The Outside Blog

Adventure : Nov 2012

The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 05. Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth is the cool kid on the ski-resort scene. With a more than a dash of California edge, eight terrain parks, and regulars like Shaun White who come for the 18- and 22-foot pipes, this Eastern Sierra snow spot (400 inches per season with 300 days of sun) blows most other hills out of the water.

By the numbers, things look like this: 150 trails to cruise, 3,100 feet of vertical rise, and 3,500 acres of diverse terrain. All 28 lifts are high-speed and include three gondolas for a movement capacity of 45,000 people hourly (still, lines get long). The equipment shop has a demo center and a separate kids’ rental space, and provides overnight tuning service.

Pricing here is accessible and deals abound: If you’re going to stay on green runs, you get $30 off your lift ticket. If you’re older than 80, you ski free. And if you’re parents bringing kids, the two of you can get in on one shared ticket.

Children go nuts at Woolly’s Adventure Summit, where unbridled fun derives from a six-lane tube park, kids-only trails, snowman-making, snowball-throwing, and free-flowing hot chocolate. There’s also plenty off the mountain that’ll entertain young ones: geocaching, a movie theater, ice skating, and, currently being built, a bowling alley.

To take care of the mountain’s one million yearly guests, 2,300 clean-shaven employees do a variety of jobs: More than 100 of them are on the ski patrol and clean up bad bails. Others are Level 4-certified instructors who lead mogul-focused camps, women’s clinics, and, when there’s a 12-inch forecast, powder-day lessons.

The area’s more than 50 lodgings include the pet-friendly Westin Monache, the centrally located Auberge Residences, and Tallus, a collection of luxury rentals. There are lots of campsites nearby too—Twin Lakes is closest but others abound.

In terms of restaurants, look for Campo, opening this December, and Green V, a vegan, gluten-free eatery on the mountain. The pedestrian village is packed with shops, bars, and nightclubs—and free transportation gets you between the town and the ski area. The drive here is a slog from both Los Angeles and San Francisco, so fly into Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH) if you can.

Mammoth knows that much of its business relies on local wildlife thriving (and on greater climate issues), so it takes measures to assure bear safety, conserve a significant amount of energy, recycle 130,000 pounds per year, and use biodiesel in its mountain fleet.

Don’t let the fact that it’s winter stop you from seeing the wonders of the Ansel Adams National Wilderness area: It’d be a travesty to come all the way here and neglect to make a pilgrimage to Devil’s Postpile or Rainbow Falls—both unforgettable sights.

CONTACT: (800) 626-6684,
SEASON: Early November to early June
TICKETS: General: $75 (half-day tickets cost less; discounts offered to military personnel), ages 65 and older: $64, children: $58, ages 6 and younger and 80 and older: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 06. Steamboat Ski Resort

Steamboat’s ski-school staff is basically a roster of former Olympians: Billy Kidd, Deb Armstrong, Nelson Carmichael, and Caroline Lalive all work here, as do Aussie and Kiwi champions and six members of the PSIA-AASI national team.

Within the past couple of years, the four terrain parks got new trails and many of the 18 lifts were treated to major upgrades—the most recently built ones run on solar and wind power. They unload atop 165 trails, onto which 354 annual snow inches fall, creating 10 percent of powder days per season. Of the 3,668 vertical feet descending 2,965 skiable acres, just 14 percent of the terrain is designated for beginners; the rest is pretty evenly split between blues and blacks. For riders, a freestyle park-and-pipe clinic is helpful for bagging tricks.

Bear, a safety dog, helps make sure that things are copacetic, as does the ski patrol’s more than 100 members. The nearest hospital is less than a mile from the hill and a team of 12 doctors share on-call duty for the resort throughout the winter.

Total peak-season staffers number almost 1,700. Among them are ski valets who will, upon request, come to your hotel room to fit you into gear. Lodging options here include the big, middle-of-the-road Steamboat Grand; One Steamboat Place, a slopeside collection of private residences; and the rustic-chic Vista Verde Guest Ranch, a AAA 4-Diamond lodge that’s happy to coordinate experiences like backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding. There’s also a KOA open to RVs.

Off-hill recreational options are many and varied—in fact, this is the category in which Steamboat scores highest. There’s a tube park, an ice arena, natural hot springs, a bowling alley, a movie theater, helicopter tours, ice climbing, a bungee trampoline, and much more. If you’re just looking for a good meal, Café Diva is popular; for something to drink, head to Tugboat Saloon or Tap House. The new, heated promenade at Gondola Square has lovely water features to play in, courtesy of the daylighted Burgess Creek.

Environmentally, Steamboat is mostly good, but the proposed Pioneer Ridge expansion would impinge upon 162 open-space acres. However, the resort gets credit for working to improve nesting habitat for migratory birds, and for having a zero-waste initiative that’s on track toward its goal: Thanks to much recycling and composting, 80 percent of Steamboat’s trash got diverted from the landfill. Free shuttles and buses have, the resort estimates, negated 1.2 million driving miles last year alone.

From February 6 to 10, the 100th annual Winter Carnival happens on Main Street, featuring a parade on skis and a nighttime light show. In early January is MusicFest, and mid-April brings the Cardboard Classic and its races in zany homemade sleds.

CONTACT: (877) 783-2628,
SEASON: Late November to mid-April
TICKETS: General: $99 (reduced-price half-day tickets offered; discounts offered to military personnel), children $60, ages 65 and older: $67, ages 4 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 07. Park City Mountain Resort

Park City’s a great place to ski but scores even higher in the off-hill recreation and après categories. Maybe it’s because the Sundance Film Festival happens here each January that the non-skiing winter options here are legion: Among them are a seven-lane tube park, Utah’s only alpine coaster, an ice-skating rink, the new Flying Eagle zip line, and snowcat-drawn sleigh rides that take you to a high-elevation yurt for a multi-course dinner. There are also movie theaters and restaurants fit for Hollywood royalty. For all its amenities, though, this resort does not offer staffed kids’ programs or daycare outside of the ski school.

You can actually ski straight into the historic downtown strip—which pulses with boutiques, art galleries, and nightclubs—and then get back on the mountain via the Town Lift, located on Main Street.

It’s one of 16 chairlifts that transports skiers to 114 trails whose vertical rise totals 3,100 feet. Even though Park City gets 370 annual inches of snow, the powder-day rate is just eight percent, so snowmaking here’s been improved over the past year, making the 3,300-acre terrain (including three terrain parks) more inviting.

This resort is comparatively affordable—ski lessons can be gotten for as little as $40—especially for what it offers. Among the notable hotels are the luxurious Washington School House, the AAA 4-Diamond Hotel Park City, and the tony hotels surrounding Canyons Resort.

The Wasatch scenery here is quite lovely, and Park City aims to keep it that way via a bevy of eco-efforts—there’s a significant recycling program and a new kiosk exhibit that features a working wind turbine and solar panels. Over the past seven years, the resort has shrunk its carbon footprint by 20,000 tons, in part by buying wind-power offsets for 100 percent of its electricity.

CONTACT: (800) 222-7275,
SEASON: Mid-November to mid-April
TICKETS: General: $75, ages 65 and older: $50, ages 6 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 08. Telluride Ski Resort

Though people tend to think of Vail and Aspen first when they consider Colorado skiing, Telluride shouldn’t be overlooked. A host of the FIS Snowboard World Cup this year (December 14 and 15), Telluride’s inches of average annual snowfall (300) and rate of powder days per season (11 percent) are respectable. But it’s really the laid-back vibe combined with hands-on service that makes Telluride great.

The staff-to-guest ratio here is one to three, and employees do jobs spanning from ski valet to instructor teaching Burton’s Learn-to-Ride program to facilities manager who’s helped turn this eco-friendly place into a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

Telluride’s 125 trails have a collective vertical drop of 4,425 feet. And though the biggest number of runs here are for experts, the 2,000 skiable acres are varied enough so that everyone can have their fun. Strung above groomers, and three terrain parks and bowls are 18 lifts whose capacity pushes 22,386 people per hour.

Besides alpine skiing and riding, Telluride offers Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, NASTAR racing, heli-skiing, ice climbing—and, for those who’d rather be aloft for longer, glider rides and paragliding.

The ski patrol is small, and it’s 65 miles to the nearest surgical hospital—a 30-minute airlift—so try to stay upright. The resort does offer a 24-hour emergency service, and there’s at least one onsite physician.

We recommend Hotel Madeline, as lovely as it sounds (unwind at Spa Linnea) and the Inn at Lost Creek, which manages to be simultaneously rustic and upscale. Before your head hits the pillow, though, make sure you’ve squeezed all you can out of a Telluride day: There are three ice-skating rinks, raucous nightlife venues, and good restaurants: Rev in Hotel Madeline is particularly worth trying. The Eco Kids program teaches youth about mountain wildlife, and two pedestrian villages, linked by a free-admission gondola (it gives more than two million rides per year), comprise a historic town whose residents seem to be mostly bearded mountain men.

The number of attractive males at Telluride goes up exponentially in late February during Gay Ski Week, while mid-February brings a comedy festival featuring big-name stand-up artists.

CONTACT: (800) 778-8581,
SEASON: Late November to early April
TICKETS: General: $98, ages 4 and younger: free

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The Best Ski Resorts in North America: 09. Lake Louise Ski Area

Lake Louise scored well all around but did best in the categories of affordability (seriously, this place offers great value) and hospitality. Its eight hotels include the renowned Post Hotel & Spa and the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Neither is ski-in/ski-out but both have full-service spas and upscale dining rooms.

For other sleeping options, consider condos, log chalets (some with jacuzzis), and the popular Watson House, a four-bedroom rental. If you’d rather have a hardier experience—and have hard-sided equipment at your disposal—the local campground stays open during winter.

Banff National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and nothing short of spectacular. To keep it that way, the resort engages in recycling, water-conservation, and energy-saving endeavors, and works to protect the local bears. During major races, a green rep is tasked with making sure wildlife has room to move.

Kicking off the season’s speed events is the Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup, to which a family-friendly festival is attached. Then, during Snow Days (January 12 to February 10), highlights include ice-climbing, hockey, and curling games. January 19 to 27 are particularly pretty here—that’s when the Ice Magic Festival invites in world-class snow sculptors who compete to carve the most beautiful temporary edifice.

Even without these celebrations, there’s much that brings this place to life: Three ice-skating rinks—including Lake Louise itself, which is as fabled when it’s frozen as it is when it’s wet—sleigh rides, history tours, and a nightlife scene featuring famous DJs and sufficient places to drink and dance.

More of a family outing you’re seeking? The resort’s a great place for kids. Its daycare accepts clients as young as 18 days old, and the Fairmont’s activities for little ones range from photo expeditions to tea parties. Lake Louise spends at least $2 million annually on improving its guest experience and this year, that cash was spent on remodeling the beginners’ area and on a new kids’ fun zone with two magic carpets and a tube park.

Also new this year is the Bag Jump, designed by pro boarders and Hollywood stunt people to let riders work on big tricks without needing to worry about landing them. Lake Louise has three terrain parks but is also one of the rare ski resorts that offer snowboarding-only runs.

As for the rest of the terrain (4,200 skiable acres; 3,250 vertical feet), it’s fairly evenly spread over skill levels, and groomed and track-set trails exist for Nordic skiers. Average annual snowfall here is 180 inches, which isn’t a lot, but last year set a record high (10 percent) for powder days. The season here is long—last year’s dates spanned from November 5 to May 6—and so are many of the 139 trails. Instructors help add to the good numbers here: This season’s staff will have at least 16 Level 4s who’ll help you feel secure in going all in on the mountain.

Even if all you end up doing at Lake Louise is ride the gondola up to admire the spectacular Canadian Rockies, your trip here will have paid for itself.

CONTACT: (877) 956-8473,
SEASON: Early November to early May
TICKETS: General: $79 ($67 to ski between 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.), children: $24, ages 65 and older: $59, ages 4 and younger: free

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