Make the most of the season with strategies from pros, killer deals on passes, and skier-friendly hotels
This winter, rethink your approach on the slopes with these smart tips to get the most out of the season.
1. Follow the Leader
Ever show up at a resort with no clue where to start? “Hire a guide,” says skier Cody Townsend. “Spending a little bit extra can ensure that you find the secret powder stashes, get to the resort-accessed backcountry, and enjoy your vacation that much more.” You might also be able to avoid lift lines and get tips on improving your technique along the way. At Park City Mountain Resort, a 7,300-acre paradise of massive bowls that is Utah’s largest ski area, the Peak to Peak Guided Ski Experience is a group excursion, tailored to your preferences, that takes you through the resort’s best advanced and expert terrain ($209). Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia has 8,171 acres across two glaciated peaks and offers free tours of inbounds steeps and half-day avalanche-awareness outings, both led by a ski patroller. The resort also runs backcountry trips with certified guides (from $259). Meanwhile, at Squaw Valley in California, access to several runs off Tram Ridge and National Geographic Bowl opened last winter, when Alpenglow Expeditions started -leading sanctioned trips beyond the gates of Squaw and neighboring Alpine Meadows (from $223).
2. Refuel with Ramen
After a day of charging, you can now eat legiti-mately superb ramen while sipping hot sake at many North American ski resorts. Check out Miso Hungry, a converted tram car parked slopeside at Vermont’s Jay Peak. In 2015, the sushi and ramen joint Kuma Yama opened in the lodge at Lake Louise, Alberta. And an old A-frame at Mammoth Mountain in California is now a bustling spot called Ramenya, serving huge, steaming bowls of noodles and broth. Or go to Niseko, Japan, which is part of the Mountain Collective Pass this winter. At Niseko Ramen Kazahana, we recommend the creamy potato ramen. There’s no better way to beat the cold.
3. Get a Season Pass
With lift-ticket prices topping $150, buying a one-day pass at the window isn’t the best option anymore. If you just need a day ticket, book it on the resort website and you’ll likely save money. But if you plan on doing a lot of skiing this year, buy a season pass that includes access to the mountains you want to visit. This summer, Vail Resorts bought Stowe, in Vermont, so you can now ski there with an Epic Pass, in addition to unlimited entry at 13 other North American resorts, plus access to 30 mountains around Europe ($899). Last July, the firm that owns Aspen Skiing Company partnered with KSL, the private-equity owner of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, to buy Intra-west—home of Mont Tremblant and Stratton—in a $1.5 billion deal. The group then bought Mammoth Mountain, along with its smaller partner resorts. These are all set to be combined into a single superpass available in late 2018. Until then your best option is the Mountain Collective Pass, which gets you two days of skiing at many of those resorts, plus Alta, Revelstoke, Snowbasin, Sugarbush, Sun Valley, and Telluride, among others ($489).
4. Stay Where You’re Loved
A new crop of hotels are offering things skiers actually need: dog-friendly rooms, gear-drying lockers, and ridiculously convenient on-site ski shops. Book at the Blake, which opened last winter just steps from Lift One at New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley, and you and Fido can get a two-bedroom suite with a kitchenette, plus there’s a ski valet to stow your skis and warm your boots (from $400). At Whistler Blackcomb, a so-called “pod” hotel is opening next April. Called Pangea Pod and inspired by the owners’ Tokyo travels, it will have 88 private sleeping cubbies with shared bathrooms, a rooftop deck, a lobby espresso bar, and gear lockers. At Sun Valley, Idaho, the Limelight Hotel opened last December in downtown Ketchum and boasts a free and plentiful breakfast spread and a Four Mountain Sports ski shop just a few steps from the front desk, offering gear rentals and overnight tune-ups (from $264).
5. Score Your Own Private Mountain
It’s not completely out of reach to have an entire slope all to yourself—at least for an hour or so. At Quebec’s Mont Tremblant, the First Tracks program lets you on the chair 45 minutes before the resort opens to the public. You’ll load up at the Express Gondola or Duncan Express at 7:45 a.m., carve freshly groomed corduroy with hardly another skier in sight, then dig into an omelet or banana crepes at the mountaintop Grand Manitou lodge, with views of the Laurentian Mountains. The perk is free if you’re a guest at a number of village hotels—including Ermitage du Lac, Place St-Bernard, the Westin, and others—or $23 if you aren’t. At Jackson Hole, sign up for a four-day Steep and Deep camp, held four times each winter, and you’ll be on the resort’s famous tram 35 minutes before anyone else (from $1,250). After enjoying Rendezvous Bowl and views of Grand Teton, you’ll drop into Corbet’s Couloir with confidence. And this winter, the resort is offering a GoPro Steep and Deep camp, led by local POV hero Andrew Whiteford, where you’ll learn to shoot clips of early-ups powder laps by day and edit your footage afterward. In Aspen, stay at the Little Nell and you can sign up for the hotel’s Last Tracks program, where you’ll get to tag along with ski patrollers on Aspen Mountain starting at 4:30 p.m. as they sweep they hill ($25). While you’re there, don’t miss Snowmass, one of Aspen’s four resorts, where a new chair in the High Alpine zone makes for quicker access to the mountain’s most challenging steeps. A -recent $5.9 million remodel of Gwyn’s High Alpine restaurant means you can sip hot toddies from a fireside bar perched at 10,500 feet.
6. Rethink Après
It doesn’t have to mean sitting in a crowded lodge with Jägermeister shots and soggy chicken fingers. At California’s Northstar, you can ski up to a free champagne toast at 2 p.m. nearly every afternoon, or upgrade to a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, a charcuterie plate, and your own outdoor fire pit for $85 a head. Smack in the middle of Vail Village, you can swap ski boots for funny-looking shoes at Bol, a 14,000-square-foot restaurant and upscale bar with a bowling alley in the back. Or try this: after skiing all day on the Front Range, head to the Denver showroom and factory of Meier Skis, where you can watch as skis are hand-built and a “ski-tender” will pour you a pint of a local Colorado beer ata bar made from unused cores and sidewalls.
7. Shoot It
More resorts are coming up with ways to help you capture high-quality pictures. California’s Heavenly is offering a new GoPro lesson this winter, including tips on how to get the best point-of-view images. Plus, you’ll walk away from the lesson with your data card and a discount to purchase your own GoPro. To learn how to take professional-grade photos, sign up for legendary ski photographer Scott Markewitz’s three-day immersive workshop at Utah’s Snowbird. The course includes three nights at the slopeside Cliff Lodge, breakfast, and access to early trams, so you can be skiing and shooting the steeps and bowls off Mount Baldy and the Cirque before everyone else. Splurge on a heli-ski trip with Black Ops Valdez out of Valdez, Alaska, and you can hire a skilled professional to capture every moment of your trip. You’ll come away with a thumb drive full of high-res photos or a printed scrapbook with magazine-worthy shots of you beaming in your AStar chopper and carving out the run of your life (from $1,425).
8. Enjoy the Ride
Getting to and around ski towns is easier than ever. Blackbird offers new flights from Denver to Aspen and from the Bay Area to Tahoe with private-jet-style service at commercial-airline pricing (from $174 one-way). Stowage space can be limited on some of the smaller aircraft, but ski-bag fees are surprisingly reasonable: Blackbird charges $25. If you fly Frontier Airlines, which has at least 60 flights per day into Denver, you’ll get two-for-one lift tickets at Copper Mountain when you show your boarding pass. With a $59 upgrade, you can check your ski bag, get a full refund on canceled flights, and avoid change fees if the snow doesn’t materialize and you decide to reschedule. Meanwhile, UberSki is simplifying mountain-town transport with rack-equipped, all-wheel-drive cars in towns like Park City, Aspen, Breckenridge, and Vail ($6 plus fare).