Unearned Turns

Six downhill ski escapes with no crowds or chairlifts—and no hiking

Heli-skiing in Alaska

Heli-skiing in Alaska    Photo: courtesy, G. Peifer-Chugach Powder Guides

By Heli

Ruby Mountains Heli-Experience, Lamoille, Nevada Usually you have two options with heli-skiing: Scare yourself with aggro Alaska cowboys or spoon tracks with the masses in B.C. Ruby Mountains offers up something different—namely, accessible, crystalline powder for small groups. Tucked beneath a range of 11,000-foot peaks, Reds Ranch lodge is a 40-minute drive from the Elko airport. Four skiers at a time follow their guide into big, gentle bowls. And the place is laid-back, meaning the guides don't get pissed if you make big, fast turns. $1,350 per day, inclu­ding lodging; helicopterskiing.com

Wasatch Powderbird Guides, Alta/Snowbird, Utah Launching from a nook between Alta and Snowbird, Utah's most famous resorts, WPG is North America's premier day-trip heli-ski outfit—they access runs that can reach 4,000 vertical feet. Sign up a week after a storm, when the resorts are skied out, and WPG will fly you to sheltered, north-facing steeps where you'll choke on Utah powder for seven hours. Day trips, $875; powderbird.com

Alaska Rendezvous Heli-Ski Guides, Valdez, Alaska Don't fool yourself—heli-skiing in Alaska is dangerous. If you're ready, go with ARG. Founder Theo Meiners and his crew take safety seriously. Because there are female guides on staff, the place doesn't exude the type of testosterone that leads to bad decision-making. But if you want steep and scary, Meiners & Co. are happy to oblige: Skiers routinely average 24,000 vertical feet daily, and push 50 degrees on the treeless and fluted shots that make Alaska famous. Day trips, $870; arlinc.com

Cat skiing
Cat skiing   Photo: Nathan Borchelt

By Cat

Island Lake Lodge, Fernie, British Columbia Cat skiing's main advantage—a truck-size snowcat that shuttles you to powder without the military-style stress of heli-skiing—is too often undone by the uptight skiers sharing the ride. Not so at Island Lake Lodge, where clients charter the entire 12-person cat. But what makes this the world's preeminent cat-ski operation is the terrain—7,000 acres of it, including old-growth glades and wide-open alpine expanses. $700 per person; islandlakeresorts.com

Park City Powder Cats, Oakley, Utah Although only a short drive from Park City, the Uinta Mountains feel remote. This is also one of the few east-west ranges in the country, meaning the north-facing slopes keep the 400 inches of powder that fall here flash-frozen fresh. Offering day trips for as little as $450, Powder Cats won't take you anywhere hairball, but they will find deep powder stashed in aspen glades on their 40,000-acre private tenure. pccats.com

Chatter Creek, British Columbia Chatter Creek, 60 miles northwest of Golden, represents the next generation of cat skiing, with its relaxed approach to the experience: Expect to ski steep terrain without a guide yelling at you to tighten up your tracks. Afterwards, you'll grab a Kokanee and shoot eight-ball in the lodge, which has a logger-skier vibe. But this place is all about the skiing: The cats haul you up to 10,000-foot ridgelines, and from there you have 92 square miles of open terrain beneath you. $465; chattercreek.ca

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