Aspen’s Highland Bowl, with its 2,552 vertical feet of 45-degree pitches, has long offered some of the most challenging descents in North America. This winter, nearby Ajax and Snowmass mountains answer with 243 acres of additional terrain. Ajax includes Bonnie Bell Dumps, a steep shot with a 10-foot cliff jump, and Spar Dump, a gladed trail that passes an old mining train and cabin. The Snowmass expansion gives the predominantly intermediate mountain a few more steep lines, thanks mostly to the runs a short hike from the Elk Camp chair. There you’ll find six-foot cornice plunges into a wide-open 35-degree bowl. Regardless of which mountain you tackle, consider splurging at the slopeside Viceroy Hotel in Snowmass Village, which has a full spa and outdoor heated pool (doubles from $550). To go easier on the bank account, try the Wildwood Snowmass, a new hotel with '70s decor and a farm-to-table restaurant (from $159).
CRESTED BUTTE, COLORADO
The mountain’s Third Bowl has enough powder pillows and cliff bands to elevate anyone’s heart rate. But we’re salivating over a new experts-only trip being offered by Crested Butte Mountain Guides. Groups meet at the resort’s Silver Queen Express lift, ride to the top, then don crampons and rope up for a two-hour trek to the mountain’s 12,200-foot namesake peak. All that scrambling and vertical stepping is rewarded with 45-to-50-degree lines dropping 900 vertical feet ($350, gear included). Not ready for crampons? Try the terrific cat skiing with nearby outfit Irwin Lodge. Either way, grab a celebratory steak on the deck of 9380, then work out the kinks at Grand Lodge’s Wildflower Spa (doubles from $199).
With 23,819 acres of cliffy hike-to terrain—not to mention a helicopter—Silverton is arguably the country’s top destination for adventuresome skiers. But apparently that wasn’t enough. Starting this winter, the mountain will offer guided access to the types of faces most people see only in ski movies. To reach them, clients rope up, then rappel as much as 100 feet in and out of couloirs and snowy aprons. The payoff: drops like the Gnar Couloir, a 45-degree, 2,487-foot pitch that’s regularly wind-loaded with three feet of powder ($495, climbing gear included). In the evening, refuel with a Kobe-beef burger at the Pickle Barrel on Main Street, then crash in one of the mountain-view rooms at the Victorian-style Bent Elbow Hotel (doubles from $60).
Don’t be fooled by the charm of this quaint mining town and its miles of perfectly manicured intermediate terrain. The mountain has teeth—particularly in the form of the Gold Hill chutes, the gnarliest of which, Chute Four, should open this season. To ski it, take the Revelation Bowl lift to the top, hike 20 minutes along the Gold Hill Ridge, then drop into the craggy funnel that doglegs left into an open moraine, finishing at the base of Prospect Bowl. For a less hairy option, try Bushwacker, a groomed leg-burner from the top of the Plunge chairlift all the way to the bottom of the mountain. Grab a late lunch of elk sausage with duck confit at Bon Vivant, a new French restaurant at the top of the Polar Queen Express, and crash at the spa-and-outdoor-pool-equipped Peaks Resort (doubles from $149).