Ski Guide: A Resort for Every Type of Skier

No two ski resorts are alike. But which one is right for you? We break down more than 30 of North America's best to find the perfect fit.

Nov 12, 2014
Outside Magazine
BSIA Big Sky Montana Moonlight Basin powder skiing

Catching big air in Big Sky, Montana, which boasts 5,800 skiable acres.    Photo: Liam Doran

Learn the New Rules of Skiing

Forget what you know about ski lessons, ski-town parties, and early-morning runs. Then go have more fun.

Mountains are like ski boots—it's all about fit. Whether you're hunting bottomless powder or family fun, we've done the homework for you. All that's left to do is decide what makes your perfect winter vacation, and take your pick.

Convenience Is King

Ben Wheeler Utah powder ski skiing
Tram lap at the 'Bird.   Photo: Liam Doran

Within an hour or two after hitting the tarmac at Salt Lake City Airport, you can be soaring up Snowbird’s tram and scouting lines at this famously deep (500 inches annually) resort. Stay slopeside in one of four lodges—we like the outdoor hot tubs and top-floor sushi at the concrete-bunker-style Cliff Lodge (from $214). If the canyon road is closed due to a storm—a frequent occurrence—you’ll beat the crowds to powder-day hot spots like the long, sustained vertical off the Gad 2 chair, now easier to access with last winter’s upgrade to a high-speed quad. In Colorado, Breckenridge combines terrain for all abilities with a relatively short drive from Denver International Airport (two hours west via Interstate 70), and the Wi-Fi-enabled Colorado Mountain Express will deliver you door-to-door (from $66). Peak 6 opened last winter, expanding the resort’s high-alpine runs by more than 20 percent. Stay in one of Breck’s partner lodges, like One Ski Hill Place (from $479). Back east, New Hampshire’s family-friendly Waterville Valley is only about two hours from Boston and features everything from steep glades to award-winning terrain parks. The resort invested $250,000 in snowmaking this winter, so you’ll be able to tackle the bumps on True Grit or the narrow, tree-filled lines on Psycho Glades no matter the forecast. And don’t forget New England Patriots Tuesdays, when lift-ticket prices are based on how many points the opposing team scored in that week’s game ($7 is common).

Powder Is Your Religion

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Alta chemtrails.   Photo: Brown Cannon/Intersection

Utah’s Alta gets a reliable 551 inches of snow each winter, lodging is charming and family friendly, and slow double chairs only add to its throwback appeal. On a powder day, wait for the rope drop at the High Traverse, then hold on for the bumpy sidestep to the Backside—the waist-deep snow will be worth it. For intermediates, this year the Corkscrew run off the Collins lift has been widened to make it easier to descend. Crash on a dorm-room bunk at the endearingly shabby Peruvian Lodge, which includes communal meals ($119), or in a more private, bathrobe-equipped suite at the Rustler Lodge ($500). At Crystal Mountain, Washington, last February’s Powmageddon brought 66 inches of snow in four days. Shortly after, a controlled avalanche took out the upper mountain’s Chair 6. Now it’s been replaced with a fixed-grip chair that can sustain burlier weather. Our advice: boot-pack up 7,012-foot Silver King for fresh tracks, then brag about it over nachos at the Snorting Elk Cellar. For East Coasters, Jay Peak, Vermont, gets more natural snowfall (375 inches) than the rest of the Green Mountain resorts. The Stateside Hotel, which opened last winter, has the best deals on the mountain (packages from $149).

You Like to Head Out the Gate

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Happy hour at Solitude.   Photo: Marc Muench

California’s Sugar Bowl gets the most snow in the north Tahoe region (an average of 500 inches annually) and has an open-boundary policy, free uphill skinning access, and a Backcountry Adventure Center that offers professionally guided tours onto Donner Pass, a high-alpine zone with thousands of acres of rolling backcountry terrain (from $199, including gear rental). Outside Salt Lake City, Big Cottonwood Canyon’s Solitude was recently purchased by nearby Deer Valley, but not much has changed. It still gets the same light and dry 500-plus inches per year, and you’ll still find fewer crowds than at neighboring Alta and Snowbird. Book a room at the slopeside Inn at Solitude and you’ll have the ski area’s 1,200 acres practically to yourself. If that’s not enough, sign up for the Back Tracks program and let ski patrol sniff out the goods for you (from $75).

You Like to Whoop It Up, Too

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Fat Cycle Town Ride in Aspen.   Photo: Emily Chaplin

At Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, you can have it all: 8,171 skiable acres spread across three gigantic glaciers, capped off with a village where you can saber a champagne bottle in Bearfoot Bistro’s underground wine cellar or drink local Kokanee beer at Merlin’s while a DJ spins until the wee hours. For the best deal, book a ski-and-stay package with lodging options around Whistler’s village (from $96). Since most Colorado visitors are lured by resorts closer to Denver, make the trek to Aspen Snowmass, where the resort’s four mountains provide open bowls, flowing groomers, and steep glades. The restaurant scene is just as eclectic, from the flown-in-daily sushi at Kenichi to the tastiest coq au vin this side of Paris at Brexi Brasserie. Our go-to is Jimmy’s Bodega, a raw bar known for its mezcal that opened this summer. Mammoth Mountain, California, feels remote—it’s 300 miles north of Los Angeles in the eastern Sierra Nevada, with broad swathes of above-tree-line slopes. This year it’s easier to get to with direct flights from Las Vegas and Denver. And the vibe is surprisingly lively, with a world-class terrain park and a SoCal-inspired music and food scene that never slows down. Opt for wood-fired pizza at Campo, or the expanded Mammoth Brewing Company, which will serve pub fare starting this winter. For the best lift-ticket deals: Whistler, Aspen, and Mammoth are all part of the Mountain Collective Pass, which gives you two days at each resort and more.

The Bigger the Playground, the Better

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Buckling the boots on Kachina Peak, Taos.   Photo: Bud Force/Aurora

The runs are long (up to six miles) and the lifts are high (the Lone Peak Tram whisks you to 11,166 feet) at Big Sky, Montana. Since acquiring neighboring Moonlight Basin, the area now boasts 5,800 skiable acres—the most in the U.S.—plus new glading that will open additional in-bounds terrain. It’s also more accessible than ever, with numerous flights into Bozeman (an hour away), including 14 nonstop routes from places like Seattle and Houston. If you like expansive, you’ll love Revelstoke, British Columbia, which runs cat- and heli-accessed operations right from the base. This year, the resort will debut an avalanche bombing system in the North Bowl, which means patrol can open it up faster on powder days. Stay in a suite near the gondola at the Sutton Place Hotel (from $199), and after shredding head to the Rockford Wok Bar and Grill for honey-ginger chicken wings and pints of local IPA. Finally, there’s big news down in Taos, New Mexico. A lift will now access 12,481-foot Kachina Peak, a trip that previously required a 45-minute boot-pack, increasing the area’s lift-served terrain by a whopping 50 percent. Taos’s base area will also get a face-lift for next winter. Until then, our favorite remains the European-style Hotel St. Bernard, an après go-to since 1960 at the base of Chair 1 (from $2,724 for one week, all-inclusive).

The Finer Things Matter

Deer Valley Resort Snowpark Lodge 3 Star
Deer Valley's Snow Park Lodge.   Photo: Courtesy of Deer Valley Resort

With ski butlers, no lift lines, and an artisanal cheese-making facility, you get what feels like your own exclusive resort at Deer Valley, Utah. Five new snowcats will make the resort’s already buffed-out groomers that much more fun. Stay at a ski-in, ski-out condo at Shooting Star (from $555) and a fleet of Cadillacs will chauffeur you around nearby Park City. Recently mild winters in Vermont haven’t affected Stowe as much as elsewhere, thanks to a $10 million snowmaking expansion. This year the resort also gets a brand-new quad chair at the base of Spruce Peak, which will deliver intermediates to low-angle trees, and the Spruce Camp base lodge, where you can sip a cappuccino by the fire while chefs whip up custom meals with ingredients sourced from local farms.

Challenging Terrain Is Mandatory

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Jackson Hole's Headwall.   Photo: Bradly J. Boner

At Crested Butte, Colorado, the infamous North Face—with cliff-strewn runs like Cesspool and Sock It to Me—is the site of one of the country’s first big-mountain competitions. The resort recently cleared more than ten acres of trees for gladed skiing in the mellower East River area, perfect for rising intermediates. Bonus: since Crested Butte is four-plus hours from Denver, the crowds steer clear. Last winter, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, got 500 inches of snow, the fourth-deepest snowpack in its 48-year history. From the top of the tram, you can access 4,139 vertical feet of ski-movie-worthy steeps, or go with a private guide into Teton backcountry. After, reward yourself with a margarita and buffalo-gravy fries at the Spur bar in the base village’s Teton Mountain Lodge (from $280). In California, Squaw Valley’s abundance of pucker-inducing terrain—like the cliffy shots off Headwall and the chutes off Palisades, which have entrances as steep as elevator shafts—are why pro skiers like Julia Mancuso and Cody Townsend call it home. This spring, Squaw will kick its après scene up a notch by hosting concerts all over the mountain, including the top of the famous KT-22 chair. Your lift ticket to Squaw also works at neighboring Alpine Meadows, which has tons of backcountry access and steeps that remain empty, thanks to short sidesteps. Stay at the low-key Plumpjack Squaw Valley Inn (from $265), then take the free shuttle over to Alpine for the day.

Family Is the Focus

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Outgoing flight at Copper Mountain.   Photo: Marc Muench

At Mount Snow, Vermont, kids ages three and up can learn to snowboard through the resort’s Burton Riglet program (rental and lift ticket, $80), which offers special mini boards and a pint-size park. The whole family will be entertained with Mount Snow’s jam-packed event schedule, which includes everything from a duct-tape derby, where participants race homemade cardboard sleds, to a St. Patrick’s Day hunt for a pot of gold, where the winner gets a season pass. Copper Mountain, Colorado, has terrain for everyone, and now there’s an easier way to find it: the resort’s Sherpa app provides location-based tips on where to ski, a patrol help button, and early access to deals and news. Not that the kids will want to leave the 2,400-square-foot Woodward Barn, where they can learn freestyle tricks on indoor trampolines and foam pits (lessons from $209).

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