The Outside Blog

Adventure : Nov 2012

The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 15. Deer Valley Resort

Boarders: Look elsewhere. Riding isn’t allowed here, a fact that spurred Burton to offer thousands of dollars for footage of snowboarders taking on any of Deer Valley’s 3,000 vertical feet.

Skiers, however, are perfectly content on DV’s 100 diverse trails spread over 2,026 vast acres. With 300 annual inches of snowfall, three onsite gear shops, and $8 million in improvements this season (a few of the 22 lifts got replaced and snowmaking capabilities got expanded), this steeply priced place will give you what you pay for: Upscale service at the birthplace of the pampering amenities now common at many ski resorts, like valets, childcare, and free overnight storage.

Deer Park was an official Olympic venue in 2002 and still hosts high-stakes contests. Gold medalist Stein Eriksen is the director of skiing here, and instructors include former members of the national teams of Switzerland and Bolivia, plus experts who’ve developed children’s programs for the PSIA.

The resort’s all-employee ski patrol is 70 members strong, and Park City Hospital is 5.5 miles from the base, though doctors are at the resort daily.

Among the elegant hotels here are the AAA 5-Diamond Stein Eriksen Lodge, the Craftsman-style Montage Deer Valley, and the luxurious but family-friendly St. Regis Deer Valley, all of which are ski-in/ski-out. Free buses take guests between all three base areas, and within five miles of the resort is most anything you could want: the Utah Olympic Park, the Sundance Festival movie theaters, an ice-skating rink, an alpine coaster, a bowling alley, and many spas.

The dining scene is refined: Goldener Hirsch, Grappa Italian, River Horse, and the Glitretind all maintain high standards. Main Street, a mile from Deer Valley’s base area, is the heartbeat of a charmingly historic village whose eclectic shops, galleries, and bars fill up with celebrities and artsy thespian types every January during Sundance.

Deer Valley is in the Wasatch Range, whose delicate ecology is protected by the resort-supported Summit Land Conservancy. Environmental managers saw to it that nearly 1,000 acres of land be set aside with conservation easements. They also implemented a major energy-saving lighting upgrade and bought wind-energy credits to offset 10 percent of the mountain’s electricity use. There are significant recycling and water-conservation efforts here, and much of the heavy equipment runs on biodiesel.

Besides conventional skiing, you can partake in sleigh rides (some that’ll take you to fireside dining at the European-style Empire Canyon Lodge), a NASTAR racing course, snowshoeing, hot-air ballooning, and heli skiing. Just not, mind you, snowboarding.

CONTACT: (800) 424-3337, deervalley.com
SEASON: Early December to mid-April
TICKETS: General: $96 (discounted for military personnel), children: $60, ages 65 and older: $69, ages 2 and younger: $21

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 16. Stowe Mountain Resort

This is Vermont, a state whose culture is to lean into environmentalism. To that end, Stowe permanently protected 2,000 acres of open space, 10 of which are on Spruce Peak’s wildlife-filled summit, where a new 110-million-gallon snowmaking lake makes use of stormwater runoff. This Vermont hideaway is the only U.S. mountain resort to have been certified as an Audubon International Sustainable Community: Its cabins are EPA five-star rated, 50 percent of the mountain’s energy comes from hydropower, and traffic-reducing measures include a trolley, a new intermountain gondola, and a highly walkable base area, called Spruce Plaza.

Whereas Stowe does phenomenally around eco-concerns, it doesn’t do quite as well on safety ones: The rescue program is a few miles away, the ski patrol is small, and there’s no onsite doctor or even a full-time risk manager.

However, Stowe lovers overlook all that for the 2,160 vertical feet packed with 116 mostly intermediate-level runs. There are just 485 skiable acres but 333 inches of annual snowfall, with 13 diverse lifts. Spruce Peak’s broad, gentle trails are where kids learn, while adults can take a “Stowe for Starters” class. The faculty here consists of more than 300 instructors, including Dave Merriam, who headed the national PSIA demo team. Other snow-related amenities: a terrain park, snowshoe tours, and sleigh rides.

Some of the lodgings here offer ski valets, including the ski-in/ski-out AAA 4-Diamond Stowe Mountain Lodge, whose recent revamp gave it an “alpine aesthetic” and a new spa. The sophisticated Topnotch Resort and Spa only has 68 rooms but a sprawling 120 acres. Also nearby are a plethora of cute B&Bs, an array of rental condos and houses, plus campsites by which to better experience a Green Mountain winter.

Stowe itself doesn’t have a ton of off-hill recreational options, but there is an ice-skating rink as well as a movie theater nearby, and more than 30 bars (the merriest nightlife scenes play out to live music at Rusty Nail & Matterhorn and Rimrocks). For tamer entertainment, the new, 410-seat Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center presents shows by maestros like Itzhak Perlman. And the best restaurant in town is Solstice, a AAA 4-Diamond affair whose finely crafted dishes rely on local Vermont flavorings.

For 10 days in mid-January, the Stowe Winter Carnival livens things up with tourneys of all types, including hockey, snow golf, snow volleyball—plus parties, ice-carving, and a slew of kid-friendly activities.

CONTACT: (800) 253-4754, stowe.com
SEASON: Late November to mid-April
TICKETS: General: $79, children: $58, ages 65 and older: $66, children age 4 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 17. Winter Park Resort

With a majority of expert runs, an excellent safety program, and 388 inches of annual snowfall, Winter Park is a high-altitude gem in the Rockies for serious rippers. It’s also the home of the National Sports Center for the Disabled, so skiers and riders with physical challenges are accommodated here better than anywhere else.

Many of Winter Park’s 134 trails are historic, and descend 3,060 feet over 3,081 acres. Twenty-five lifts, including an open-air gondola, soar over groomed runs, moving up to 40,000 people per hour between three peaks. There’s a terrain park, a good-sized ski patrol, an onsite medical clinic, and three full-service gear shops—when you rent equipment, opt for delivery service if you like.

Several former members of the U.S. ski team teach here, and the signature educational offerings include a private-lesson center, early-morning classes for first tracks, and Bob’s mogul camp—Bob Barnes has been a PSIA demo team member, and Jim Shaw is one now.

Staffed kids’ programs go into the night and take little ones tubing, climbing, and under-the-stars skating. A tube park is set to open in December. There’s also an alpine coaster, sleigh rides, ski biking, snowcat and snowshoe tours, and a spa for when you just need to recover from it all.

Habitat here is important: the Intrawest-owned resort conducted a study of local lynxes and hares to make sure the animals’ homes weren’t being adversely affected. In 2002, Winter Park bought 60,000 ladybugs to negate the need for pesticides (ladybugs eat other insects), and trails around the resort have benefited from reforestation efforts. Managers make sure that Winter Park recycles, composts, and uses AreaNet, a computerized program that monitors electricity consumption to shuts appliances off when they’re not being used.

There’s a decent restaurant scene downtown—Sharky’s is a must-try for breakfast—plus a movie theater, a bowling alley, and a few fun bars, including Deno’s and the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Café. Among the lodging options is Gasthaus Eichler, a heartily German-themed boutique hotel whose hot tub is in a gazebo. The complimentary homemade breakfast is customized for skiers, and an après-ski happy hour comes with free snacks. The hotel will even give you a comped gear wax.

CONTACT: (800) 729-7907, winterparkresort.com
SEASON: Mid-November to late April
TICKETS: General: $94 (reduced-price half-day tickets offered; discounts given to military personnel), children: $53, ages 65 and older: $77, ages 4 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 18. Beaver Creek Ski Resort

The slogan at Beaver Creek is “not exactly roughing it,” a tipoff to the manicured poshness that awaits here. In fact, some purists complain about how overly groomed BC’s 149 runs are. The balks aren’t loud enough, though, to prevent the resort from regularly hosting the Men's World Cup, nor from getting picked as the 2015 venue of the World Alpine Championships. In anticipation of that event, the resort is adding a new ladies’ speed course comprising 17 acres of double-black terrain. Among other new features are high-speed lifts, better snowmaking, and a center for the children’s ski school.

Instructors collectively speak more than 14 languages and include former national ski and snowboard team members. The men’s demo team competes internationally, having won the World Synchro title five times over the past decade. New this season is a Lindsey Vonn program that pairs girls with female teachers who help them feel empowered them while building skills.

Lift tickets are expectedly expensive, but you get 3,340 vertical feet spread over 1,815 skiable acres and 17 diverse types of lifts, including two gondolas, to get you everywhere. Three terrain parks benefit from 310 yearly snow inches, and nine onsite gear-rental shops are so accommodating that they’ll deliver directly to your room.

Beaver Creek offers plenty of upscale rentals, including Gerald and Betty Ford’s former home. In terms of hotels, you could do worse than the 45-room Osprey or the 190-room Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, both AAA 4-Diamond rated. Ski valets work both properties, and Osprey’s publicists claim that it’s the closest hotel to a chairlift in North America, at just 26 feet from the Strawberry Park Express. Likewise, the Park Hyatt’s backyard is the ski area’s base—the hotel’s beloved Allegria Spa makes for an idyllic alpine getaway in which hot tubs are fed by a mountain waterfall.

The natural surroundings here are absolutely gorgeous, and Beaver Creek works hard to keep them that way. The resort scored high on our sustainability criteria, having reduced its energy consumption 10 percent over the last five years and recycled more than 135,000 pounds of paper, the equivalent of almost 1,200 trees. A food-waste diversion program prevented 18 tons of landfill waste this year, and 80 percent of the water used for snowmaking got returned to local streams.

Recreational options at family-friendly Beaver Creek include snowshoe tours (they’re free), Thursday Night Lights (a glowstick ski-down), a tube park (with a new maze), disco ice-skating nights, rail jams, trampolining, winter fly fishing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding.

Free buses shuttle into and out of the resort every five minutes but much of what you’ll want is right here, not least of which is a distinguished restaurant scene. Spago in the Ritz-Carlton at Bachelor Gulch presents Wolfgang Puck’s latest concoctions while elegant, remote Zach’s Cabin is gotten to via a scenic snowcat ride. Also at Beaver Creek is the 530-seat Vilar Performing Arts Center, whose lineup this season promises opera and dance troupes, plus the Beach Boys.

From January 24 to 27 is Beaver Creek’s food-and-wine weekend, featuring top chefs, and from November 30 to December 2 is the Birds of Prey World Cup, a race in which Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, and Ted Ligerty have dominated in years past.

CONTACT: (970) 845-9090, beavercreek.com
SEASON: Late November to mid-April
TICKETS: General: $105 (reduced-price half-day tickets available; discounts offered to military personnel, flight attendants, and travel agents), children: $73, ages 65 and older: $95, ages 4 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 19. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Fancy, famous Jackson Hole is just south of Grand Teton National Park. Fly straight into the local airport to be floored by the stunning, peak-dominated scenery. Not for long, though: Ways to get back aloft include five terrain parks, 12 lifts, and a staff whose roster shines with names like Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe, pro boarder Brian Iguchi, and Benny Wilson, who started the Jackson Hole Air Force. You can take private lessons with any of these three big names, or enroll yourself in a camp like “Out of Bounds,” for those burning to get into backcountry. There are children’s camps too, and a kids’ pre-ski program puts tots onto sleds and the high-speed gondola.

Average annual snowfall here is 475 inches and the percentage of powder days within these 2,500 skiable acres per season is rather decent, at 14. Half of the 116 trails (4,139 vertical feet) are for experts who don’t get intimidated by steeps, glades, or gullies.

A lot of money converges here—Jackson Hole is the home of the annual Federal Reserve symposium, and over the past five years, $75 million has been invested into things like a new aerial tram and other lifts, groomers, improved snowmakers, and the million-dollar Kids Ranch. Lift tickets, as one would expect, are very expensive but demo packages are more reasonable, starting at $42.50 for quality gear.

The town manages to maintain a rugged Old West feel: Walkable Teton Village has bars, sports shops, and a high-end collection of ski-in/ski-out hotels that provide ski butlers, including the Four Seasons, Hotel Terra, Snake River Lodge, and the Inn at Jackson Hole. There’s also a wide variety of rental condos and homes—and for campers, an RV park is five miles from the resort.

New eateries to try are the Tin Can Cantina (Mexican food) and the quick-fix Hungry Jack’s General Store but don’t miss Couloir, a highly eco-conscious fine-dining restaurant atop the Bridger Gondola.

Jackson Hole is a founding member of the Climate Challenge, a sustainability program whose goal is to “keep winter cool” by toning down the ski industry’s emissions. To that end, JH has emplaced significant energy-conservation program in place and encourages carpooling so heartily that any car bringing in three or more people can park for free.

It’d be a travesty to come here and not see some genuine Wyoming wildlife, so make it a point to take an animal-spotting safari—the Four Seasons offers good ones. And if you don’t mind end-of-season skiing, come in late March for Jackson Hole’s Mountain Festival, an all-out party with concerts, fireworks, and the silliest of races.

CONTACT: (888) 333-7766, jacksonhole.com
SEASON: Late November to early April
TICKETS: General: $105 (discounted for teachers and military and police personnel, and for groups of 10 or more; reduced-price half-day tickets are available), children: $63, ages 65 and older: $84, ages 4 and younger: free

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