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From Jay Peak in Vermont to the Alaska Range, we round up nine cozy winter lodges that put you slopeside for La Niña's best powder dumps.
Art of Flight
Bearpaw Heli-Skiing; Sinclair Mills, British Columbia
As a general rule, the farther you get from civilization, the better the heli-skiing is. By that calculus, it’s tough to beat Bearpaw Heli-Skiing, a brand-new family-owned operation in Sinclair Mills, an hour east of Prince George and nine hours northwest of Banff. It’s perhaps the world’s smallest heli-ski lodge: this season, two guides will lead four skiers at a time into a 1.2-million-acre playground encompassing four mountain ranges chock-full of 6,500-to-10,000-foot peaks. While the terrain is rowdy, the lodge’s vibe is decidedly mellow. Guests stay in refurbished historic cabins outfitted with log beds piled high with flannel sheets and Hudson’s Bay blankets. After a stint in the wood-fired sauna, gather for wild grilled salmon washed down with locally sourced wine. US$6,400 for three days; US $12,820 for six days.
Hotel Jay; Jay, Vermont
Jay Peak claims the most snow of any eastern mountain, famously hairy terrain, and a liberal off-piste policy. The only problem: there hasn’t been much else to do in this sleepy hamlet just shy of the Canadian border. A few years ago, the resort embarked on a $250 million revitalization program to provide what it’s calling a “weatherproof vacation.” Last month, Jay opened a $27 million water park under a retractable roof. There’s plenty to keep the kids busy: a pool, a hot tub, a standing surf wave, a sadistic water-slide called the AquaLoop—which sends riders into a 60-vertical-foot free fall—and a bar from which to watch it all. This month, the next phase opens with Hotel Jay, which offers 172 one-to-five-bedroom suites featuring spacious fireplaces and -locally made furniture (it’s Vermont, after all). The hotel’s best amenity? Free day care for powder-loving parents. Doubles, $179, including two lift tickets and water-park passes.
Montage Deer Valley; Park City, Utah
What recession? The 220 rooms in this absurdly luxurious hotel, which opened last winter, are outfitted with gas fireplaces and balconies that offer views stretching 35 miles to the Wyoming state line. Chauffeurs in Mercedes-Benzes shuttle guests about town, and the resort’s spa, Utah’s largest, features treatments that use aspen bark and a honey-like resin. Après-ski, guests gather for s’mores by the fire pit or in the pub, which has a four-lane bowling alley, a vintage-game arcade, and a Wii lounge. (That’s right, a Wii lounge.) And of course, there’s always Deer Valley’s mellow, impeccably groomed, and often empty slopes. There’s steeper, treed terrain, too; you just need to know where to look. Hang a right off Orion and drop into the Daly Chutes or keep traversing skier’s right until you hit the little-known X-Files glades. From $695.
The Briarcliff Motel; Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Bostonians flock to the Berkshires in summer, but in winter the region is overlooked. Which is fine by the locals, who cross-country-ski and snowshoe over rolling hills and hit the mellow slopes at Butternut and wind-powered Berkshire East. Base yourself at the Briarcliff Motel, a 1960s motor lodge between Stockbridge and Great Barrington that’s been redesigned with Scandinavian-style furnishings and modern upgrades like iPod docks and flatscreen TVs. Every room has a view of Monument Mountain. Hit up the nearby Arcadian Shop for cross-country-ski and snowshoe rentals (413-637-3010), then head to the rolling trails in 400-acre Kennedy Park. With a DVD library, two excellent indie cinemas within 30 minutes, and hard-to-beat prices, the Briarcliff isn’t a bad place to wait out a nor’easter, either. Doubles from $65.
Altoona Ridge Lodge; Princeton, Montana
One advantage of the approach to this backcountry lodge—a five-mile, 2,000-vertical-foot ski route—is that it weeds out the riffraff. Not that there’s much competition for fresh tracks in the remote Flint Creek Mountains of western Montana: the nearest neighbor is five miles away. After skinning to the lodge, Altoona skiers explore terrain that ranges from open meadows to pillowy rock gardens, cliff bands, and summits over 9,000 feet, which you can skin up or access via snowmobile. You can opt to guide yourself, but we recommend hiring owner Denison von Maur to guide and cook. (He makes a mean raclette.) Come evening, return to the three-cabin lodge to soak in the wood-burning sauna as the sun sets. $250 per person, including meals and guiding.
Rock Springs Yurt; Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The only thing more challenging than skiing Jackson Hole’s gnarly terrain can be finding a good deal on lodging. One solution is the Rock Springs Yurt, located just south of the resort and accessed by South Hoback’s lower faces—a series of wide-open black runs—or a tram-accessed backcountry route down Rock Springs. Eight skiers can rent the woodstove-heated yurt and fill up with a hot meal prepared by the “Yurtmeister”—a seasonal employee, likely of the Carhartts-and-crocheted-beanie-sporting variety. Bring a toothbrush, a change of clothes, and a bottle of whiskey. The rest is provided: eight bunks, a secluded location, and a deck for hors d’oeuvres. Come morning, depending on your group’s skill level, you can either stay and play in the sidecountry or scoot safely back to the resort: catching first chair is as easy as stepping into your bindings and sliding downhill. $425 for up to eight, including dinner and breakfast.
Out of Bounds
The Lodge at Black Rapids; Richardson Highway, Alaska
This one’s not for weekend warriors. Located 140 miles southeast of Fairbanks, in the middle of the Alaska Range, the three-year-old Lodge at Black Rapids is perfectly situated for long cross-country and backcountry ski expeditions. Built on a bluff overlooking the ruins of a gold-rush roadhouse, the timber-frame lodge has six rooms plus hostel-like accommodations on the ground floor. But that’s not why you come. This season, owners Mike and Annie Hopper opened three miles of rugged, hand-cut cross-country ski trails, which lead to towering waterfalls, offer views of the mighty Hayes Range, and connect to a local 5K track. But if you’re more of a fat-ski person, you’ll definitely want to bring your powder boards and avy gear. Mike lets experienced guests tag along on his forays up drainages and down steep chutes. After dark, meals like local halibut, salmon, and bison are served family style, and guests gather in the enclosed top-floor deck to watch the northern lights. Doubles from $145.
Snow Mountain Ranch; Grand County, Colorado
A 5,100-acre playground outside Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, Snow Mountain Ranch is best described as a year-round camp where grown-ups are welcome, too. It’s owned by the YMCA, and you can tell: with more than 50 utilitarian cabins, three lodges, and seven yurts, the vibe is rambling and rustic, and not at all resorty or ranchy. Ice skating, tubing, and sledding are all free, and some 62 miles of cross-country ski trails wind through the hills. Need a break from the kids? Leave ’em at the rec center, which has foosball, Ping-Pong, and a roller-skating rink, while you escape for a day at Winter Park Resort, just 12 miles away. The bunk-bed-equipped yurts are tempting at just $89, but they’re unheated—go with one of the cabins, where you can light a roaring fire. Cabins from $159.
Icefall Traverse; Golden, British Columbia
When Larry Dolecki started guiding the Icefall Traverse last season, he billed it as the Canadian Haute Route, with one striking difference: it’s utterly devoid of people. The ten-mile backcountry ski track connects two new huts, Lyell and Mons, some 40 miles outside Golden, and ends at the Icefall Lodge, a simple log affair with a wood-burning sauna. With little more than bunks, propane heat, and solar-powered lighting, the huts are rustic so as not to distract from the feature attraction: the epic backcountry skiing. Along the traverse, there’s something for everybody: couloirs, glaciers, steep tree skiing, and five summits over 11,000 feet, including Ernest Peak, which drops 7,600 vertical feet. The scenery is just as impressive, with views over miles of untracked meadows, frozen blue waterfalls, arches of ice in the Tempest Glacier’s icefall, and Mount Forbes, the highest peak in Banff National Park. From US $1,450 for four days.