Winter Resorts for Powder Hounds

Last year’s pitiful snow season left skiers and boarders starving for the white stuff. Which is why we’ve dug up a smorgasbord of new terrain, fresh trips, and killer deals that will have you ripping all winter long.

Jan 3, 2013
Outside Magazine

Hang time in Alta, Utah.    Photo: Intersection Photos

It’s not just that Alta and Snowbird average more than 500 inches of the world’s fluffiest snow each season. It’s that the snow falls on some of the most challenging lines in North America—and this season, many of those trails will be even easier to access. Over the summer, Snowbird replaced the old, slow Little Cloud double chairlift with a high-speed quad that zips skiers to the top in three and a half minutes (twice as fast as before), allowing speedier turnaround on coveted powder pitches like 1,300-vertical-foot Shireen. Just a few miles farther up Little Cottonwood Canyon at Alta—which connects to Snowbird via a high-speed quad and can be skied on the same day with the $99 AltaBird ticket—a new smartphone-friendly website alerts skiers to openings on trails with typically late post-storm rope drops. That includes the north-facing open bowls off Backside, all of which dump you in front of the Rustler Lodge’s outdoor heated pool (doubles from $352). 

Alaskan storms tend to stick around for a while, sometimes dropping up to 40 inches of snow in just 24 hours. Last season that happened a lot. When the final tally was recorded, Alyeska, located just 40 minutes south of Anchorage, was covered with 962 inches of snow at the peak. That accumulation made for never-ending powder throughout the resort’s 1,400 acres, and it allowed ski patrol to open two new chutes on a trial basis: Max’s Chute and #1 East, both of which are narrow 2,500-foot rides of pure fall line. They skied so well that the mountain’s staff expects to open them again this season. And if the weather isn’t as generous, there’s always the backcountry. Chugach Powder Guides operates heli- and cat skiing right out of the resort. We suggest you jump on this deal: four nights of lodging at the swanky, slopeside Hotel Alyeska, two days of lift tickets at the resort, and two days of intermediate-to-expert cat skiing (avalanche gear and lunch included) in open bowls and glades, all for $1,488.

What was nothing more than a backcountry spot for local skiers just six years ago has grown into a major resort. Last season, Revelstoke began using another new tool to help skiers and riders better navigate the mountain: sensors placed in key areas send minute-by-minute updates to the resort’s website, reporting wind direction, humidity, and temperature. Using that information, you can determine where the trails will be most wind-loaded with powder and how dense that snow will be (the denser the snow, the fatter the ski you’ll need). And when the lift-serviced terrain is totally skied out, guests can ride a cat (from $300 per day) to 5,000 acres of mostly gladed sidecountry terrain. Another great perk? Everything is within walking distance of the chairlifts, including your digs at Sutton Place and its new outdoor heated pool (doubles from $560).

There’s a reason the locals prefer mega-fat skis. The resort’s damp ocean air can yield some heavy snow, which is why the resort has built a rental fleet full of fat, rockered skis like the Rossignol S7 and Salomon Rocker 115. And to make sure you don’t miss out on fresh tracks after a big dump, Whistler upgraded its smartphone app with alerts that let you know when ropes are dropping on some of the steepest, longest lines in North America, including the 1,300-foot couloir and the 43-degree Big Bang, located on Blackcomb Mountain. Added bonus: beginning this season, Extremely Canadian guides will run daily backcountry clinics inside Garibaldi Park, an area that holds snow weeks after a storm. For $199 (avalanche gear not included), clients hike and ski as much as 20,000 vertical feet on intermediate-to-expert faces, all while receiving instruction on powder-skiing technique. Later on, grab a massage at Fairmont Chateau Whistler and splurge on one of the rooms overlooking Blackcomb Mountain (doubles from $389).