The Outside Blog

Skiing and Snowboarding : Nov 2012

The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 25. Sugar Bowl Resort

Sugar Bowl is really all about skiing and nature. The historic resort scored pretty dismally in the realms of après and off-hill recreation offerings (there’s a spa, sleigh rides around Christmas, a few laid-back bars, and that’s it) but its powder conditions speak for themselves.

Annual snowfall here is 500 inches, and the rate of powder days is 14 percent. Though only 1,500 skiable acres descend 1,500 vertical feet, Sugar Bowl makes the most of its space with its 102 trails and 13 lifts. Runs are geared most toward intermediate-level skiers but for jibbers, five terrain parks do the trick.

Comparatively speaking, this is a reasonably priced place to ski with good value. Case in point: If you’re unsatisfied with the snow conditions, turn your lift ticket in within an hour of buying it to get full admission for another day. And, amazingly, your first ski or board lesson here is free: The price of an all-day lift ticket includes a free two-hour group lesson at any level on most weekdays. To really treat yourself, though, book a private session with boarder-cross Olympian X-Games medalist Jayson Hale.

Equipment rental won’t break the bank, either—a standard one-day gear package during peak season costs $46 (but if you only want the stuff for a half-day, it’s $38). Of the three gear shops on site, one is specifically for kids.

The one hotel here, the Lodge at Sugar Bowl, is ski-in/ski-out, low-key (though it does employ ski valets), and family-oriented. Walt Disney was an early investor in Sugar Bowl, and if this building looks familiar, that’s because it was featured in the 1941 Goofy classic The Art of Skiing.

Rental homes are scattered throughout this scenic area—but if you feel like staying in a fancier hotel, or dining or partying, for that matter, take the free shuttle to Truckee, 10 miles away, whose quaint downtown strip offers a variety of pleasantries.

Sugar Bowl is deeply invested in its environmental responsibilities (this seems to be a theme with the California resorts) and does more than can be listed here to make sure they’re bothering as little as possible. A conservation committee meets monthly to emplace programs that have so far preserved nearby wetlands, limited motorized vehicles in sensitive areas, cut energy consumption 10 percent over the last five years, and made the snowmobile fleet far more efficient. Most notably, Sugar Bowl buys wind energy to offset 100 percent of its electricity use. Now that’s sweet.

CONTACT: (530) 426-9000,
SEASON: Late November to late April
TICKETS: General: $77 (50% off for military personnel), children: $25, ages 70 and older: $65, age 4 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 26. Aspen Mountain

Aspen’s signature hill (sometimes still called by its former name, Ajax) is actually pretty tiny: 3,267 vertical feet with 675 skiable acres serviced by just eight lifts. But 76 is a solid number of trails, and they’re groomed for intermediate-to-expert-level skiers—there’s not a single green run at this Skico-owned resort.

Its base-level rental shop provides for overnight ski and snowboard storage, and for free gear transfer if you’re heading to Snowmass, Buttermilk, or Highlands. You’re also allowed to switch out your equipment to accommodate snow conditions: Seven percent of days here are powder ones, and 300 inches of snow falls per year.

There’s a bit of a sad legacy here—this is where Michael Kennedy died—but the ski patrol remains small (fewer than 100 members). It’s less than three miles to Aspen Valley Hospital, but there’s no 24-hour emergency service on site, nor a physician who can respond to emergencies. A full-time safety manager, however, is tasked with reducing Aspen’s number of accidents.

This resort scored highest in the hospitality and lodging category. Among the more than 15 luxe hotels here is the ski-in/ski-out Little Nell, one of just 16 five-star, five-diamond hotels in America. Its modern new restaurant, Element 47, debuts on Thanksgiving (its name is a hat tip to Aspen’s mining roots—silver is that number on the periodic table). Other notable properties include the St. Regis and the Sky Hotel, and perhaps the restaurant most worthy of trying in downtown Aspen is Syzygy, whose elegant cuisine frequently comes with a side of live jazz.

Also downtown is a movie theater, a recreation center with a climbing wall, and Victorian-style architecture that houses an upscale collection of boutiques and eateries.

An après-ski afternoon at Aspen might involve watching the game or shooting pool at Zane’s, getting glad at the Red Onion’s happy hour, then dancing your heart out at trendy Escobar. A not-to-be missed dining experience is at the Little Nell’s Sundeck, a three-mile gondola ride up to Aspen’s 11,212-foot summit. The cusine is inspired and the view of the Continental Divide is unparalleled. Plus the building is LEED-certified.

Aspen’s one of the more expensive places you can go skiing: You may find yourself riding alongside a great mind—the prestigious Aspen Institute think tank is here, as is the Aspen Center for Physics (so if you need to calculate velocity...) and the Aspen Music School. Some call the culture here elitist but while you’re shredding lines and catching air, you won’t give a lark.

CONTACT: (800) 362-7736,
SEASON: Late November to mid-April

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 27. Kirkwood Mountain Resort

This Tahoe-area resort is more affordable than most and gets an amazing amount of snow—600 annual inches—making for a solid 11 percent of powder days per season. It’s only got 2,300 skiable acres and 2,000 vertical feet but 72 runs keep intermediate and advanced skiers satisfied (only 15 percent of Kirkwood’s trails are for beginners). Jibbers can catch air in any of four terrain parks, and snowshoers and cross-country skiers get their terrain too.

It’s uncommon for a ski resort not to offer childcare, but this one doesn’t. So if you want to ditch the offspring, you’ll have to stick them in the ski school’s Small Fry classes (for ages two to four) or its Burton Learn-to-Ride program. Instructors here are notably high-caliber, so they’ll be in good hands.

Kirkwood scored well on its environmentalism too: The resort has taken measures that saved 35 percent of electricity usage and two million gallons of water. The not-too-far-off plan is to install 20 wind turbines that’ll generate 20 percent of Kirkwood’s energy needs. Guests can get onboard with the conservation efforts—buy a $2 or $10 green tag to stick on your ski pass and you’ll be helping the resort buy renewable-energy credits.

Where to stay is a good question, since Kirkwood proper doesn’t have any hotels. It is surrounded, though, by Heavenly and Northstar, as well as rental cabins (some that are ski-in/ski-out) and campsites, so figuring something out shouldn’t be too difficult.

Off-hill recreation isn’t as robust here as it is at other resorts but there is an alpine coaster, a zipline, snowmobiles, and snowcat tours. A small pedestrian village offers decent restaurants, shops and bars, and South Lake’s casino scene isn’t too far a drive.

CONTACT: (209) 258-7406,
SEASON: Late November to mid-April
TICKETS: General: $79 (discounted on certain dates for military personnel), children $65 (ages 4 and younger: $10), ages 65 and older: $54. Half-day tickets: $64

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 28. Revelstoke Mountain Resort

The ‘stoke gets crazy snow: 720 annual inches, making for 19 percent powder days per season. There are only four lifts here—one’s a gondola—that’ll take you to any of 40 trails, which are fairly evenly spaced out across skill levels.

The ski school’s top instructors are Justin Garey, who holds Canada's speed-skiing record, and Filip Mertlick, a former Czech World Cup team member. Adults can take brush-up classes and for first-timer kids, the Discover package ($59) comes with a lift ticket, rentals, and a two-hour lesson.

Though 5,620 vertical feet are there for downhillers to ravage, there’s also most any other kind of skiing you’d want: cat, heli, cross-country, backcountry, plus an onsite equipment shop with a big selection of high-performance gear. Other at-resort highlights include a new tube park, a skating rink, dog sledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. January sees the North Face’s Swatch Freeride World Tour, and February’s for the Spirit Festival, a week-long celebration of music and multiculturalism.

The resort’s environmental footprint is a mixed bag: It monitors and reports wildlife activity within 515,000 acres, holds regular “bear aware” programs, and claims to relocate work crews if wildlife is impacted. Heli trips actively avoid goat migration paths. But Revelstoke is also planning a huge development that’ll pave over land that’s currently wild habitat—the expansion will encompass 500,000 square feet of commercial space and 5,000 new housing units.

Aside from that upcoming addition, Revy’s already got a couple of pedestrian villages with retail and lodging offerings—one at the resort and another in town. Each of Sutton Place Hotel’s 222 new condo-style rooms have kitchens, fireplaces, balconies—and ski-in/ski-out access. The staff-to-guest ratio at Sutton is one to four, and it offers full concierge services.

Other niceties in town include a lively restaurant scene (worth trying: Woolsey Creek Bistro, 112 SteakHouse, and Kawa Kubo), bars (the Village Idiot is a fun place to drink), nightclubs (dance ‘til 2 a.m. at The Last Drop), a bowling alley, a movie theater—and that’s to say nothing of the town’s gorgeous Monashee Mountain scenery, the more beautiful for being right near the Columbia River. If you’ve got an RV, the local KOA welcomes hard-sided campers during winter.

CONTACT: (866) 373-4754,
SEASON: Early December to early April
TICKETS: General: $76 ($60 for a half day), children: $27 to $59, ages 65 and older: $59; ages 5 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 29. Snowmass

Snowmass, true to its name, gets a boatload of snow: 300 inches per year, and 10 percent of its days are powder ones. Nestled within the Rockies’ majestic grandeur and White River National Forest, it’s one of the four members of Skico’s Aspen group (along with Highlands, Buttermilk, and Aspen Mountain) and shares their excellent ski school. Take a lesson here and you’ll likely get a high-level instructor, plus options for special programs like the three-day Black Diamond Expedition.

When you’re not conquering the 3,132 ski acres (4,406 vertical feet), you can snowshoe, cross-country ski, or take a backcountry tour. There are also three terrain parks, sleigh rides, an outdoor ice rink, a climbing wall, and a winter staff of 1,500 at the ready.

Snowmass is the home of the shared daycare facility for Skico’s four resorts, which’ll watch tots as young as eight weeks old. The $17-million, 25,000-square-foot Treehouse Adventure Center enthralls with hands-on activities and themed spaces like the Butterfly Room, Trout Haven, and a kid-centric climbing gym.

There’s a free roundtrip shuttle to Aspen Village, nine miles away, but Snowmass Mall has shops, dining spots, and bars, and Snowmass Base Village, a short gondola ride down, also promises entertainment—Basecamp features live music and dancing. Six hotels (plus some rental condos) comprise Snowmass’s lodgings, and some are ski-in/ski-out: the lovely, modern Viceroy Snowmass, Snowmass Mountain Chalet, and Stonebridge Inn. The 254-room Westin Snowmass, which opens this winter after a complete overhaul of the former Silvertree Hotel, will be ski-in/ski-out too, and will offer a full-service ski concierge. Also new here is Elk Camp, a $13-million mid-mountain restaurant a few feet from one of Snowmass’s two gondolas. The upscale, multi-station eatery has an outdoor deck and its building is LEED-certified.

Though Snowmass does make some eco-efforts—all facilities on the hill recycle and there’s a free parking lot for hybrids—conservation has been a bit of a hot issue here. In October, a judge ruled that Snowmass could develop 230 additional acres of ski runs, brushing aside the concerns of a non-profit concerned about all the trees the Burnt Mountain project would kill. On the flip side, Snowmass does maintain its own 115-kilowatt micro-hydroelectric plant which prevents 150 tons of carbon dioxide being released.

Snowmass is one of the most expensive resorts on this list, so to squeeze the most out of your money, consider timing your visit so that you can either experience Bud Light Big Air Fridays (every Friday from February 8 to March 29), when athletes showcase their newest big-jump tricks, or Schneetag on closing day (April 14), when costumed teams try to propel a self-built craft down a slope and over a 30-foot-wide pond. Needless to say, most participants end up soaked, and spectators end up doubled over in laughter.

CONTACT: (888) 649-5982,
SEASON: Late November to mid-April

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