The Outside Blog

Skiing and Snowboarding : Nov 2012

The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 20. Copper Mountain

Copper Mountain scored higher than most in our safety category. Its ski patrol is huge—260 paid and volunteer members—and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, 10 miles away, has a Level III trauma center. At mountain’s base is a 24-hour emergency service, courtesy of the local fire district.

The training program here is great too: Doug Sakata won Colorado Ski Country USA’s Double Diamond Award and was named “Instructor of the Year.” He’s taught here for 25 years and can pretty well get anyone upright and moving.

A unique indoor ski facility has trampolines, foam pits, and jumps for acrobats who want to get better at moguls and pipes—but if you crave fresh alpine air and need some of those 282 yearly inches of snowfall underneath you, get to one of the three outdoor terrain parks among Copper’s 2,465 “acres of awesome.” Enough trails exist for skiers of all levels—126 runs descend 2,601 vertical feet—and 22 lifts include the new Union Creek high-speed quad, whose five-minute ride gets beginners to their green terrain. Also new is the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center, a full-length downhill venue where you can watch Olympic racers train for gold.

Those with more modest aspirations can enjoy a four-lane tube hill with jumps and banked curves, sleigh rides through the stunning Ten Mile Range, guide-led backcountry snowmobiling, and free snowshoeing tours. A new zip line, 30 feet high and 300 feet long, soars over Copper's West Lake. Three equipment shops get you ready for anything—to get 20 percent off, rent your gear online at least a day in advance.

The staff-to-guest ratio here is five to one, and ski butlers are more than happy to pick up, deliver, or check your snow stuff. There are no real hotels here, but 25 lodging buildings, all within easy walking distance of lifts, spread through Copper’s three little villages. The condo-style rental units range from studios to five-bedroom affairs. If you’d rather stay in another Summit County town, though, there’s free public transit to Keystone, Breckenridge, and other places that benefit from the White River National Forest’s world-class scenery (which Copper Mountain helps preserve by supporting the Ski Conservation Fund, and by recycling and composting).

Copper Mountain has casual restaurants and bars: JJ’s is known for its stone-oven pizzas and live music, while Mulligan’s and Escobar are late-night favorites. Closing weekend (April 13 and 14) brings Sunsation, a mass celebration with live music, a floating rail jam, and an adventure race with obstacles like a hot-chocolate moat, ice slides, and a beer-soaked finish-line party.

CONTACT: (888) 219-2441,
SEASON: Early November to mid-April
TICKETS: General: $79 (discounted for military personnel), children: $54; ages 70 and older: $54, ages 4 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 21. Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Crested Butte is known for providing the ultimate in gnarl. The teaching staff is directed by Nick Herrin—who’s been on the PSIA national alpine team for eight years—and employs other current and former national team members including Olympian and extreme skier Wendy Fisher. CB’s Group North Face Guides takes powder hounds who want to get into freeskiing into extreme terrain.

Since this is a place that encourages risk-taking, there’s a full-time safety manager and all department heads are trained to reduce the chances of something bad happening. The 52-member ski patrol are all paid staff, and a team of 35 volunteers pitch in (they’re paid in ski passes). It’s a concerning 30 miles to Gunnison Valley Hospital but the Crested Butte Medical Center is at the base of the Silver Queen lift.

Sixteen total lifts (including two gondolas) levy more than 20,000 people per hour to 121 trails, which, it should be said, do include some beginner runs. Three hundred inches of annual snowfall make for the season’s six percent of powder days, which spread over 1,167 skiable acres. CB’s Adventure Park, atop of the Red Lady Express offers a ropes course, a climbing wall, and a tube park. There’s also options for sleigh rides, mountain tours, NASTAR racing, and snowshoeing.

Though lift tickets are pricey, equipment rentals are crazy affordable (one-day packages start at $26). Ski valets are at your service, and multiday storage is available for $5 per night—or for free, if you’re staying at either of the resort-managed hotels.

Those are the Grand Lodge Crested Butte and the ski-in/ski-out Elevation Hotel but there’s also the Lodge at Mountaineer Square for those who want to rent a high-end condos, all of which are within 200 yards of the lifts. Free campsites are two miles away, and a free bus runs from town to the mountain and throughout the condo complexes.

The après scene is lively. For food, try the tapas at Djano’s, the Mexican specialties at Jefe’s, or the newish Ice Bar at Uley’s Cabin, where you can opt for a five-course sleigh-ride dinner. Crested Butte’s pedestrian village presents a mix of retail offerings, including the new Sweet Spot, an arcade-candy shop for kids. Most popular for nightlife are Lobar, the Eldo, Dogwood Cocktail Cabin, Montanya Rum Distillers, and Kochevar’s, a dive bar in a historic building.

Be here January 16 to 19 to catch the Crested Butte Songwriters Festival, which brings talented ditty-scribblers up from Nashville. Closing weekend brings the Flauschink Festival and its polka dancing and coronation ball. FestEvol, over March 17 and 18, is a celebration of mountain sports, natural foods, and eco-living.

All year round, though, the resort makes environmental efforts, protecting native species, offering tours that educate guests about local flora, and, over the past four years, reducing its energy consumption by 16 percent and increasing its yearly recycling rate to 60 percent.

Its guest-return rate must approach that number too, since this rustically pretty little town near Gunnison National Forest aligns its quirky charm with the timeless beauty of the Continental Divide.

CONTACT: (800) 810-7669,
SEASON: Mid-November to early April
TICKETS: General: $92 (discounted for military personnel), children: $46, ages 65 and older: $69, ages 6 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 22. Northstar California Resort

Here’s an astonishing fact: Since 2004, more than $1 billion has been poured into improving Northstar. Much of that fortune went toward adding luxury lodgings and developing real estate. But a good swath of it funded new lifts (there are 20 now, including two gondolas), a glade-skiing pod, two backside trails (for a new total of 97 runs), and improved snowmaking—though 350 natural inches yearly is nothing to dismiss (powder days here: 11 percent). Naturally, this is a fairly expensive place to ski and stay; the main hotel here is a AAA 5-Diamond Ritz-Carlton, which tells you something.

Among the 3,170 groomed acres are nine terrain parks and a 22-foot superpipe designed by Shaun White, who calls Northstar home. Other pro boarders you should keep an eye out for: Torstein Horgmo, Chas Guldemond, and Eero Ettala.

Northstar’s ski school will customize an experience for you, whether you want to learn how to ski the trees, or take a lesson at the Burton Snowboard Academy—new this year is Burton’s Riglet park, optimized to teach three- to six-year-olds how to ride. Instructors are trained by Mike Hafer, one of just 24 PSIA demo team members.

This Vail Resorts-owned mountain has a snow patrol that’s on the smaller side but runs an onsite medical facility during winter, and two fire stations. As for wildlife survivability, Northstar has a habitat-management plan and is working on establishing an open-space conservation area. Electricity consumption has gone down 10 percent over the last four years, and 19 percent of trash was either recycled or composted. A plan to phase out bottled water is also in the works.

The beautiful Village at Northstar is a popular spot for white weddings and the first-ever LEED-certified mountain-resort town. Its stores cater to moneyed winter athletes, and a modest selection of restaurants includes Mikuni, a sushi bar, and the new Tavern 6330, where you can have s’mores around a firepit. Family-friendly activities—a tube park, a movie theater, live music—converge around a centerpiece 9,000-square-foot outdoor skating rink. Adult-only activities here are more limited—there’s not much nightlife—but the Crystal Bay Club casino isn’t far.

If you’re laying your powder-filled head at the ski-in/ski-out Ritz-Carlton, you’ll have access to ski valets, creative spa treatments (a cabernet-inspired Napa Journey wrap and massage reminds you you’re in California), and Manzanita restaurant, where Traci Des Jardins whips up attention-getting French-California cuisine. Also keep in mind that it’d be a shame to travel all the way here and not at least get a glimpse of the glory that is Lake Tahoe, so consider staying a night or two at the wonderful—and newly renovated—Hyatt Incline Village, a 15-mile drive from Northstar.

One more tip: Pre-rent your gear online so that you can get in the express line once you get here. More time on the slopes, yo.

CONTACT: (530) 562-1010,
SEASON: Mid-November to mid-April
TICKETS: General: $91 (discounts for half-day tickets and military and police personnel), children: $53, ages 65 and older: $82, ages 4 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 23. Mont Tremblant Ski Resort

Brush up your French, folks, because Tremblant’s got a great ski school. It features camps for near-expert youth, a female-only program called “Elle Ski,” and 100-minute lessons for bi-skiers. The staff of more than 300 teachers includes 34 Level 4-certified pros, nine former members of Canada’s national ski team, and Linda Crutchfield, a three-time Olympian.

Forty percent of the 95 runs here are for expert-level alpinists, who tend to dominate the 156 yearly inches of powder dumped on 2,116 vertical feet spread over 654 skiable acres. There are three terrain parks too, plus an ice-skating rink, sleigh rides, and a nearby tube park.

Tremblant didn’t win many points for safety, though: This is where actress Natasha Richardson had her fatal fall during a lesson—but the ski patrol remains small and there’s no 24-hour emergency service. It’s 25 miles to the nearest hospital, but an onsite physician responds to emergencies, and there’s a full-time risk manager. Still, given the high-profile accident, one would think this Intrawest-owned resort would have done more by now—the company responded to Richardson’s death merely by recommending that guests wear helmets.

This destination, in the Laurentian Mountains 90 miles northwest of Montreal, is popular—journalist Lowell Thomas helped raise its profile it in the 1940s—so 13 onsite hotels keep their 1,900 guestrooms fairly full. Among the more acclaimed ones are the Westin, the Fairmont, and the Hilton—and the Plaza St. Bernard and Sommet des Neiges just got renovated. Ski valets and butlers aren’t hard to come by, nor is ski-in/ski-out access.

The colorful European-style town is lined with more than 40 restaurants, 30 shops, a couple of dance-heavy nightclubs (Café d'Époque and P’tit Caribou), even a gondola-accessible casino. Nearby recreation facilities offer a ropes course, a zip line, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and camping at Mont-Tremblant National Park. The scenery here is nothing short of world-class, so the resort’s wildlife-management projects ensure it stays that way.

CONTACT: (888) 738-1777,
SEASON: Late November to early April
TICKETS: General: $76 (reduced-price half-day tickets offered), children $55, ages 65 and older: $66, ages 3 and 4: $8.44, ages 2 and younger: free.

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 24. Killington Resort

Notable at Killington is the high-caliber ski school, whose instructors include Olympic gold medalist and world-champion mogul skier Donna Weinbrecht (she leads “Women’s Weekends”), extreme skier Dan Egan, pro freeskier Ian Compton, and pro boarder Yale Cousino, whose Monster Freeride Session coach riders on pipes. There’s also the Burton Learn to Ride program, and “First Tracks” lessons for tots between two and four years old. For non-skiing kids, there’s daycare, a tube park, and sleigh rides.

Over the last five years, the resort has plowed $20 million into upgrades like the new Skye Peak Express quad, improved snowmaking, and fine-tuning its 140 varied runs. The sport season is long here (six percent are powder days) and over it, 250 snow inches fall on 752 skiable acres. Twenty-two lifts give access to Killington’s 3,076 vertical feet, while five terrain parks take care of those working to perfect their acro tricks. Four gear shops get everyone outfitted.

As for safety, there’s a medical clinic on site but the ski patrol is tiny and the nearest hospital is 16 miles away. Guests are given 24-hour emergency phone number to call if anything happens.

Killington looks for ways to protect the planet too—there’s a long list of stuff the resort does to this effect, including buying 26 million renewable-energy credits per year, enough to cancel out almost 18,000 tons of CO2. The K-1 Express Gondola runs off “cow power”—electricity generated from manure. And to reduce traffic, the resort subsidizes public transit, including a free van service that transports guests between lodgings.

The ski-in/ski-out Killington Resort Grand Hotel is the main place to stay (its spa offers maple syrup treatments) but there are plenty of slopeside condos and homes for rent too, some that come with ski-valet service. Around town are at least 50 bars and restaurants, plus the raucous Wobbly Barn, whose themed parties, live music, and drink specials make for memorable nights—or for ones you might not remember at all.

Come, if you can, between March 22 and 31, when the annual Nor’beaster brings a carnival, live music, pond-skimming attempts, and slopestyle contests for skiers and riders.

CONTACT: (800) 887-3257,
SEASON: Early November to late April
TICKETS: General: $86 (discounts offered to military personnel and groups of 10 or more), children: $60, ages 65 and older: $73, ages 6 and younger: free

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