Alta Ski Area and 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. The resorts are connected by a high-speed quad in Mineral Basin, though the dual-resort season pass is only for skiers. (Alta still bans snowboarders.)
BEST RUN: At Snowbird, ski Great Scott, the rock-lined chute off the tram. At Alta, hike 30 minutes toward the open steeps of East Devils Castle.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: The consistent winds at Point of the Mountain, just south of Salt Lake City, make for exceptional paragliding. Call Super Fly Paragliding ($100 per tandem flight; 801-255-9595, www.paraglidingacademy.com).
LODGING: Built in 1939, the 57-room Alta Lodge (doubles from $243, including two meals; 800-707-2582) has loads of alpine character. Snowbirds high-rise Cliff Lodge (doubles from $129; 800-453-3000) has two indoor pools.
Summit Elevation: 10,550 feet (Alta)
11,000 feet (Snowbird)
Lift-Served Vertical: 2,020 feet (Alta)
3,240 feet (Snowbird)
Skiable Area: 2,200 acres (Alta)
2,500 acres (Snowbird)
Average Annual Snowfall: 500 inches
Aspen, with its Learjets and $20 million mountain cabins, lives up to its reputation as the Gomorrah of the Rockies. But dont be fooled. With four resorts just 15 minutes from townAspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, ButtermilkAspen remains one of the best spots in Colorado for big-mountain skiing.
BEST RUN: In 2000, Aspen Highlands extended its boundaries to include Highland Bowl, a steep, east-facing slope of treeless bliss.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: Yes, shopping is a sport here. Where else can you ski first tracks in the morning and shop the Porsche Design store or buy a floating-diamond Chopard watch after lunch?
LODGING: For the classic Aspen chalet experience, stay in the slopeside (and boutique-side) Little Nell (doubles from $615; 888-843-6355).
Summit Elevation: 9,900 feet (Buttermilk) to 12,510 feet (Snowmass)
Total Lift-Served Vertical: 13,338 feet
Total Skiable Area: 4,900 acres
Average Annual Snowfall: 198-300 inches
Big Sky, Montana
The solitary pyramid of 11,166-foot Lone Peak at Big Sky, in the Madison Range, offers some of the steepest American lift-served skiing2,088 acres of advanced or expert terrain. Some two dozen off-piste chutes and couloirs fall from the summit.
BEST RUN: The steeps of Liberty Bowl, off the Lone Peak Tram, are a local favorite.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: Surprisingly, midwinter fly-fishing with a wet fly on the Gallatin River will land you rainbow trout. Call Gallatin River Guides ($250 for a half-day, including equipment; 888-707-1505).
LODGING: For urban styling and an outdoor pool with a party atmosphere, try the slopeside Summit at Big Sky (doubles from $160; 406-995-8000).
Summit Elevation: 11,166 feet
Lift-Served Vertical: 4,350 feet
Skiable Acres: 3,600 acres
Average Annual Snowfall: 400 inches
Jay Peak; Keystone Resort; Kirkwood Mountain; Mount Baker
Jay Peak, Vermont
If youre looking for powder east of the Mississippi, Jay Peak is your place. In 2000, storms hit this remote resort, eight miles from the Canadian border, with 571 inches of the white stuff, a figure that many resorts in Colorado cant match. Thanks to numerous hidden glades, untracked snow is common days after a storm.
BEST RUN: Skiing the trees on Everglade, the mountains one-and-a-quarter-mile-long signature run, is like running gates in powder.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: After dinner, ice-skate on the outdoor rink near the base or sled down the Interstate run. Both areas are lighted and next to Hotel Jay, which has free sleds available to guests and rents skates for $2.
LODGING: Doubles at on-mountain Hotel Jay (802-988-2611) cost $339, including one dinner and two breakfasts.
Summit Elevation: 3,963 feet
Lift-Served Vertical: 2,153 feet
Skiable Area: 385 acres
Average Annual Snowfall: 357 inches
Keystone Resort, Colorado
With 20 lifts that can move 33,000 skiers per hour over three separate mountains, Keystone has something for everyonegreens and blues on Keystone Mountain, bumps on North Peak, and glades and bowls on Outbackas well as six-course dinners at the Keystone Ranch, Colorados top-rated restaurant according to the Zagat Survey.
BEST RUN: The open lines and 1,200-foot drop of The Windows, a big gladed area off the Summit Express on the back side of Keystone Mountain.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: The Winter Adventure Passport (complimentary with lodging reservations made through the resort, 800-354-4386) gives you free access to everything from yoga classes to cross-country ski rentals and figure-skating clinics.
LODGING: The Keystone Lodge (doubles from $149; 877-753-9786, www.keystonelodge.rockresorts.com) is quintessential mountain chic.
Summit Elevation: 12,200 feet
Lift-Served Vertical: 2,900 feet
Skiable Area: 1,861 acres
Average Annual Snowfall: 230 inches
Kirkwood Mountain Resort, California
With the highest base elevation of the resorts around Lake Tahoe (7,800 feet) and the fact that it faces northwest, Kirkwood gets pummeled by storms. And the expansive, treeless back bowl makes this Sierra gem feel bigger than it is.
BEST RUN: On a powder day, take Chair 4 and ski the playful drops off Thunder Saddle.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: Fifty miles of machine-groomed trails with skate-skiing lanes cover the valley bottom and climb the surrounding hills. Call Kirkwood Cross Country ($20 fee; 209-258-7248).
LODGING: The Lodge at Kirkwood (doubles, $195; 800-967-7500) offers everything from studios to three-bedroom condos, all near the lifts.
Summit Elevation: 9,800 feet
Lift-Served Vertical: 2,000 feet
Skiable Area: 2,300 acres
Average Annual Snowfall: 500 inches
Mount Baker, Washington
This entire North Cascades resort is full of off-camber hills, gullies, and rocky drops, so skiers and boarders were happy to jib off natural features until the resort built a terrain park in 1999-2000. Add an average of 647 inches of snow each year (95 feet fell in the '98-'99 season) and the mountain transforms into a powder-padded playpen.
BEST RUN: On a powder day, locals head straight for the well-spaced trees of Canucks Deluxe.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: Snowshoers seek the panoramic rewards of Artists Point. This 45-minute tromp from the base unveils views of jagged 9,720-foot Mount Shuksan and bluer-than-blue Baker Lake. For rentals, call the Mount Baker Mountain Shop ($10; 360-734-6771).
LODGING: Try the cute rooms and cabinsand free breakfastat Glacier Creek Lodge (rooms from $50 and cabins from $85; 800-719-1414) in the town of Glacier.
Summit Elevation: 5,050 feet
Lift-Served Vertical: 1,500 feet
Skiable Area: 1,000 acres
Average Annual Snowfall: 647 inches
Taos Ski Valley; Telluride; Whistler Blackcomb
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Taos is a four-letter word for steep: More than half of the terrain is rated expert. But skiers (snowboarders are stubbornly prohibited) can be confident of holding an edgeclouds relinquish Americas driest snow here where the Sangre de Cristos rise 5,000 feet from the surrounding desert to 12,000 feet.
BEST RUN: A 1,600-foot drop at 35 degrees, Main Street, off Kachina Peak, is a classic.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: Wake at 5 a.m. for a sunrise hot-air balloon ride over the 800-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge. Call Paradise Hot Air Balloon-Eskes Air Ventures ($205 per person for one and a half hours; 505-751-6098, www.taosballooning.com)
LODGING: Thunderbird Lodge & Chalet (doubles, $236, including two meals; 800-776-2279, www.thunderbird-taos.com) is 100 yards from the lifts.
Summit Elevation: 12,481 feet
Lift-Served Vertical: 2,612 feet
Skiable Area: 1,294 acres
Average Annual Snowfall: 312 inches
In 2001, Telluride spent $14 million to put three new high-speed quads into Prospect Bowl, nearly doubling the skiable terrain. Yet town remains unchanged, with its quaint Victorian buildings and cafés, like the Steaming Bean, for sipping lattes.
BEST RUN: The new Gold Hill lift, serving Prospect Bowl, accesses chutes like Claudes Couloir.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: Sometimes cantering through powder is better than skiing it. Call Ride with Roudy ($35 for a one-hour ride; 970-728-9611) for horseback rides and crazy tales of old Telluride.
LODGING: The plush New Sheridan Hotel (doubles, $100-$300; 800-200-1891, www.newsheridan.com) was built in 1895 as the centerpiece of Main Street and evokes the mining-town glory years.
Summit Elevation: 12,260 feet
Lift-Served Vertical: 3,510 feet
Skiable Area: 1,700 acres
Average Annual Snowfall: 310 inches
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
Whistler and Blackcomb are sister resorts in the Canadian Rockies that share the same base area, so for US$50 you can ski both for the price of one. Not a bad deal, considering that 33 lifts access 7,071 acres of above- and below-timberline skiing.
BEST RUN: The glacier-carved West Cirquea wide-open bowltops 7,168-foot Whistler Mountain.
OFF-SLOPE ACTION: Animal-assisted speed is big. For horse-drawn sleigh rides, try Blackcomb Sleigh Rides (call 604-932-7631 for prices); for dogsledding, Cougar Mountain ($140; 604-932-4086).
LODGING: Enjoy the deluxe spa at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler (doubles, $400; 800-441-1414, www.chateauwhistlerresort.com).
Summit Elevation: 7,494 feet
Lift-Served Vertical: 5,280 feet
Skiable Area: 7,071 acres
Average Annual Snowfall: 360 inches