Every skier has their list: the snowy places they’d like to go, the lines they plan on riding, the mountains they hope to climb. Well, here’s ours, and it’s chock full of some of life’s grandest adventures and simplest joys. If you start now, you could make this winter your best ever.
Nobody knows Aspen’s peaks and hidden powder stashes better than Chris Davenport, a long-time Aspen resident. The world famous ski mountaineer recently climbed and skied the 100 highest peaks in Colorado. Now you can spend three days making turns all over Aspen with Davenport as your guide. From March 6-to-9, 2016, you and Davenport can rip gondola laps at Aspen Mountain, go cat skiing, and linger over dinner at Element 47 and the Ajax Tavern. The five-star ski camp includes lift tickets, meals, and luxury lodging at the ski-in, ski-out Little Nell ($5,999, all-inclusive).
You don’t have to sign up for the graveyard shift grooming your local hill to get into the driver’s seat of snowcat (although that is one way to learn). At Crested Butte, Colorado, you can sign up for their Snowcat Driving Experience ($199), where you’ll get a crash course in operating heavy machinery from professional groomers, then hop behind the wheel of a Prinoth 275 Snowcat for an hour-long drive. Classes run twice a day throughout the ski season.
Dismal snow conditions? Hop on a fat bike instead. This growing trend is taking over ski resorts from Grand Targhee to Killington. Nordic ski trail systems all around Colorado—Winter Park, Aspen, Breckenridge, Steamboat, and more—now allow fat biking. Rent a bike from Crested Butte Fat Bike (from $35) and hit the snow-covered trails. “Fat biking makes cycling a four-season sport, even in snow country. It’s opening up a whole new world for people,” says Sean Riley, co-owner of Crested Butte Fat Bike. “When we rent our bikes we offer direction about all of the appropriate places to ride and the places that are riding the best, based on ability.”
Every mountain has its closing day festivities, but none do it like Alta, in Utah. Locals congregate atop High Rustler in tutus, feather boas, and retro one-pieces for the annual High Boy party, a notorious closing day hurrah. You’ll toast to powder days, shred spring corn in costume, then end the day—and the season—grilling sausages on your truck’s tailgate in the parking lot.
Sure, a hot tub after a day of skiing is nice. But you know what’s even better? A soak in a natural hot springs, steaming with minerals and surrounded by river rocks. Good thing ski country is littered with hot springs. We like Steamboat Springs’ Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a developed zone with natural hot pools, plus showers and a massage therapist on site. Or try Mammoth Lakes’ dozens of rustic hot springs—scattered amongst dirt roads with views of the eastern Sierra Nevada range.
Moguls are inevitable at a ski resort, so you may as well learn how to master them. Best way to do that? Sign up for a three-day mogul camp at Winter Park, Colorado ($529), or have Olympic gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht school you in a bumps clinic at Killington, Vermont ($399). Once you’ve dialed in your skills, enter Heavenly’s Gunbarrel 25 ($50), a classic spring tradition that challenges skiers to 25 laps on the resort’s legendary Gunbarrel, a steep, bumped-out chute made famous by 51-year-old freestyle skier Glen Plake.
A week-long all-inclusive heli-ski trip to Canada or Alaska is a life-altering experience, but with price tags in the realm of $10,000, it’s not one most of us can afford. Good thing there’s Silverton Mountain, Colorado, the only spot in the lower 48 that offers single drop heli ski laps. For $179, plus the price of a lift ticket, you can get picked up by a chopper and delivered to the top of a nearby backcountry peak, where one blissful run of untracked powder awaits.
Let a panel of judges determine how good a skier or snowboarder you really are by entering a big-mountain freeride competition. The Freeride World Qualifier tour is a good place to start, with North American stops in places like Revelstoke, BC, Grand Targhee, Wyoming, and Taos, New Mexico. Or check out the East Coast’s Ski the East Freeride Tour and put your steep-skiing skills to the test in classic events like the Castlerock Extreme Challenge, a friendly entryway into the world of big-mountain contests.
You’ll start inbounds at Vail, Colorado, then head out the backcountry gate at the top of Lost Boy Trail, accessed via Chair 7 or Chair 3. You’ll need appropriate gear and avalanche knowledge, but the ski terrain is relatively mild. You’ll be treated to a long, meandering descent—it’s actually more than a mile—with open bowls and tight trees that ends on a run-out through a slick gully into the old mining town of Minturn. The best part? The Minturn Mile ends at a bar. Order a salted margarita and enchilada con carne at the historic Minturn Saloon.
Very few resorts boast inbounds terrain as steep and daunting as Big Sky’s legendary Big Couloir. You’ll ride the Lone Peak Tram to the top of 11,166-foot Lone Peak. Before you drop in, you have to check in with ski patrol (there can be a waiting list for the day, so be patient). The Big Couloir rolls over to 50 degrees and runs for over 1,000 vertical feet of smooth, buttery snow. Bring: beacon, shovel, probe, ski partner, and as much confidence as you can muster.
When Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, debuted the Peak 2 Peak gondola in 2008, it shattered multiple world records: longest unsupported span between towers, highest lift of its kind, and longest continuous lift in the world. It’s a whopper of a ride: 2.7 miles long and over 1,400 feet above the ground at its highest point. It takes 11 minutes to get from mid-mountain on Whistler to mid-mountain on Blackcomb. It’s worth the extra wait time to snag a gondola with a glass floor, so you can really see how perilous your ride really is.
Of all the volcanoes you can ski, none is as great as Mount Baker, in Washington. Mount Baker Mountain Guides offers a one or two-day guided trip to the top of Washington’s 10,778-foot Mount Baker, an active stratovolcano in the Cascade Range ($520). “It’s a big descent—a vertical mile of skiing, with 38- to 40-degree glaciated terrain,” says John Minier, owner and lead guide of Mount Baker Mountain Guides. “As you climb the south side, you’ll go by an actively steaming crater and you can look into the pit. It sounds like a giant espresso machine.”
Fondue is as integral to ski culture as nachos are to the Superbowl. You can eat fondue in America (the creme de la cheese is the mountain-top fondue at Aspen Highlands’ Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro) but to really experience fondue the way it’s meant to be enjoyed, you have to go to the Alps. After skiing all day, pick nearly any restaurant or slopeside lodge in St. Moritz, Switzerland, or Val d’Isere, France, and order their house fondue and a carafe of red wine. Dip chunks of crusty bread into a steaming pot of cheese. Repeat.
Pond skimming is a spring ritual at ski resorts. Grab a ridiculous outfit and an old pair of skis and boots you don’t mind taking a swim in. Then point your skis downhill into the slush and hang on tight as you skim across the water, hopefully making it to the other side. Sunday River, Maine, Arapahoe Basin, Colorado, and Squaw Valley, California are known for their extraordinary pond-skimming setups on or around closing weekend. At A-Basin, an all-natural pond that they call Lake Reveal usually appears by early June.
You’ve skied all over North America and maybe you’ve already checked off snowy locations in South America, Europe, Japan, and New Zealand. What’s left? The South Pole. Ice Axe Expeditions leads an annual trip to Antarctica each fall, where skiers climb aboard a 117-passenger ship in Ushuaia, Argentina, then sail down the Beagle Channel and spend two days crossing the Drake Passage. You’ll visit penguin habitats and sail amongst humpback whales while taking a Zodiac boat to shore to climb and ski various snow-covered objectives (from $8,995).
Nothing says winter like a bunch of icicles hanging from a frozen cave. Go wander amongst an icy geological landmark, like Crystal Ice Cave in Lava Beds National Monument, on the northern border of California. Rangers offer three-hour tours from January through March, where you’ll crawl through narrow caverns, climb a rope over a slick ice field, and hike through dark, rocky caves.
A growing number of ski resorts now promote uphill skiing on their premises. Strap on your skins before first chair and you’ll be treated to heart-pumping exercise, untracked snow, and you’ll save money on a lift ticket. Check your resort’s uphill policy before you head out (some require getting an uphill pass and following mandatory routes). Resorts like Sugar Bowl, California, Brighton, Utah, Magic Mountain, Vermont, and Snow King, Wyoming, are known for their welcoming vibe toward uphill travelers.
Each March, some 70-plus mushers and their dogs cover over a thousand miles of rugged, remote Alaska terrain in the Iditarod. Sure, you can watch clips of the event on TV, but being there in person—seeing the dogs up close, feeling that sub-zero climate—is not to be missed. The race starts in downtown Anchorage and finishes in Nome, on the western Bering Sea coast. The easiest and best place to watch the race is near the starting line in Anchorage.
There’s a tiny town in Colorado known for its hanging cliffs covered in ice. Welcome to Ouray, home to the annual Ouray Ice Festival, a three-day celebration of all things ice held each January. From outdoor gear expos to beer tents to evening slideshows, it’s a lively place to be even if you’re not an ice climber. Watch climbers scramble up vertical ice in the competitions or sign up for a clinic to get schooled by some of the world’s top pros.
It won’t come close to replacing the real thing, but if you happen to find yourself in Virginia, Dubai, or Holland—in other words, far from snow-capped peaks—you might as well take a few turns on a mound covered with a fake snow product. It’s more fun than you think and it’s one of the only places where skiing is jeans is actually acceptable. Check out Virginia’s Liberty Mountain Snow Flex Centre, an outdoor park with jumps, rails, and air bags, all covered in a ski-able, synthetic material called Snowflex. Or visit Holland’s indoor SnowWorld, which offers nine lifts and the steepest slope in the country (at 20 percent grade).
Let’s hope you never need to use it, but in case you’re stuck outside in the winter overnight, or you just like building awesome snow forts, you’ll want to know how to properly build a snow cave. Sierra Mountain Guides offers a two-day snow camping and winter survival course ($520), where you’ll build an overnight camp near Mammoth Lakes and learn about route finding, risk management, and more. Or check out the Mountaineers’ snow camping courses ($60) near Seattle, which include a weekend field trip where you’ll snowshoe in and construct a camp.
Imagine a winter night’s sky aglow with hues of yellow and purple. If you haven’t seen the northern lights, add this to your list. You’ll want to head as far north as possible to catch them. And you can’t get much closer to the Arctic Circle than Finland’s Hotel Kakslauttanen in an expansive wilderness setting in Lapland. Sleep in a thermal glass igloo or log cabin (from $250) and watch nature’s finest fireworks show. Aurora borealis goes off between August and April.
Nothing will make you appreciate a chairlift and your fat skis more than a day on Nordic skis. Sign up for a skate skiing lesson at your local Nordic ski center and prepare to get your butt—and your legs and your core and your upper body—kicked. Ready to take it to the next level? Sign up for a Nordic ski race, like The Great Ski Race, a 30-kilometer race from Tahoe City to Truckee in California, a fundraiser for the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team. Half of the race’s competitors are first timers and many dress in costume.
A good day of cat skiing can rival a day of heli skiing. Plus, it’s usually more affordable. At Retallack Lodge in British Columbia, you’ll spend your days ripping long, sustained bowls and glades stuffed with fresh powder within Retallack’s 10,000-acre operating zone across three substantial peaks. By night, you’ll lounge in a plush lodge deep in the Selkirk Mountains, soak in outdoor hot tubs, and dine on three-course dinners (from $480 per day, all inclusive).
The Southback zone at Crystal Mountain, Washington, is truly is one of the hidden gems of inbounds skiing in America. It feels remote and wild, like backcountry terrain, but it’s still maintained within the ski area boundary. From the top of Chair 6, bootpack to the top of 7,012-foot Silver King and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Mount Rainier and creamy, untouched snow down the steep couloirs that drop off the summit. Ski patrol does avalanche control work here, but they still recommend bringing your avy safety gear and riding responsibly.
Leadville, Colorado, has hosted its ski joring contest since 1949. In this one-of-a-kind race, held on the first weekend in March, skiers get towed by a horse and rider through an 800-foot-long course over jumps and around gates set up on the main drag in the high-altitude town of Leadville. Trust us, it’s like nothing you’ve ever done on skis before. Sign up for the sport class, which is open to newbies (from $35).
You haven’t seen human-powered speed—or massively strong quads—until you’ve watched a World Cup ski race in person. Each December, Beaver Creek, Colorado, hosts one of the opening races of the men’s World Cup season. It draws all the top names from around the world to compete in downhill, super G, and giant slalom. Watch Ted Ligety accelerate up to 80 miles per hour down a steep, icy mountainside. The best place to watch is at the Red Tail Finish Stadium as racers come soaring into the corral.
To properly tailgate at the end of a ski day, you’ll want a good, portable grill (we like the Coleman NXT 300, a portable electric grill that can fit up to 18 burgers), a cooler filled with beers, and a couple of lawn chairs. For the best tailgate atmosphere in ski country, head to “the Beach” at Arapahoe Basin, Colorado, which goes off each springtime with music, bikinis, and hot dog eating contests. Get there early to snag a coveted slopeside parking spot, shred the Pallavicini chair all day, then fire up the grill by afternoon.
Even if you never do a backflip on skis, you can at least learn how to throw one into a foam pit. Start by signing up for a course at Woodward at Copper, a giant barn at the base of Colorado’s Copper Mountain that teaches freestyle skills to kids and adults. In the adult freestyle program (from $177), you’ll learn essential moves on trampolines and ramps. Then, if you dare, you can take your skills to the park.
You can’t just rope up a litter of huskies and charge into the woods. Vermont’s Peacepups Dogsledding on Lake Elmore offers a four-hour Mushing 101 lesson ($500), where you’ll learn to harness the dogs, set up the sled, and drive them yourself while following another guide. If you’d rather just go along for a ride, book a dogsled tour with an experienced musher at Husky Works (from $275) in Stratton, Vermont, which offers tours through meandering woods in the southern Green Mountains.