Little Hills, Big Attitude

You don’t need high-speed quads, massive terrain parks and 4,000 feet of vert to end the day with a smile.

Showdown ski area great falls montana

A skier at Showdown ski area in Great Falls, Montana.    Photo: Showdown/Flickr

You’ve likely never heard of the five ski areas listed below, but you should definitely consider them for your next adventure.

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  • Snow King, Wyoming


    Vertical drop: 1,571 feet
    Acres of skiing: 400
    Full day ticket: $42, half price with a lesson
    Best for: Tourists, locals out for a lunch run.
    Nearby: Downtown Jackson Hole.
    Best deal: $20 for two hours; $32 for three hours any time of day, $149 season pass

    Snow King juts out of downtown Jackson Hole, a mere six blocks from the famous Jackson Town Square. Founded in 1939, Snow King was the first ski area in Jackson Hole and one of the first in the United States. Ever since, snow junkies seek out Snow King for an affordable taste of Jackson powder.

    Skiing there almost feels like you own a private resort—there's never a line—and the terrain is exceptional, ranging from cruiser blues to bumped up gladed steeps. It's a mom and pop area on steroids, a town hill with a hardcore edge.

    The steepness and the quality of the terrain are Snow King's greatest surprises. Unless you sign up for a lesson, and 82-year old Bill Brigg, the first man to ski The Grand, is your instructor. Full-size trail map.

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  • Showdown, Montana


    Vertical drop: 1,400 feet
    Acres of skiing: 640
    Full day ticket: $38
    Best for: Hard working Montana ranchers
    Nearby: The middle of nowhere. The nearest supermarket is 65 miles away in Great Falls.

    Whether you ski in Gore-Tex or Carhartts and a cowboy hat, you'll never get called out at Showdown, unless it's in praise of your tail grab, iron cross, backscratcher, or daffy. And no one cares if you like to slide on two planks or one.

    Showdown is Montana's oldest ski area—open since 1936—and it's as much about the family friendly atmosphere as the low moisture consistent quality snow. No one is in a rush or too busy to shake hands, and no one cares about high-speed quads; . Showdown skiers like the slow lifts—they give you chance to talk to your neighbor and enjoy the view.

    Showdown's 6,800-foot base area means the snow is blower top to bottom—Showdown skiers don't know about ice. The runs are short, but the steep trees are world class. And you can get Montana grit with a dash of class and a dump of powder for less than $90 for lift ticket, rental skis, lunch and an après beer. But you'll want to put that beer off til last chair. Even at the end of the day, there's almost guaranteed to still be untracked powder. Full-size trail map.

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  • Solitude, Utah


    Vertical drop: 2,047 feet
    Acres of skiing: 1,200
    Full day ticket: $72; $82 for a SolBright pass, which gives you access to Solitude and Brighton.
    Best for: Powderhounds with kids.
    Nearby: Salt Lake City 15 miles away.
    Best deal: The Inn at Solitude, often only $99 per night.

    Located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude has natural terrain—runs that have never been bulldozed—for everyone. The resort is known for its advanced terrain, but has stellar groomers laden with legendary light, fluffy Utah powder. In fact, Solitude claims more powder per person than any other resort.

    Solitude also boasts lift-served backcountry in Honeycomb Canyon. It's rugged and wild, and it'll stay that way. Solitude and Brighton are the only commercial developments allowed in Big Cottonwood by law.

    And there aren't any crowds, which is great for locating your kids when you get separated or when it's time to meet up. Skip it if you're looking for nightlife—free ice skating in the village might be the most action in town. Full-size trail map.

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  • Monarch, Colorado


    Vertical drop: 1,200 feet
    Acres of skiing: 1,200 acres; including 130-acre Mirkwood Basin
    Full day ticket: $60
    Best for: Rocky Mountain freeheelers
    Nearby: 20-miles from Salida, 40-miles from Gunnison Airport, 120-miles from Colorado Springs Best deal: One Planet, One Pass—Monarch's $459 season's pass includes skiing everyday at Monarch, plus three days each at 31 other ski areas in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, California, Michigan, Arizona, North Carolina, British Columbia, Germany, Austriab and Spain!, and Spain!

    With a base at 10,790 feet, Monarch is the highest ski area in the U.S. and has the second highest snowfall in Colorado—about 350 inches annually. Bowls, trees, and chutes in every direction entice experts, but there are plenty of blues and greens for kids and beginners. And that's why skiers have been coming to the area since Monarch was started as a WPA project 73 years ago.

    Après ski, Monarch's Sidewinder Saloon offers local brews and the self-proclaimed best lunch in Chaffin County. Full-size trail map.

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