Once more into the breach: staring down the chutes of Alta
Alta Ski Area/Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, Utah
WITH ABOUT 500 INCHES of smoke-light Utah powder falling annually in Little Cottonwood Canyon, neighbors Alta and Snowbird are famous for a reason. And January is often the snowiest month, sometimes spectacularly so. The area has been known to receive 100 inches of snow in 100 hours. And, lucky you, the resorts have aggressive policies toward allowing people on the mountain after big storms, adhering to the time-tested theory that skiers help to compact new snow layers and stabilize the snowpack. Enjoy the benefits on the wide-open spaces of Greeley Bowl; then, when conditions permit, slip through the Keyhole from Alta to Snowbird and schuss the steep chutes of Peruvian Gulch. Skiers are welcome at both mountains, but snowboarders are anachronistically barred from Alta.
COOL DIGS: The slopeside Alta Lodge (doubles, $276-$449, including breakfast and dinner; 800-707-2582, www.skialta.com) dates back to 1939 and oozes woodsy charm. The Cliff Lodge at Snowbird is all steel, glass, and concrete and has a first-rate spa (doubles, $1,556 for five nights, including three-day lift tickets; 800-453-3000, www.snowbird.com).
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 11,000 feet (Snowbird); vertical drop, 3,240 feet (Snowbird); skiable acres, 4,700 (Alta and Snowbird); annual snowfall, 500 inches
LIFT TICKET: $38, Alta; $56, Snowbird; $64 for a ticket valid at both resorts Contact: Alta, 888-782-9258, www.altaskiarea.com; Snowbird, 800-453-3000, www.snowbird.com
ASPEN'S NOTORIOUS GLITTERATI typically wait until later in the season, for warmer weather, to do their vacationing, or they simply retreat from January's winter chill to one of Aspen's $25-per-entree restaurants, leaving the mountains all but deserted. The skiing terrain at the four areas that make up Aspen/Snowmass (Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk) totals 4,893 acres, meaning that a powder day is usually a day of soulful solitude. The real goods are stashed at Aspen Highlands, where Highland Bowl (gradually opened to legal skiing over the last four years) has quickly become the gold standard of in-bounds steep skiing in Colorado. Be sure to pick up "The Highlands Extreme Guide," a trail map devoted exclusively to Highlands' hardcore terrain and to the Bowl's 40-degree-plus lines.
COOL DIGS: Tucked into a corner of downtown Aspen, the glass, stone, and right angles of Hearthstone House (doubles, $189-$299, breakfast included; 888-925-7632, www.hearthstonehouse.com) evoke the architectural sensibilities of Frank Lloyd Wright.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 12,392 feet (Highland Bowl); vertical drop, 3,635 feet (Aspen Highlands); skiable acres, 4,893 (all four mountains); annual snowfall, 300 inches
LIFT TICKET: $68 for all four areas contact: 800-525-6200, www.aspensnowmass.com
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
NO RESORT IN THE UNITED STATES can match Jackson's jumbled package of steep chutes, cliffs, and huge, open bowls, and that doesn't even include the truly harrowing stuff just outside the boundary ropes. This terrain attracts high-caliber skiers (maybe America's best), and watching them from the chairlift is akin to popping in a video by Teton Gravity Research. It can take 40-50 inches of snow to cover Jackson's rocky underpinnings, a fact that sometimes limits the early-season possibilities. That's why Jackson is at its best in the heart of winter. Sure, it can be cold (below-freezing temperatures aren't uncommon in February), but there's always the enclosed tram or gondola for weather protection. Plus, the fall line will make you work up a sweat.
COOL DIGS: Alpine House (doubles, $110-$245; 800-753-1421, www.alpinehouse.com), an inn run by two former U.S. Ski Teamers, Hans and Nancy Johnstone, is in the town of Jacksonively than Teton Village, at the ski-area base.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 10,450 feet; vertical drop, 4,139 feet; skiable acres, 2,500; annual snowfall, 400 inches
LIFT TICKET: $61 Contact: 888-838-6606, www.jacksonhole.com
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
WHEN A MIDWINTER CHILL settles in over the central and northern Rockies, head to New Mexico. That might seem crazy if you're already in Albuquerque, where February temperatures commonly reach the fifties and the monthly precipitation is less than half an inch. But three hours north in Taos, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rise 5,000 feet from the surrounding desert to 12,000 feet, an orographic bull's-eye where passing clouds relinquish the driest snow in America. Taos is also a four-letter word for steep: More than half of the terrain is rated expert, legitimately so. But on the dry, ice-free snow, skiers (snowboarders are not allowed) can be confident of holding an edge.
COOL DIGS: The Hotel Saint Bernard, a slopeside French-alpine-style hotel, is run by Jean Mayer, a legend in North American ski instruction (seven-day, all-inclusive packageslodging, meals, lifts, lessonsstart at $1,490; 505-776-2251, www.stbernardtaos.com). Mountain Stats: summit, 12,481 feet; vertical drop, 3,244 feet; skiable acres, 1,294; annual snowfall, 312 inches
LIFT TICKET: $49 Contact: 800-347-7414, www.skitaos.org
Able to leap tall bumps in a single bound: flying high over Stowe's finest
Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont
THE SNOW-PLASTERED, treeless summit of Stowe's Mount Mansfield is striated with cliff bandsimpressive stuff, but not always inviting in the dead freeze of a New England winter. Yet by March, Stowe's snowiest month, the cold relents, the snow softens, and the skiing is as good as anywhere in the country. The moguls on the steeps of Stowe's famous Front Four trails become navigable rather than knuckle-hard. The locals take advantage of the lengthening days of spring by being at the lift when it opens at 7:30 on powder days. They beat the crowds and score first tracks, then kick back for a few hours, letting the sun go to work, and ski corn in the afternoon.
COOL DIGS: The Trapp Family Lodge (doubles, $180-$485; 800-826-7000, www.trappfamily.com), with its chalet-like eaves and flower-painted walls, is reminiscent of the kind of Austrian setting that its owners (yes, the beloved singing family) made famous in The Sound of Music.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 4,395 feet; vertical drop, 2,360 feet; skiable acres, 480; annual snowfall, 260 inches
LIFT TICKET: $58 (2001Ð2002 price) Contact: 800-253-4754, www.stowe.com
Telluride Ski Resort, Colorado
EVERYBODY LOVES THE WAMR DAYS of spring, but not everybody loves the warm, sloppy snow. For an antidote, head to Telluride, where the high elevations (between 10,000 and 12,000 feet) keep the snow midwinter dry. Ride the lifts to the steep chutes of Gold Hill or hike to the similarly steep chutes of Prospect Bowl, opened just last year. But if pounding soft spring moguls is your thing, head to the lower half of the mountain and take on classic bump runs like The Plunge and Spiral Stairs. Either way, you get stunning vistas of Colorado's San Juan Mountains and plenty of spring sun.
COOL DIGS: Built in 1891 as the centerpiece of Main Street, The New Sheridan Hotel (doubles, $100-$300; 800-200-1891, www.newsheridan.com) summons the spirit of Telluride in its mining-town glory years.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 12,260 feet; vertical drop, 3,530 feet; skiable acres, 1,700; annual snowfall, 310 inches
LIFT TICKET: $65 Contact: 800-801-4832, www.telluride skiresort.com
Big Sky Resort, Montana
COME THE FIRST WEEK of April, you can score a great package deal and stay in the slopeside Huntley Lodge for hundreds of dollars less than typical midwinter prices. And when you look out your window at Big Sky's Lone Peak in the morning, you'll realize what you really came for: some of the best all-mountain skiing in North America. The mountain's multiple exposures are ideal for making the best of spring conditions, but for those with big cajones, the supersteep Big Couloir is the perfect place to find dry snow.
COOL DIGS: Huntley Lodge ($709 per person for seven nights, including a six-day ski pass and breakfast; 800-548-4486, www.bigskyresort.com) is not ashamed to be western. Think elk-antler chandelier, bronze bear sculpture, and river-rock fireplace.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 11,150 feet; vertical drop, 4,350 feet; skiable acres, 3,600; annual snowfall, 400 inches
LIFT TICKET: $58 Contact: 800-548-4486; www.bigsky resort.com
EVEN WITH ITS CELEBRITY statusit hosted the 2002 Olympic downhillsits 3,200 skiable acres, and its nine lifts (including two gondolas and a high-speed quad) that access 2,950 vertical feet, Snowbasin is still waiting for its first winter with more than 100,000 skier visits. (A place like Vail sees that many people in a couple of weeks.) Snowbasin remains the best undiscovered ski area in the country...for now. Hit the steeps of John Paul, almost 3,000 feet of vertical on a sustained 30-degree pitch, or carve the vast open spaces of Strawberry Bowl.
COOL DIGS: The Snowberry Inn (doubles, $65-$115, including breakfast; 888-334-3466, www.snowberry inn.com) in nearby Eden is a log cabin with an old-school, ski-lodge feeling.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 9,465 feet; vertical drop, 2,950 feet; skiable acres, 3,200; annual snowfall, 400 inches
LIFT TICKET: $48 Contact: 888-437-5488, www.snowbasin.com
Livin' single: hucking big air off Mount Bachelor
Mount Bachelor, Oregon
THE WHITE, VOLCANIC DOME of Mount Bachelor sits high above its warm, semi-arid surroundings like a scoop of ice cream on a plate of green-brown sage. The jockaholics from nearby Bend might be biking, running, and rafting, but there'1s still about a 100-inch base up on the mountain in May for everyone who can't shake their winter-sport habit. For all of its conical symmetry from afar, Mount Bachelor is, in fact, full of subtle irregularities: lateral ridges, nubs of volcanic rock, short slots through the rocks, and all manner of swoops and rolls. Which is why new-school skiers and snowboarders flock to this natural-terrain park.
COOL DIGS: The Pine Ridge Inn (doubles, $130-$275, including breakfast; 800-600-4095, www.pineridgeinn.com) has romantic gas-flame fireplaces in each room, but it's the view from the balcony above the Deschutes River that will really warm your spirits.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 9,065 feet; vertical drop, 3,365 feet; skiable acres, 3,683; annual snowfall, 350 inches
LIFT TICKET: $44 Contact: 800-829-2442, www.mtbachelor.com
Alyeska Resort, Alaska
WHEN IT COMES TO SKIING in Alaska, heli-skiing tends to hoard the attention. And in a state with so many mountains, so much snow, and so few lifts, one can see why. But Alyeska's five-minute tram gets you to the goods on the North Face, a chillingly steep fall-line pitch of about 2,000 vertical feet. On a powder day (when helicopters can't fly anyway), this is the place to be, and huge winter dumps assure a season running well into May. Long northern days, warm temperatures, plenty of snow, and scintillating views of the Turnagain Arm make this a late-season winner.
COOL DIGS: With a three-story lobby of cherry wood and a river-rock fireplace, the Alyeska Prince Hotel (doubles, $145-$200, including breakfast and lift tickets; 800-880-3880, www.alyeskaresort.com) and its sushi bar look and feel like they were shipped in from downtown Tokyo.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 3,939 feet; vertical drop, 2,500 feet; skiable acres, 1,000; annual snowfall, 789 inches
LIFT TICKET: $45 Contact: 800-880-3880, www.alyeskaresort.com
The storm magnet: Mammoth California
Mammoth Mountain, California
FOR SEVEN OF THE LAST TEN YEARS, skiing has continued here into June, even July. The mountain protrudes from the southeastern Sierra like a prehistoric creatureits profile turning it into a bullseye for prodigious storms. During the winter of 1992-93, 617 inches fell at Mammoth. The numerous steep lines off the summit ridge present a true test for the top skiers in the country, making this a regular stop on the U.S. Ski Team's late-season training program. And even if the snow is less than ideal, the hiking, fishing, and hot springs make it a worthwhile June trip.
COOL DIGS: At the 80-year-old Tamarack Lodge & Resort (doubles, $84-$110 with shared bath, $150-$185 with private bath; 800-626-6688, www.mammothmountain.com/lodging) on the wooded shores of secluded Twin Lakes, you can indulge in afternoon fly-fishing after a morning of skiing.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 11,053 feet; vertical drop, 3,100 feet; skiable acres, 3,500; annual snowfall, 384 inches
LIFT TICKET: $60 Contact: 800-626-6688, www.mammothmountain.com
Timberline on Mount Hood, Oregon
THE TERRAIN IS SOMEWHAT limited during summer, and much of it is dedicated to racers in training, from ten-year-old dreamers to Olympic medalists, but Mount Hood is the only place in the United States that offers lift-served skiing for 12 months of the year. Here's an ideal July day: Rise early and ski hard before the snow turns to slurpy mush. By 11 a.m., descend from the volcano into the valley for mountain biking on hundreds of miles of trails around Government Camp, or hit the Columbia River Gorge for windsurfing. Then it's back up the mountain for sunset viewing and drinks on the veranda of Timberline Lodge, a national historic landmark.
COOL DIGS: Timberline Lodge (doubles, $80-$230; 800-547-1406, www.timberlinelodge.com) is the epitome of the great American ski lodge, with immense wood beams, stone floors, and a giant central hearth. (It also served as the exterior of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.)
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 8,540 feet; vertical drop, 2,616 feet; skiable acres, 2,500; annual snowfall, 400 inches
LIFT TICKET: $39 Contact: 503-622-7979, www.timberlinelodge.com
Snow kidding: New Zealand glacier skiing in August
Mount Hutt, New Zealand
A GIANT, GLACIATED BOWL at the foot of the Southern Alps on New Zealand's South Island, Mount Hutt is an above-treeline, alpine experience with New Zealand's most reliably dry and plentiful midwinter snow conditions. Stand atop South Face, Mount Hutt's best powder stash, and look far below to green valleys. No wonder national ski teams like the Americans, Austrians, and Swiss train here during their summers. New Zealand is also the land of reasonably priced heli-skiing. In this case, that's not an oxymoron. For about $325 a day (cheap by heli-skiing standards), Alpine Guides (011-64-3-302-8108, www.heliskiing.co.nz) will fly you into the Arrowsmith and Ragged ranges for runs totaling 10,000 vertical feet in above-treeline bowls and chutes.
COOL DIGS: Don't expect luxuryjust standard, motel-room-like accommodations in places like The Lodge (doubles, about U.S. $81; 011-64-3-303-2000, www.thelodgenz.com) in nearby Methven.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 6,806 feet; vertical drop, 2,148 feet; skiable acres, 900; annual snowfall, 156 inches
LIFT TICKET: about $31 (2002 price) Contact: 011-64-3-308-5074, www.nzski.com/mthutt
¡Viva gravity!: Argentine downhill
Snow is always an iffy proposition in Australia, but 200 inches a year is nothing to sneeze at. On a typical day at Thredbo, in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales in southeastern Australia, rain at the bottom of the mountain is not uncommon (which can mean snow up high), and by early September (the austral equivalent of March) the snow depth is still near its peak. Thredbo is a well-rounded mix of intermediate cruising and bump runs, plus decent steeps and some adventurous off-piste skiing in the above-treeline seams that feed into Golf Course Bowl. Plus, where else can you ski past parrot-inhabited gum trees?
COOL DIGS: Stay in a lakeside condo at nearby Lake Crackenback Resort (doubles, about $65; 011-61-2-6456-2960, www.novotellakecracken back.com.au) and ride the ski traina.k.a. the Skitubeto the mountain.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 6,681 feet; vertical drop, 2,204 feet; skiable acres, 1,186; annual snowfall, 200 inches
LIFT TICKET: about $44 (2002 price) Contact: 011-61Ð459-4294, www.thredbo.com.au
Las Leñas, Argentina
Snowfall in Las Leñas Can be irregularweeks might go by without a trace and then boom! an eight-foot dump. That's why it's best to wait until late in the austral ski season to visit what Southern Hemisphere ski bums consider the best resort in South America. By September, the snow on the famous steeps has turned to corn, and while the resort's Argentine guests are sleeping off the nightly routine of partying until 4 a.m., you'Ll have more than 10,000 acres to yourselfhalf a million acres if you go off-piste. The terrain off the Marte lift, with steep chutes lined by knuckle-like rock outcroppings, is good for powering turns that make the snow peel away from your edges in even sheets. And if you get lucky, a so-called Santa Ana wind will bring a storm to hammer you with powder.
COOL DIGS: Piscis is the resort's biggest and fanciest hotel, but if you want some relief from the late-night-partying crowd, stay at the smaller, more moderately priced Geminis (package rates start at about $110 per person per night, including meals and lift tickets; 011-54-26-27-471100, www.laslenas.com)
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 11,253 feet; vertical drop, 3,904 feet; skiable acres, 10,000 to 15,000; annual snowfall, 250 inches
LIFT TICKET: $42 (2002 price) Contact: 011-54-627-71100, www.laslenas.com (recommended tour operator: Ski Vacation Planners, 800-822-6754, www.skivacationplanners.com)
OK, SO THERE MIGHT BE only one or two trails open, and Vermont in October is better known for its radiant foliage than for skiing, but Killington is pathological about opening before anyone else in the East, which it has for the last 41 years. Legendary snowmaking expertise and cold temps ensure an early-season ski fix; plus, an October snowstorm isnÕt out of the question. The action begins on Rime, which descends at a steady advanced-intermediate pitch. Even if Rime is the only trail open in October, subtle variations in the fall line still keep things interesting.
COOL DIGS: Indulge in a healthy dose of all things Irishdarts, Guinness Stout, corned beefat the Inn at Long Trail (doubles, $84-$114; 800-325-2540, www.innatlongtrail.com)
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 4,241 feet; vertical drop, 3,050 feet; skiable acres, 1,182; annual snowfall, 250 inches
LIFT TICKET: $25 (2002 early-season price) Contact: 800-621-6867, www.killington.com
Valle Nevado, Chile
AS SPRING SKIING WINDS DOWN in Chile, Valle Nevado offers the best chance in South America to find decent late-season snow. The reason? Twenty-two thousand acres of terrain. Add to that the neighboring resorts of La Parva and El Colorado, for a grand total of 42 lifts, and it's time to call your travel agent. From the top of Cerro Negro at over 12,000 feet, you can often find powder in October, and, lower down, Valle Nevado's wide-open intermediate bowls allow high-speed arcs. Bonus: After September 1, room rates at this cluster of hypermodern buildings perched on treeless slopes are slashed to less than half.
COOL DIGS: Hotel Tres Puntas (doubles in late season, $200, including breakfast, dinner, and lift ticket) is a sleek ski-in, ski-out high-rise.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 12,040 feet (Valle Nevado); vertical drop, 2,600 feet; skiable acres, 22,000; annual snowfall, 320 inches
LIFT TICKET: $26 (2002 price) Contact: 800-228-0088, .vallenevado.comwww (recommended tour operator: Moguls Mountain Travel, 800-666-4857, www.moguls.com)
Copper Mountain Resort, Colorado
DURING TWO OF THE LAST three years, World Cup organizers have moved November races to Copper from resorts nearby, because Copper has early snow when other resorts don't. A summit elevation above 12,000 feet attracts late-fall storms, and extreme cold enables an excellent snow-making program on more than 380 acres. Last year, Copper opened its halfpipe before any other ski area in the country; this year, the resort plans to open portions of the terrain park and make it available to snowboarders and twin-tip hucksters in early November.
COOL DIGS: Condos in the Mill Club ($243 a night for a two-bedroom unit, 888-263-5302) in the expanding new base village at Copper are country-clubby in a palatable way, with lots of leather and polished-granite countertops.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 12,313 feet; vertical drop, 2,601 feet; skiable acres, 2,450; annual snowfall, 280 inches
LIFT TICKET: $31 (2001-2002 early-season price) Contact: 866-656-1540, www.coppercolorado.com
Tremblant Ski Resort, Quebec
IT WASN'T LONG AGO that Tremblant appeared destined for obscurity; then Intrawest, the company that turned Whistler Blackcomb into an elite resort, took over in the early 1990s. The new owners have poured roughly $500 million into Tremblant, turning the base village into a replica of a Paris arrondissement, complete with French restaurants and patisseries. A slew of new, fast lifts, including a gondola as well as six high-speed quads, have raised the hourly uphill lift capacity to more than 26,100 skiers, quickly getting you to lots of wide, groomed cruisers and impressive steeps like Expo. And because Canada celebrates its version of Thanksgiving in October, Tremblant is an uncrowded and reasonably priced choice for a November getaway.
COOL DIGS: Le Lodge de la Montagne's (doubles, $60-$100; 800-461-8711) French dormer windows and Bavarian-style woodwork are the kind of ersatz Euro touches that make close-to-home Quebec seem so far away.
MOUNTAIN STATS: summit, 2,871 feet; vertical drop, 2,132 feet; skiable acres, 610; annual snowfall, 141 inches LIFT TICKET: $37 Contact: 800-461-8711, www.tremblant.ca