Pick the Best Ski Resort for You
Mountains are like boots: It's all about fit.
Even if you’re a dedicated snow chaser, there are always new ways to make this ski season the best one yet. We did the footwork and found the techniques, tips, and deals that are going to change your powder days in 2015.
Forget Pizza and French Fries
The way resorts teach skiing and riding is undergoing a radical transformation. The approach is called terrain-based learning (TBL). Instead of teaching beginners how to turn and stop on a traditional bunny hill, instructors using TBL methods put first-timers in a (very) gentle terrain park, with mini pipes, rollers, and berms. “The features help beginners turn and stop so they can focus on fundamentals like body position,” says Joe Hession, the former general manager of New Jersey’s Mountain Creek, the first resort to go all-in with TBL, in 2012.
The other big benefit: TBL-style instruction is more fun. The shift in methods increased return participation by 40 percent at Mountain Creek, a success story that prompted over a dozen resorts to introduce TBL and Hession to found Snow Operating, a consulting firm that helps resorts make the transition.
This winter you’ll find TBL instruction at some 25 locations, including Jay Peak, Vermont; Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia; Aspen Snowmass and Copper Mountain, Colorado; Sierra at Tahoe, California; and Sun Valley, Idaho.
Plan Your Snow Parties
Not all ski-town gatherings are created equal. These five are worth the trip.
FIS Alpine World Ski Championships: Vail, Colorado, February 2–15
For only the fourth time in its history, the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships will bring Olympic-caliber ski racers from more than 70 countries stateside. Spectating is free, and since only 1 percent of the mountain will be covered with race courses, you can still get your carve on. Sign up for Vail’s Champion private tour and lesson for an inside look at the athletes’ training grounds and tips to improve your GS turn ($850 for up to six).
Winter Carnival: Steamboat, Colorado, February 4–8
All ages will appreciate Steamboat’s annual Winter Carnival, an old-school celebration that keeps it real with skijoring (horses pulling skiers), snow mountain-bike races, nighttime ski jumping through fiery hoops, adult shovel races, and more.
Rendezvous Festival: Jackson Hole, Wyoming, March 26–29
Jackson Hole’s Rendezvous Festival, back for its second year, is three days of music with free concerts around town. Last year, Blues Traveler and Michael Franti & Spearhead played. This year’s event will also include Jackson’s 40th annual Pole, Peddle, Paddle, a relay race that combines alpine and nordic skiing with biking and boating down Snake River.
High Roller Hold ’Em: Heavenly, California, April 4
The High Roller Hold ’Em, an elite big-air snowboarding contest with a poker-strategy twist, was first hosted by Shaun White in 2013 but took 2014 off. It’s back for 2015 in South Lake Tahoe, which is in the middle of a revitalization that includes a new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and a handful of shiny restaurants like Gunbarrel Tavern and Base Camp Pizza Company.
World Ski and Snowboard Festival: Whistler, British Columbia, April 10–19
The biggest party in snowsports and the best place to get a goggle tan, WSSF will celebrate its 20th anniversary this spring with big-ticket concerts and elite ski and snowboard competitions. Last year, the lineup featured the Original Wailers and De La Soul (So far only this year's DJs—including Rusko and Sleepy Tom—have been announced). Score a late-season deal at the trendy, centrally located Aava Whistler Hotel (from $160).
Get After It Earlier
How to access your own private mountain:
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, sign up with the First Tracks program, which lets you on the still-closed mountain with a guide at 7:30 a.m. and includes breakfast at Red Pine Lodge. $79.
Squaw Valley, California
Dawn Patrol might be the country’s most affordable early access: for $29 on select Saturdays and Sundays, you can ride the tram up to the Shirley Lake and Granite Chief lifts an hour before the masses.
Copper Mountain, Colorado
New this year, season-pass holders can spend an extra $100 for special status, which gets you on the lift 15 minutes before everyone else, plus access to private lift lines throughout the day.
Park City, Utah
The All Mountain Club gets you lift access at 8:15 a.m., 45 minutes before the public, and includes three hours of guided skiing after that. From $135.
Step Up Your Game
Ski school isn’t just for beginners anymore.
Navigate the Trees
Extreme-skiing legend Dan Egan leads one- and two-day All-Terrain Ski Camps at Killington, Vermont, where you’ll learn about turning in tight places and picking lines through glades while exploring Killington’s 750 wooded acres. From $174.
Tackle the Steeps
Black Diamond Expedition is a three-day advanced ski camp at Snowmass, Colorado, for adults who want to venture deeper into more technical in-bounds runs. Bonus: ski patrol gives tips on where the mountain is holding the best snow and inside info on new terrain openings. From $489.
Ride with an Olympian
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, churns out Olympic athletes, including 2010 ski-cross gold medalist Ashleigh McIvor and ski racers Britt Janyk and Rob Boyd. Sign up to have one of them guide you around the mountain. From $899.
Explore the Backcountry
At Heli Ski Camp in Telluride, Colorado, you’ll spend two days riding in-bounds terrain with an instructor, then take your new skills into the backcountry with the guides at Telluride Helitrax. From $2,050.
Choose Your Ultimate Pass
The Mountain Collective Pass ($389) gives you 14 days at some of our all-time favorite resorts, including Aspen, Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley, Whistler, Snowbird, and Mammoth, plus discounts on lodging and 50 percent off additional lift tickets. This year’s pass includes three new resorts in Alberta: Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, and Mount Norquay, all located within Banff National Park. Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass (from $399) affords you even more options, with access to resorts including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood in California; and Canyons and Park City (new this year) in Utah. The unlimited pass ($749) also includes five days at Niseko, Japan, and Verbier, Switzerland. It’s the ultimate sampler menu, especially if you’re looking to go international.