North America's 16 Best Ski Resorts

Endless Powder! Rowdy Bars! Screaming Deals! Secret Stashes! Huge Steeps!

Hangtime at Revelstoke.   Photo: Christian Aslund

We picked the cream of the crop and consulted local experts for their advice on where to ski, what to drink, and everything in between.


Revelstoke Mountain Resort, British Columbia

Editor's choice for sidecountry.

Annual Snowfall: 600 inches 
Acres: 3,031 
The Expert: Dave Pehowich, 37, operations manager at Selkirk-Tangier Helicopter Skiing. 
"I moved here in 1994. There was just one lift on Mount MacKenzie. Now there's a hotel [the Nelsen Lodge; doubles from $159], three lifts, and a bar on the mountain, tentatively named Concept LCH, opening this winter. The gondola accesses 3,000 acres of terrain and 5,600 feet of vert. It's five hours from Calgary, so it's still wild. Revelstoke is like a European guide's office. You can take in-bounds avalanche-safety courses on the powder you're skiing or go cat- or heli-skiing." 
Hot Tip: When the lift-serviced terrain gets skied out, take the gondola to the Stoke quad and hike to the northwest ridge to access glades, chutes, rock drops—everything.


Crested Butte, Colorado

Editor's choice for off-piste.

Annual Snowfall: 300 inches 
Price of a Bunk at the Local Hostel: $31 
The Expert: Murray Wais, 41, executive producer, Matchstick Productions. 
"Crested Butte has the steepest untamed skiing in Colorado, a state known for luxury resorts and groomed runs. Here it's steep and cheap—the lodging is mid-level luxury. We aren't on the giant strip mall that is I-70. Look, there's no better place to ski than Vail if you love groomed runs. But if you think grooming sucks and you're a fun-loving powder skier, Crested Butte is the place for you. It's unique because it's a community. We fight malls, sprawl, and waste. No one wears fur here. There is no Prada or Gucci. The only chain stores are the gas stations." 
Hot Tip: Get up early and head to Camp 4 Coffee: the best Americano in the world. I know—I've been making movies for 16 years and have drunk coffee all over the globe. Have a cup and head to the hill. Make a war.


Steamboat, Colorado

Editor's choice for trees.

Steamboat happy hour.   Photo: Sasha Eisenman

Annual Snowfall: 343 inches 
Aspen Groves: Numerous 
The Expert: Bill Gamber, 45, co-founder of Big Agnes and Honey Stinger. 
"They're perfectly spaced. Nature blessed us. Much of the resort is west-facing, so the snow holds. And we get beautiful, light snow. We're not known for our steeps, but the pitch is consistent and we have tons of moderate terrain. It adds up to perfect powder skiing. The most famous tree runs here, Closets and Shadows, aren't overdone—some of the best days are in there. The aspen glades in Shadows are mellower. Closets is steeper and a tighter mix of aspen and pine. You can go two days after a storm and still ski uncut powder. And Steamboat is out of the way; even on Christmas week, if you know where to go, you won't have to wait in a lift line. 
Hot Tip: Duck into the Land of the Little People, an unmarked glade to the right of Rolex.


Taos, New Mexico

Editor's choice for steeps.

A powder day in Taos. Click to enlarge.   Photo: Christian Aslund

Annual Snowfall: 305 inches
Vert: 2,612 feet
The Expert: Michael Holmquist, 41, competitive big-mountain skier and bartender. 
"I can see how it would alarm people, especially if you're staring up at it. They have a sign in the village that says Don't panic. That's part of the lore. I don't want to scare anyone—it's only 51 percent expert, so there's something for everyone. But Taos doesn't flatten out. It remains steep to the valley floor. The access is unbelievable. In a two-hour span you can do 12 laps [editor's note: we'd be impressed with eight] in world-class double-diamond terrain without waiting in line. You're catching your breath on the chair." 
Hot Tip: Follow the locals. Come talk to me. The Martini Tree—that's where I bartend. It's the skier-snowboarder hangout. We'll put you where you want to be.


Mammoth Mountain, California

Editor's choice for park riding.

Annual Snowfall: 400 inches 
Longest Jump: 100 feet 
The Expert: Chris Benchetler, 22, professional skier, owner of the Nimbus Independent Video Production Company. 
"The two ingredients that make park riding so incredible at Mammoth, besides size, are the weather and the lap time. If it's not snowing, it's guaranteed to be sunny and warm. You're not cold and miserable, and the sun softens up the snow, which is great for learning tricks—you're not landing on ice. The chairlift laps are the fastest of any mountain I've ever been to—you can do a full lap in eight minutes, so the amount of training you get in is unbeatable. Mammoth started the trend in building big features. The jumps are well manicured. You'll see every professional from the films training here."
Hot Tip: Restaurant Skadi—it's the place to go for a glass of wine and fresh fish.


Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia

The skiing is pretty good at Whistler, too.   Photo: Adam Clark

Annual Snowfall: 396 inches 
Arrests for Public Indecency in the Past Year: 769 
The Expert: Matty Richard, 28, professional big-mountain skier. 
"I'd compare it to Verbier but nothing in North America. I moved here out of high school. We'd follow the pro skiers and see them smashing bottles. Whistler has a lot of nudity. There used to be more, but it still happens—go to Merlin's for après and girls may be dancing on the barstools topless. On a powder day we'll ski Blackcomb then go to Merlin's for beers and nachos. Then we'll go to Sushi Village with our ski boots on. After that, you hit one of the nightclubs—Tommy Africa's, Maxx Fish, Garfinkels. But I don't go out as much as I used to. I'm a professional athlete." 
Hot Tip: There are rumors that during the Olympics the Jamaican bobsled team is going to throw parties with reggae bands at their house. [Editor's note: This is true.] I'm going to try to be there.


Alta/Snowbird, Utah

Annual Snowfall: 500 inches
The Expert: Julian Carr, 30, professional skier and owner of Discrete Headwear.
"I've never been anyplace where the snow falls as frequently and as light and as deep as it does here. At Snowbird, you get off the tram and you're sitting atop thousands of acres of big-mountain lines. At Alta, you have to traverse to most of the stashes, but the powder lasts longer. And they're both 20 minutes from the city; you can land at the airport and be skiing in an hour. On a powder day, head to Alta's Wildcat chair—it has the shortest lift line—and ski off to the right. In the afternoon, take a few laps on Snowbird's tram and then hike Baldy." 
Hot Tip If there's a big storm coming, spend the night in Little Cottonwood Canyon, not Salt Lake. They'll close Highway 210 to do avalanche work, and by the time they open it you'll have had both resorts to yourself for three hours.


Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole, as advertised.   Photo: Chris Figenshau

Annual Snowfall: 459 inches
The Expert: Travis Rice, 27, X Games snowboarding gold medalist.
"I was raised in Jackson. Two things make it great. First, it has consistent, steep pitch, and now that the tram is running again you don't need to take multiple lifts to access the best terrain. Second is the snow. Usually, when we have a storm, it comes with a little wind, and that helps pack it down just enough, but it still stays light. We'll get a couple of inches of snow with wind and it resets the entire mountain. [Editor's note: It's also really cold. Bring an insulated ski jacket.] Jackson is laid out great: As you ride down, it's ridge after mountain ridge. The key is to go into the north-facing trees."
Hot Tip: If you want to dine regally, there's this epic Italian spot called Osteria, in the Hotel Terra.


Alyeska Resort, Alaska

Annual Snowfall: 735 inches
The Expert: Elyse Saugstad, 31, 2008 Freeride World Tour winner.
"In the States, people consider it a powder day when there are six inches of snow. At Alyeska it's not a powder day unless there's more than a foot. The snow can be heavier, but it sticks to the steeper peaks, enabling you to ski gnarly lines. And it's not crowded at all—mostly Alaskan diehards. Take the tram, then ski down to lift 6, which accesses the good stuff. Ride that up to the top and hike straight up to the Christmas and New Year's chutes. You can ski 2,500 vertical in one run." 
Hot Tip: Alyeska has the best night skiing; they light up the main runs and you can ski until nine o'clock. I went in mid-December last year; they'd already gotten 250 inches of snow. The resorts in the lower 48 were barely open. Amazing.


Silverton Mountain, Colorado

Annual Snowfall: 400 inches
The Expert: Chris Davenport, 38, professional big-mountain skier.
"At Silverton you've got to carry a shovel and probe and make good decisions. In return, you get 100 percent off-piste skiing: powder. You might only get five runs in, but you'll be exhausted. Which is good when you gather in the tent that passes for a base lodge at the end of the day for a beer. It's a throwback to the forties, when ski areas just had the lift and a warming hut. No frills. I've always said Silverton is like a heli-ski operation with a chairlift." 
Hot Tip: Stay at the Grand Imperial Hotel (doubles from $79), on Greene Street. After dinner, hit the Miner's Tavern. The mines may have closed, but this place is still the same.


Breckenridge, Colorado

Lighting up Breckenridge. Click to enlarge.   Photo: Timothy Faust

Annual Snowfall: 300 inches
Best Float in Last Year's Ullr Fest Parade: Huge papier-mâché viking
The Expert: Jesse Csincsak, 26, pro snowboarder and winner of The Bachelorette, Season Four. 
"Breckenridge is full of people who genuinely want to be here: families, ski bums, spring-breakers. Everyone. After skiing, head to Blue River Bistro, at the base of the gondola, for a drink. It's upscale, but there are no ties inside. Eat at Modis, a high-end modern spot overlooking downtown Breck. The scallops are amazing. I'd mosey over to Liquid Lounge to get my night started, then downstairs to Cecelia's, which has three bars and a big dance floor. The other thing is Ullr Fest, the annual celebration of the Norse god of snow, which happens January 10–16. There's a parade down Main Street with floats, costumes, and an inordinate amount of alcohol." 
Hot Tip: During Ullr Fest, head to Modis and sit by the windows for a view of the parade.


Park City, Utah

Annual Snowfall: 360 inches
Number of Bars on Main Street: 14
The Expert: Bri Binnebose, 26, Park City resident and ski patroller for The Canyons. 
"Old Town Park City—the downtown area—is the center of it all. Harry O's is the big nightclub—during the ski-movie premieres you'll see pros there. O'Shucks on Main Street is the dive bar. They serve two-pint schooners of beer, which look like fishbowls. For food, the No Name Saloon has great buffalo burgers. Park City Mountain has the best slopeside bar, the Corner Store, with outdoor seating and great views of the mountain." 
Hot Tip: During the Sundance Film Festival, Los Angeles moves to Park City. But because everybody is chasing celebrities, it's not a bad time to ski. Stay in the Kimball Junction neighborhood to beat the crowds.


Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado

Aspen’s Belly Up club.   Photo: Daniel Bayer

Annual Snowfall: 300 inches
Number of Zagat-Rated Restaurants: 9
The Expert: John Oates, 61, of the eighties super-duo Hall and Oates. 
"Aspen has it all—arts, culture, and sophistication with proximity to the backcountry. (I'm a telemark skier.) Sounds like a chamber-of-commerce speech, but it's true. There's any number of world-class restaurants. Great Japanese at Matsuhisa, there's Woody Creek Tavern, Piñons. I can go to Belly Up or the Wheeler Opera House, which has a great low-key atmosphere, and hear incredible music. Over the last couple of years, at Belly Up, I jammed with Blues Traveler, Sam Bush, and Camp Freddy." 
Hot Tip: Editor's note: Nightclub mogul Scott DeGraff, whose company owns the Las Vegas Playboy Club, just opened a restaurant (Junk) and ultra-lounge (Liquid Sky) at the base of Snowmass.


Powder Mountain, Utah

Annual Snowfall: 500 inches
Average Lift-Line Wait Time: Less than a minute
The Expert: Cheyene "Veg" Vollum, 27, cook at the resort's lodge. 
"We get 500 inches of snow a year, but nobody knows how good it is because the resort wasn't in Salt Lake's Olympics. The lift lines stay down because the tourists go to Snow Basin. There are days when it's dumping and I'll ride under some lifts without seeing anybody. Once the aspens under the north-facing Sunrise lift get tracked out—which takes about a week—I'll go heli-skiing on James Peak ($175 per ride)." [Editor's note: You can also hop a snowcat to Lightning Ridge ($15 a ride) and then hike to the top of James Peak.]
Hot Tip: Get a PowMow ale at Powderkeg, in the main lodge, and stay slopeside at the Columbine Inn (doubles from $80).


Jay Peak, Vermont

Annual Snowfall: 371 inches
Miles from the Canadian Border: 3
The Expert: Chris Young, 39, principal at Vermont's Craftsbury School (K-12). 
"It's not your typical warm, wet East Coast snow. The storms stick around for a few days. We might not get Utah's four-foot dumps, but the glade system maintains the snow longer—there are skiable pockets for days after the storm if you know where to go. People divide the mountain into two sides: Tramside and Stateside. The Tramside runs tend to have longer vertical and get more traffic. Two epic Tramside glade runs are Staircase and Everglade—they go on forever and have steep, tight lines. I ski Stateside; it's easier to get farther out of bounds. Local knowledge comes in handy. I'm going to get killed if I give you any more information." 
Hot Tip: Go in March. It's the best snow—the freeze-and-thaw cycles have stopped—and you don't get wacko crowds.


Bridger Bowl, Montana

Bridger Bowl’s Ridge Terrain.   Photo: Jennie Milton

Annual Snowfall: 350 inches
Number of Overnight Lodges: 0
The Expert: Matt Crootof, 36, ski patroller. 
"It's a ski area, not a resort. There's no lodging, and our tourists come from the Dakotas and Minnesota. So we have a small-hill feel even though there's incredible terrain—like Jackson Hole shrunk down. We have challenging runs and intricate lines that require intelligence. Plus the snow is light. We'll get ten inches you can see through. And the Ridge Terrain—500 vertical feet of hike-to terrain above Bridger Lift—is a one-of-a-kind deal. The Ridge has steep chutes and nicely spaced trees." 
Hot Tip: We have this new Schlasman's Lift (opened last year), which accesses 300 acres of expert-only terrain on the southern edge of the mountain. Now that it's open, the Ridge Terrain is a lot less skied. Go there. [Editor's note: An avalanche beacon is required.] Just be careful until you get the lay of the land—it's easy to get cliffed out.


Let's Make a Deal: Budget Ski Moves

My dad always said the family that skis together...spends a helluva lot of dough. Here are some ways to trim the fat.

Try a Threesome
Buy two plane tickets to Crested Butte (Gunnison airport) and get a third ticket free when you book four nights' lodging at the resort. Jackson Hole has a similar, four-for-three offer.

The Early Bird Gets Stuffed
The Olympics end February 28. Good timing: Whistler-Blackcomb got more than seven feet of snow last March. Book a three-day, four-night ski-and-sleep package by November 15 for as little as $88 per person per day. 

Killer (British) Columbian
After a warm-up day at Rossland's Red Resort, you'll spend two days cat-skiing with Valhalla Powdercats. Day four is a rest day at Ainsworth Hot Springs, then you'll finish with a bang: three days heli-skiing with Snowwater Heli Skiing. From US$5,000.

Play Hooky
The New England Pass offers access to Loon Mountain, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf all season long, starting at $499 (after October 12) for the nonweekend, nonholiday pass. 

Ditch the Guide
During the heart of the season (mid-January March), only guided skiing is available at Colorado's super-steep Silverton Mountain. But in December, early January, and all of April, Silverton offers two nights of lodging and two days of unguided skiing starting at $180 per person. 

Find the Best Little Ski House in Utah
Get a deal on a house rental in Park City. Score a ski-and-sleep package at Snowbird for $99 a night. Shred Alta but save cash by staying in Salt Lake City. Troll for these and other last-minute deals at SkiUtah.com's White Sale, a continually updated smorgasbord of discounts at the state's 13 resorts.

Commit to Colorado
Now in its second season, Vail Resorts' unrestricted Epic pass lets you ski Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly Valley, and Arapahoe Basin for $599.

—Sam Moulton

From Outside Magazine, Nov 2009 Get the Latest Issue
 

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