beaver Creek at McCoy Park (970-845-5313). Guided overnight tours to the Shrine Mountain Inn on the 10th Mountain Trail are also offered. Longer hut-to-hut treks can be arranged by Paragon Guides (970-926-5299). Skating, tubing, sledding, snowshoeing, and snowboarding, all under lights, are being offered for the first time atop Lionshead at Eagle's Nest.

How to Keep Costs Down: Buy a Vail Valley Club card for $15 at any season pass office and receive $5 off of every day ticket you purchase.

Kid Stuff: Vail has it all: themed terrain gardens, instructional programs, and day and evening child care.

Information/Reservations: 970-476-5601/800-525-2257 or 800-622-3131 (Vail and Beaver Creek)


Claim to Fame: Squaw Valley is like a mean uncle who's gotten nicer with age. There's still plenty of terrain that bites back--get your jump-turning jollies and big air off lifts like KT-22 and the Silverado--but intermediates and beginners now have their own terrain at the base area. About that weather: No one should head here without a duffel bag stuffed with everything for sun, sleet, and Sierra cement.

What's New: The half-pipe and snowboard park on Riviera are now illuminated until 9 p.m. For $12 you can ride the tabletops and rail-slides off of Riv before heading down the mountain run. There's also new beginner skiing at the 6,200-foot elevation: The creaky Searchlight and Exhibition lifts have been replaced with a quad.

Snowboarding: Two full-time mountain patrollers get around on snowboards. Beginners head for the benign runs on Bailey's Beach, Links, and the other green lifts at the top of the mountain--familiar territory if they've already taken two hours of instruction as part of the $59 ticket/rental/lesson for snowboarding never-evers. Advanced stick-wielders will head to Granite Chief, perfect for catching sick air.

Where to Party: Bar One in the Olympic Plaza near the gondola has regular live music. Across the parking lot is the Red Dog Saloon, full of locals, and six miles east in Tahoe City you'll find the Naughty Dawg bar, again full of locals--and their pooches.

Where to Stay: The Resort at Squaw Creek (doubles, $149-$325; 916-583-6300) has robust lobby fireplaces, three hot tubs, mountain views, and lift access to the rest of the mountain. The Plump Jack Squaw Valley Inn (doubles, $160-$260; 916-583-1576) is more motellike.

Off-Slope Action: Take the cable car up to the High Camp Bath and Tennis Club, complete with an ice-skating rink, hot tub, and an 80-foot bungee tower. At the base you'll find a 30-foot indoor climbing wall, and nearby is cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

How to Keep Costs Down: Kids 12 and under and adults over 65 ski for $5. The $54 first-time skier package includes rentals, a lesson, and a lift ticket good for the beginner terrain. Plus, you can't beat the Reno casinos' low-season lodging rates: $11 a night at the Sands, or $35 at the newer Silver Legacy. It's a 35-mile free shuttle trip with lift-ticket purchase between Squaw and Reno (for lodging, call 800-545-4350).

Kid Stuff: At the Children's World ski school (916-581-7225) four- to 12-year-olds get half- and full-day programs with meals, instruction, and entertainment; kids seven and older get snowboarding lessons. Ten Little Indians child care (reservations recommended; 916-581-7280) has snow-play for two- and three-year-olds.
Information/Reservations: 916-583-6985/800-545-4350
Andrew Tilin

Claim to Fame: The place is pretty, if not breathtaking, with long expanses instead of colossal, jutting peaks. But whatever it may lack in scenics it makes up for in champagne powder--courtesy of a weather anomaly that dumps feathery snow from Eastern-heading storm systems here before anywhere else. Because of the 157-mile drive from Denver, lift lines are relatively short. Especially buoyant runs include Closet, Shadows, and Twilight (lots of trees); Whiteout and Tornado (huge moguls); and Cyclone (easy cruising). In Steamboat proper, it's not uncommon for a friendly local to stuff a quarter into a soon-to-expire parking meter.

What's New: The Morningside Park expansions include seven new trails over 179 acres (mostly intermediate and advanced) served by a new triple lift. Around back at Pioneer Ridge, a four-year expansion is under way.

Snowboarding: Two new terrain parks--at Big Meadow and Giggle Gulch--will open early in the season, weather permitting. Norther and Shadows are especially challenging, as are the glades along any of the black-diamond runs.

Where to Party: Try the Slopeside Grill for microbrews and pizza. The best food can be found at the Scandinavian eatery Ragnar's, which sits right on the mountain and offers dinner and sleigh-riding for $61.

Where to Stay: Close to the mountain, try the Sheraton Steamboat Resort (doubles, $100-$330; 970-879-2220), which offers better-than-average double rooms and use of the health club. In town, try the Rabbit Ears Motel (doubles, $65-$145; 970-879-1150), with basic but spacious rooms just steps away from everything.

Off-Slope Action: There's hot-air ballooning over the Yampa Valley (Pegasus Balloon Tours, 800-748-2487; $80 per half-hour, $150 per hour, kids under 12 half off). Or check out the Bridgestone Winter Driving School (half-day, $115; full day, $225; 970-879-6104).

How to Keep Costs Down: The Teen Ticket program offers a 25-percent discount for teens with families staying five or more days. Also, the Kids Ski Free program lets kids 12 and under ski free when their parents buy a five-day ticket.

Kid Stuff: Besides lessons, the Kids' Vacation Center offers day care for $57 per day, including an all-day group lesson and lunch (970-879-6111 ext. 218).

Information/Reservations: 970-879-6111/800-922-2722

Dave Plank

Claim to Fame: Breckenridge doesn't have an "upper" and a "lower" mountain--it expands across, like a four-hill ski-run buffet. From left to right, Peak 10 is for cruising, Peak 9 is beginner/ intermediate terrain, Peak 8 provides a challenge, and Peak 7 is hike-to-ski, expert terrain. The snag is that it's a commute from 10 to 8, let alone 7. Best to pick a couple of mountains and stick with them: Good skiers do loops on Peak 8's Chair 6, taking the bumps down the Snowbird runs or the wide-open Quandary. It's a short trip from there to the T-Bar accessing Peak 7's above-timberline bowl skiing.

What's New: The new double-chair Snowflake Lift should alleviate some of the Peak 8/Peak 9 crosstown traffic. Improved snowmaking on Peaks 9 and 10 makes it easier for Breckenridge to open by Halloween.

Snowboarding: The terrain garden, replete with jumps, logs, and rails, is considered one of the best in North America, with the hits altered every couple of weeks to keep things interesting. And on Peak 9's Gold King run you'll find a half-pipe.

Where to Party: Right below the runs is Breckenridge itself--an old mining town-cum-painfully manicured touristville. The Breckenridge Brewery has half a dozen beers on tap, shepherd's pie, and french fries with cheese--just the grease you're hankering for after a cold day on the hill. The Underworld and the Alligator Lounge are both dark, subterranean bop joints with live music.

Where to Stay: Try the Little Mountain Lodge (doubles, $155-$240; 800-468-7707), a whitewashed log bed-and-breakfast with ten guest rooms. Some units at the Victorian-style River Mountain Lodge (doubles, $79-$659; 800-627-3766) come equipped with full kitchens.

Off-Slope Action: Take the 1.5-hour guided tour of the town, with its 250 historic buildings. The Breckenridge Nordic Center, with more than 28 kilometers of groomed trails, is accessible via free shuttle.

How to Keep Costs Down: With the Ski Free, Stay Free package (December 2-20 and January 6-February 14) you can stay for four nights and get the fifth night--and the fifth day of skiing--free. Same goes for the seventh night and ski day of a week-long trip (book through central reservations, 800-221-1091).

Kid Stuff: There are comprehensive child-care services and a slick Family Ski Clinic: Rent a guide/instructor for the whole gang for the day. If there's a snowboarder or two in the bunch you can even contract for two guides.

Information/Reservations: 970-453-5000/800-221-1091


Claim to Fame: If it weren't for all the sunshine, you might think this was Whistler. The skiing at this Okanagan Valley mountain has always been first-rate. But improved access from Vancouver, B.C., has unleashed a spate of commercial activity, turning Kelowna's little ski mountain into a true mega-resort, with multiple base lodges and all the trappings. In spite of its increasing size, Big White maintains much of its laid-back, out-West persona. With sunny skies, dry snow, and a speedy lift system, it's no wonder Blackcomb lifties come here on vacation.

What's New: The Westridge Development is a separate base area serving the new Gem Lake express quad, which blasts you 2,550 feet up to nearly 875 acres of newly opened terrain. The new base cuts 20 minutes off the 55-minute drive from Kelowna.

Snowboarding: Big White lacks the foot-cramping steeps some loose-snow riders prefer, but its long, groomed runs and slalom-style tree runs are a blast for beginning and intermediate boarders. The resort's Discover Snowboarding packages (about $50) include lift ticket, lessons, and rental (604-765-3101).

Where to Party: A good lunch and aprŠs-ski spot is the fabulous Loose Moose, right off the Ridge Rocket lift, with Snowshoe Sam's a worthy alternative. Both have outdoor seating, live music, burgers, and beer.

Where to Stay: Big White (central reservations, 800-663-2772) has some 5,000 slopeside beds, ranging from hotel rooms at Graystokes Inn (doubles, $42-$77) to condos at Mogul's (one-bedroom units, $149-$205).

Off-Slope Action: Twenty-five kilometers of cross-country trails fan out from the village center (for rentals, call 604-765-3101). There's an ice-skating rink in the village, and sleigh rides and hot tub rentals at the Alpine Center (604-765-3101).

How to Keep Costs Down: Supersaver packages (opening day-December 19; March 31-April 14) offer lift tickets, lessons, and lodging starting at $42 per day per person. You can also save 15 to 20 percent on midweek packages between early January and mid-March.

Kid Stuff: Good ski school, family-friendly terrain, and Kettle Valley, a theme park that kids can tour on skis. A new children's center for kids 18 months to 12 years offers rentals, lessons, and day care. All lodging is ski-in, ski-out and kids 12 and under stay free. Kids five and under ski free.

Information/Reservations: 604-765-3101/800-663-2772

Ron C. Judd

Claim to Fame: Some 7,000 skiable acres at this mammoth resort 75 miles north of Vancouver include 12 alpine bowls and three glaciers. The world's most advanced high-speed lift system positions skiers for 5,000-plus feet of vertical drop--nearly 1,000 feet more than any other resort on the continent. You don't have to pay for the plunge with lung-busting altitude: Whistler and Blackcomb mountains top out at a little more than 7,000 feet. The village tucked between the twin peaks displays ersatz mittel-Europa architecture and authentic Western Canadian friendliness.

What's New: Ten new glade runs weave down Blackcomb Mountain. Two new runs on neighboring Whistler Mountain feed a new high-speed gondola at the Creekside Base.

Snowboarding: Go nuts. You'll find rentals, lessons, half-pipes on both mountains, buckle-in and tool benches at Blackcomb's snowboard park, and weekly races. Berms, lips, cliffs, and alpine bowls give boarders enough air time to qualify for frequent-flier miles.

Where to Party: In the Longhorn Saloon, a loud crowd from Vancouver loses gen-X blues amid the long wooden bar, pool tables, and dance pit. Yuppies tend to congregate on the sundeck of the Garibaldi Lift Company Bar and Grill.

Where to Stay: French baronial-style Chateau Whistler Resort is a five-minute walk from the village square (doubles, $178-$302; 800-441-1414). Two new properties--the Sheraton Suites (doubles, $128-$245; 800-777-0185) and the Marriott Residence Inn Whistler/Blackcomb (doubles, $109- $209; 800-331-3131)--feature condo-style efficiency units.

Off-Slope Action: Twenty-eight kilometers of cross-country trails thread Whistler Valley. Ice climbers inch up the Plum, Capricorn, and other frozen wonders off Duffey Lake Road northeast of the village, and chip up columns six miles southeast near the Calcheak Campground in a climbing spot so new it doesn't have a catchy name yet. Winter anglers land steelhead and salmon in the Cheakamus and Squamish rivers south of Whistler.

How to Keep Costs Down: The American Thanksgiving Package (November 27-December 4; prices start at $271) buys four nights' lodging, dual-mountain lift tickets, and two breakfasts. A "Value Season" package (November 27-December 19, April 6-May 18; prices start at $494) includes seven nights' lodging, lift tickets, and ground transportation from Vancouver International Airport (call 800-944-7853).

Kid Stuff: Beepers are distributed to parents at Blackcomb's Kids' Kamp. At Ski Scamps on Whistler, aprŠs-ski and evening programs free parents for crucial Marriage Rehab Nights.

Information/Reservations: 604-932-3434 (Whistler); 604-932-3141 (Blackcomb)/ 800-944-7853


Claim to Fame: The East's largest resort is known for its rowdy young clientele, its sometimes bewildering 77-mile network of trails served by six base areas, and its relentless pursuit of the nearly year-round ski season (October 17 to June 10 in 1995-96). Despite its image as a hard-partying bump skiers' mecca, the resort is ideally suited to beginners and intermediates, who love skiing long top-to-bottom routes--like South Ridge's Pipe Dream to Wanderer--off the summits of all six peaks. For snow-holding steeps, check out East Fall between Killington Peak and Snowdon Mountain, or the Jug Handle glades.

What's New: New owner Les Otten has huge plans for Killington, including a land-swap deal that gives the resort long-coveted real estate at its base. The Rams Head area is a newly designated family mountain that includes a new snow-play park with a Magic Carpet conveyor-belt lift, and a 20,000-square-foot family center in the old Rams Head Lodge that houses gear-rental facilities, child care, and ski-school operations.
Snowboarding: The half-pipe here is considered by many to be the best in the East. Cut fresh once a week with a Pipe Dragon, it can be used for about $20 per day. Shredders also have a park, and the run of six peaks.

Where to Party: Stop in to dance at the Wobbly Barn Steakhouse and the Pickle Barrel--big, loud dance halls that rock until late. If you want actual conversation, try Powderhounds or The Grist Mill, both on the access road.

Where to Stay: The 103-room Inn of the Six Mountains (doubles, $139-$249 with breakfast; 800-228-4676), on the Killington Road, has an indoor lap pool, exercise room, and free shuttle to the mountain. For a range of condominium units at the mountain base, call the Killington Travel Service (800-621-6867).

Off-Slope Action: High Country Touring (802-422-6200) offers cross-country, snowshoe, and alpine ski tours. The Mountain Top Inn (800-445-2100) has a 110-kilometer trail system, sleigh rides, ice skating, and sledding.

How to Keep Costs Down: The Ski Vacation Spectacular offers packages starting at $335 per person, including five nights' lodging in a one-bedroom condo, lift tickets, and mountain tours.

Kid Stuff: The aforementioned new Rams Head Family Mountain makes this a prime resort for families.

Information/Reservations: 802-422-6200/800-621-6867


Claim to Fame: No ski area seems as burdened by its wondrous expert terrain as Jackson Hole. Despite the legendary steeps on bolt-upright Rendezvous Mountain--the Alta Chutes, Expert Chutes, and Corbet's Couloir, for starters--the brass at Jackson insist on hoisting the intermediate banner with great enthusiasm. Fine. The lower AprŠs Vous Mountain has solid blue-square and decent green-circle terrain. But only the advanced should head to the stark Teton Village base area, where you can ski nearly 4,200 vertical feet without stopping for a lift, and on a powder day go elbow to elbow with whooping locals in the Hobacks. That crowd won't be wearing cowboy hats; you'll find those 12 miles away in Jackson, a hodgepodge community of roadside businesses, rustic charm, T-shirt shops, and Jersey visitors in unblemished Justin boots and Stetsons. At least nobody can take away the beauty of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, especially during the Airstreamless snowy season.

What's New: Jackson's first high-speed quad is on Teewinot, a (surprise!) beginner lift. The addition opens access to novice terrain and is part of a master plan that over the next decade will result in new lifts and an overhauled village.

Snowboarding: There's a half-pipe on AprŠs Vous on Teewinot Gully, and with the new Teewinot Quad beginners have plenty of room to flop. Yet you'll find most of the boarders over on the big hill, carving turns in steep and open Rendezvous and Cheyenne bowls. There's a Steep Snowboarding Camp March 13-16 ($420).

Where to Party: The Mangy Moose in Teton Village is the great melting pot of locals and tourists, with live music nightly. In town, the Jackson Hole Pub and Brewery is smoke-free. Go to the Rancher Bar or Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where farmhand swing dancers will put you to shame.

Where to Stay: Perhaps the best deal in skidom is the Teton Village's ski-in, ski-out Hostel (doubles, $44; 307-733-3415). The rooms have king-size beds or four bunks, and a common area with televisions, pool, and table tennis, and a ski-tuning facility. For a little more pampering, try the Alpine House bed-and- breakfast in Jackson (doubles, $80-$95; 800-753-1421), a bright, timber-frame lodge with a thankful absence of frills.

Off-Slope Action: Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, six and 59 miles away, respectively, make for good day trips. The resort maintains 17 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails.

How to Keep Costs Down: Jackson is ten minutes from the airport, and the START bus covers the tourist territory in town and makes frequent trips to the ski area for $2 per person.

Kid Stuff: There's all-day child care right at the base area for children two months and up, and in The Explorers program, kids 6 to 13 get a complete day of lessons, supervision, and lunch.

Information/Reservations: 307-733-2292/ 800-443-6931


Claim to Fame: Mammoth is a plaid-flannel kind of town that lacks the swankiness of neighboring Lake Tahoe; skiers flock to this "Sears of Ski Resorts" for one reason--to ski the finest mountain in California. Steep-and-deep types negotiate the menacing chutes on Hangman's Hollow or Huevos Grande (Gondola 2), while the more sensible head for lesser altitudes on Forest Trail (Chair 2, T-Bar 2) or the ever-forgiving Sesame Street (Chair 11). Leave your car in town and ride the free shuttles to its three base lodges: Main Lodge, Canyon Lodge, and Chair 15.

What's New: Sadly, Mammoth's low-key, glam-free image won't last much longer: A merger with resort tycoon Intrawest promises to make Mammoth the "preeminent four-season resort and ski town in the U.S.," rumored to include a faux-Swiss ski village akin to Vail.

Snowboarding: Favorite runs are Broadway and Stump Alley. The mountain's backside (Gondola 2, Chair 23) offers wavelike powder fields with dramatic vistas. At two snowboard parks near the Main Lodge and Canyon Lodge you can slide on rails, logs, and barrels; rentals and lessons are offered at both. At sister resort June Mountain 45 minutes away there's a half-pipe.

Where to Party: Grumpy's on Old Mammoth Road has pool and shuffleboard tables and microbrews on tap. If you've outgrown sawdust floors, head to Rafters for honey-roast duck and raspberry cheesecake.

Where to Stay: The condos at Mountainback (two-bedroom units, $180-$265; 800-468-6225) and Seasons 4 (one- and two-bedroom units, $119-$219; 800-732-7664) are walking distance from Canyon Lodge, and shuttles run about every 15 minutes. In town, the EconoLodge (doubles, $49-$99; 800-553-2666) and the Quality Inn (doubles, $89-$129; 619-934-5114) are near shuttle service to all three base areas.

Off-Slope Action: Rent snowshoes or cross-country skis ($8-$24) for the four-mile ungroomed trek from town to Main Lodge and take the gondola ($10) to the top of the mountain for a backside view of the Minarets peaks. Mammoth Dogsled Adventures offers 25-minute and hour-long tours through the Sierra backcountry ($39-$65; 619-934-0606).

How to Keep Costs Down: Watch your speed on U.S. 395--the California Highway Patrol meets its yearly quota by picking off speeders through Independence, Lone Pine, Big Pine, and Bishop.

Kid Stuff: Upward of 300 ski and snowboard instructors make Mammoth an ideal learning experience, and race clinics are available for all levels.

Information/Reservations: 800-832-7320/ 800-367-6572

Mike Kessler

Claim to Fame: The snow-kissed valley that gave birth to the modern ski resort in the 1930s has perfected big-scale skiing. Sun Valley is one of those rare places where the hype almost matches the reality. A dearth of deep, fluffy powder dumps remains a problem, but the snow-cannon battalion keeps the mountain's 3,400 vertical feet of steep, fast terrain open to cold-weather speed freaks. When the real snow does fly, Bald Mountain's upper haunts are as thrilling as they come, period. Add to the mix a mondo express lift system and the grandest triad of day lodges on the planet, and Sun Valley is tough to beat as an all-the-trappings ski getaway.

What's New: All seven of Sun Valley's Yan express lifts--similar to the Quicksilver Chair that failed in a fatal accident last winter at Whistler, B.C.--are being rebuilt from post-tops down.

Snowboarding: Sure. But don't expect to find too many jester hats in the rarefied air of alpine skiing central, USA. When real snow is in short supply, most riders will find a high degree of suckage in Sun Valley's very steep, very hard-packed groomed runs.

Where to Party: Warm Springs Lodge and River Run Plaza are the main on-mountain imbiberies. In town, try Whiskey Jacques' or the Pioneer Saloon--and there's always Bruce and Demi's Liberty Theatre in Hailey.

Where to Stay: First-timers shouldn't miss out on the venerable Sun Valley Lodge (doubles, $135-$324; 800-786-8259), which still looks amazingly like it did when Sonja Henie and Milton Berle slept here (separate rooms!) in Sun Valley Serenade.

Off-Slope Action: Diverse, from backcountry snowshoe and ski-to-yurt treks in the nearby Sawtooths to sleigh rides and celebrity-scanning at an outdoor ice rink so big it accommodates the ego of Scott Hamilton.

How to Keep Costs Down: Great lodging deals can be had between Thanksgiving and the second week in December: Try the centrally located Sun Valley Lodge (800-786-8259), or contact the Chamber of Commerce (800-634-3347) for off-mountain bargains.

Kid Stuff: Great ski school, but neither the mountain nor the lodging (nor the price sheet) is geared for little ones.

Information/Reservations: 800-786-8259


See Also:
Skiing With Laird Hamilton

Filed To: Snow Sports

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