The Best Winter Trips of 2016

No matter how you like to ski or how long you can take off work, we've got the perfect trip in our guide to the best alpine escapes of the season

Nov 1, 2015
Outside Magazine

Going big at Snowbird.    Photo: Mike Schirf/Aurora

Maybe you can stop everything to chase a storm at a moment's notice. Maybe you scrape by on a meager allotment of vacation days. Either way, you likely want to squeeze in as many ski days as possible this season. That's why we broke our favorite trips of 2016 into any-way-you-wanna-play-it categories. Choose what works for you and get after it.


From left: Downtown Breckenridge; Snowbird freshies.   Photo: Matt Nager; Mike Schirf/Aurora

Spend your time on the hill, not getting there. 

Breckenridge, Colorado
In Breck, you’ll get the quintessential Colorado ski-town vibe, pronto. Make the two-hour drive from Denver International Airport and check into the recently remodeled Bivouac (from $49), a Euro-style hostel with bunk rooms, craft beer, and free power-up breakfasts. On the mountain, drop into the steep chutes off the Imperial chair or above-treeline bowls on Peak 6, which opened in 2013 with 540 new acres. Then head for wings and dollar PBRs at Northside Pizza. When storms roll in, the summit elevation of 12,998 feet ensures cold-smoke powder. 

Crystal Mountain, Washington 
This resort in the shadow of Mount Rainier is just a two-hour drive from Seattle’s dim-sum cafés and bike commuters, but you’ll feel miles away. Check into the Silver Skis Chalet (from $270), walking distance from the gondola. The resort installed two new lifts last year: the Quicksilver quad, ideal for intermediate skiers looking for rolling groomers, and the High Campbell chair, which accesses the rugged Southback region, including the hike-to 7,012-foot Silver King Peak. Even during last year’s lousy winter, Crystal got 234 inches of snow. But a more typical forecast is 486. 

Snowbird, Utah 
It’s tough to beat Snowbird for quick access to top-notch terrain. Grab a 45-minute shuttle from the Salt Lake City airport (from $39; to a slopeside room at the Cliff Lodge (from $250). You could spend all weekend bombing 3,000-vertical-foot laps off the tram’s chute-riddled Cirque Traverse, but then you’d miss out on the powder stashes off the new high-speed Gad 2 lift and the expansive clearings in Mineral Basin. This winter, Snowbird unveils its new Summit Restaurant, in place of the patrol shack at the top of the tram, a 23,000-square-foot outpost with huge windows for views of the Wasatch and a roomy deck for blue-sky days. Snowbird tends to stay open the longest of any Utah resort, but February and March are your best bets for a taste of Utah’s famous lightweight pow.

Sugarbush, Vermont 
This Green Mountain gem is three hours by car from Boston or five from New York City. Or fly into Burlington and have the valet service from Sugarbush’s Clay Brook hotel escort you to your ski-in, ski-out suite, which feels like a cozy mountain home with hardwood floors and a chef’s kitchen (from $421). Sugarbush replaced its ancient double chairlift to Gadd Peak with a high-speed quad this off-season, which means you’ll get more runs through the empty glades of Christmas Tree Woods and the steeps of Stein’s Run. Sign up for the Max 4 Adventure Workshop to boost your skill level in some of the East’s most advanced terrain, like the 2,000-acre Slide Brook Wilderness (from $70). 

Five-Day Getaway

From left: Steep and deep at Jackson Hole; A powder day in Crested Butte.   Photo: Jay Goodrich/Tandem; Bud Force/Aurora

Where serious skiers go to play.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming
This is arguably your best bet for scoring powder days in the lower 48. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Jackson is offering half-price lift tickets to pass holders from any other resort for three weeks this January. The other big news: the brand-new Teton lift will access 200 acres of gladed, intermediate-friendly terrain, much of which you could previously reach only via a lengthy hike. Ride the tram to the top of 10,450-foot Rendezvous Peak, scarf a bacon-and-peanut-butter waffle from Corbet’s Cabin, then burn it off lapping the bumps on Cheyenne Bowl. Check into the village’s LEED-certified Hotel Terra and stay put for its elk ragu pappardelle (from $239). 

Sugarloaf, Maine 
Getting there requires some work: it’s a four-hour drive from Boston or three hours from Portland or Bangor, Maine. But the payoff is the largest ski area on the Right Coast (1,230 acres). The resort opened the summit of Burnt Mountain for the first time in 2014, offering 1,200 vertical feet of rugged hike-to terrain, a rare find this side of the Mississippi. Reserve a room at the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel for a suite steps from the SuperQuad (from $89). For dinner, chow down on the Bag Burger at the Bag and Kettle

Crested Butte, Colorado
The mountain is a four-hour drive from Denver and feels way out there compared with the cluster of ski areas on the I-70 corridor. Last February, the resort opened Teo 2, a 50-acre back bowl that’s a sneak peek at a proposed 500-acre expansion that could include two new lifts. Challenge yourself on the precipitous chutes off the North Face T-bar, or relax on the endless groomers down to East River. Then grab a drink on the 2,400-square-foot deck at the new on-mountain Umbrella Bar. In the evening, check into your room at the Grand Lodge, which has ski-valet service right by the lifts for the next morning (from $169). Then ride the free bus into town for farm-fresh fare at Sunflower

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, California 
Last spring, JetBlue started daily nonstop flights from New York’s JFK to Reno, Nevada, which is just an hour from Squaw’s legendary KT-22 lift. Stay at the PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn, next to the tram (from $280), and spend at least a couple of days at neighboring Alpine Meadows (reached by a free shuttle), known for its hike-to side bowls. Squaw Valley’s Siberia Express has been upgraded to a brand-new six-person lift, which will have you straight-lining chutes in the Palisades quicker than ever. After skiing, head to Mamasake for drinks and excellent sushi. The past three winters in the Sierra Nevada have been lackluster, but a strong El Niño is forecast for this winter, which should bring some very much needed mega dumps. 

Epic Escape

From left: Tight trees in Whistler; Another deep day in Niseko.   Photo: Ryan Creary; Blake Jorgenson

Come for the mountains, stay for the culture.

Niseko, Japan 
Japan has been unbeatable for snowfall in recent winters, and Niseko, on the northern island of Hokkaido, has held its reputation as an otherworldly powder paradise. Fly into New Chitose Airport in Sapporo and book a private transfer (from about $250), then start exploring the four overlapping areas on the mountain—your pass covers them all. Don’t miss the boot-pack to the top of 4,291-foot Annupuri or the midday ramen at the Lookout Café. Stay at Ki Niseko, a new boutique hotel that opened last winter at the base of Niseko’s Grand Hirafu resort and offers views of the volcano Mount Yotei (from $300). After making your turns, soothe tired muscles in the hotel’s onsen, a traditional hot-spring-fed mineral bath complete with saunas and cold plunges.

Whistler, British Columbia
No other resort in the world offers such a potent combo of quality terrain and bustling nightlife. Fly into Vancouver and take the bus (from $55) two and a half hours to Whistler Village, where you won’t need a car. With 8,100 acres and over 5,000 vertical feet from top to bottom, Whistler demands a full week of riding. Start on Blackcomb Mountain and take the quad-quivering trek out to Spanky’s Ladder. Then make your way to the Peak 2 Peak gondola for the nearly three-mile-long ride over to Whistler Mountain, where the steeps of Whistler Bowl can keep you challenged for hours on end. Refuel with locally cured meats and wine at Basalt Wine and Salumeria, and stay at the stylish, modern Aava Hotel Whistler (from $170). 

Verbier, Switzerland 
The Alps offer extraordinary lines and enticing mountain culture. Fly to Geneva and take the stunning three-hour train ride to Verbier, then check into the Central Hotel for balcony rooms, flaky pastries for breakfast, and easy access to the Médran lift (from $200). From Médran, string together lifts and cable cars to the top of 10,925-foot MontFort, then schuss down open swaths to the Siviez base, where croûte au fromage awaits. One of the best parts about skiing there: you don’t have to venture far for untracked snow, since Euros mainly stick to the piste, leaving powder for those willing to traverse. 

Aspen, Colorado
Who needs Europe when there’s Aspen? You can ski 3,200-foot gondola laps by day and take in contemporary masterpieces at the new Shigeru Ban–designed Aspen Art Museum in the evening. With four mountains to choose from, you’ll never ski the same run twice. At Aspen Highlands, boot-pack to the steeps off 12,392-foot Highland Bowl, then tackle bumps on the Deep Temerity lift. On day two, head to Buttermilk for the mountain’s X Games–worthy terrain parks, or rent alpine-touring gear at Ute Mountaineer for an uphill workout—it’s allowed even when the lifts are running ($50). When you’ve had your fill, snag a room downtown at the Limelight Hotel, which has a European-style breakfast spread and a robust après scene with local bands (from $350).

Best Passes

A huge line at Alta.   Photo: Adam Barker/Tandem

Combo deals just keep getting better.

Epic Pass ($769 and up)
Resorts: Unlimited days at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Afton Alps, Mount Brighton, and, new this winter, Australia’s Perisher.
Additional perks: Six discounted lift tickets for friends and family.
Break-even point: Five days at Vail. 

Mountain Collective ($389 and up)
Resorts: Two days each at Alta/Snowbird, Lake Louise/Sunshine Village, Mammoth, Jackson Hole, Whistler Blackcomb, Aspen Snowmass, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, and, new for this year, Sun Valley, Stowe, and Taos.
Additional perks: Half-price additional days, plus two bonus days at Japan’s Hakuba Valley.
Break-even point: Four days at most participating resorts. 

Rocky Mountain Super Pass+ ($559 and up)
Resorts: Unlimited access at Winter Park, Copper Mountain, and Eldora, plus six days at Steamboat, three days at Crested Butte, and seven days at New Zealand’s Mount Ruapehu.
Additional perks: Discounted tickets for friends and family, plus reduced rates on gear and lodging
Break-even point: Five days at Winter Park or seven at Copper or Eldora. 

M.A.X. Pass ($699 and up)
Resorts: This new pass gives you five days at 22 mountains on both the East Coast—at resorts like Sugarloaf, Stratton, and Killington—and the West Coast, including Steamboat, Big Sky, and Brighton. 
Additional perks: Already have a season pass to one of the participating resorts? Purchase a M.A.X. Pass Add-On for $249 and get five days at the other 21 resorts.
Break-even point: Two weekends at Stratton plus a three-day trip to Big Sky. 

Ski Utah Gold Pass ($4,300)
Resorts: One hundred days at Park City and 50 at each one of Utah’s other 13 resorts, and it’s transferable to your friends and family when you’re not using it.
Additional perks: Use the lifts in summer for hiking and biking.
Break-even point: About 40 days of skiing. 

Powder Alliance (Price varies)
Resorts: Buy a season pass to one of 13 resorts, including Bridger Bowl, Stevens Pass, Crested Butte, Schweitzer, Sierra-at-Tahoe, or Snowbasin, and you’ll get three free days of skiing at each of the partner resorts.
Additional perks: Discounts on lodging, plus reduced-rate single tickets at many of the participating resorts.
Break-even point: Depends, but likely five or six days at your home resort. 

Tahoe Super Pass Gold ($809)
Resorts: Unlimited access to Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, plus four days each at Sierra-at-Tahoe and Sugar Bowl.
Additional perks: Discounts on friends’ and relatives’ tickets , food, gear, and more, plus half-price tickets at resorts in the Mountain Collective.
Break-even point: Six days—and if you come up short, you can get credit for next year. 

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