Floating through the Insta-glorious powder fields of Niseko, Japan, in a storm feels nothing like shredding spring corn on a sunny day in the Sierra Nevada or threading a line through Vermont’s tight glades. These unique experiences are what make the sport so great, and why a multi-resort pass like the Ikon Pass, which gets you access to all of them, is so cool. But perhaps the best part of being a globe-trotting skier is knowing that wherever you go, you’re guaranteed to find a version of the thing you love most about the sport. From mountain adventures and passionate communities that are as awesome as they are unforgettable, these ingredients are what set great destinations apart.
1) Easy Access to Legit Inbounds Terrain
At New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley, you can now ride one of the highest lifts in the country to the top of 12,481-foot Kachina Peak. Or put your skills to the test at Slide Brook Basin, at Sugarbush Resort in Vermont, a rugged 2,000-acre off-trail zone between the resort’s two peaks. And then there's 11,166-foot Lone Peak at Big Sky, Montana, where terrain like the nearly-vertical Big Couloir or the plunging North Summit Snowfield is so stout it requires checking in with ski patrol before you drop. "The Big Couloir has a lot of vertical with a lot of exposure," says Brenna Kelleher, who grew up skiing Big Sky and now works as a ski instructor on the mountain. "But there are a lot of other amazing lines—like anything off the Headwaters lift. You have to hike to it but those chutes have steep pitches, exposed terrain, and consistently good snow."
2) Locals Who Are as Rad as They Are Inviting
Which resort has the best locals? That’s like asking which football team has the best fans. There’s no right answer, just different versions of awesome. Visit Niseko United, Eldora Mountain Resort, or Solitude Mountain Resort, and you’ll ride the lift with dedicated skiers and riders who are fanatics of the mountain and champions of their home turf. In Winter Park, Colorado, load the Super Gauge Express, at the base of the resort’s fabled Mary Jane zone, and you’ll likely rub shoulders with some of the mountain’s diehard bump skiers. Strike up a conversation, and then try to keep up on the way down.
At Snowshoe Mountain, in West Virginia, the Silver Creek lift is home to legendary night skiing until 9 p.m. With 12 trails and multiple terrain parks open under the lights, you’ll find everyone from groms hitting jumps past their bedtimes to local accountants skiing moonlit groomers and sipping moonshine with their buddies.
3) Views That Instagram Can’t Do Justice
From all Ikon destinations, you’ll score majestic sights well worth the effort it takes to get there. Each view is different, but there’s one thing that stays the same: Arrive at the top and that view will take your breath away. (Sometimes literally.) Atop Big Sky’s 11,166-foot Lone Peak—Montana’s highest scenic overlook—you can see across three states and into two national parks. Step out of the gondola at Crystal Mountain, Washington, and you’ll be in the shadows of Mount Rainier. You can peek into Yosemite National Park from the summit of Mammoth Mountain, California, and the stunning view into Banff National Park from Alberta’s Banff Sunshine Village is unparalleled.
4) Every Flavor of Après-Ski Scene
As soon as the lifts shut down, the après-ski festivities—in all of their gloriously unique forms—begin. At Wobbly Barn, the iconic steakhouse-slash-nightclub in Killington, Vermont, catch the free shuttle to après that tastes like a surf-and-turf dinner and sounds like a live band rocking out on the intimate venue’s stage. (Don’t forget to pack your dancing shoes.)
More of an après DIYer? Pack the tailgating essentials—a loaded cooler, portable grill, camp chairs—and head to “the Beach” at Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. This highly coveted strip of parking spots backs directly up to the slopes, meaning you can ski right to an après gathering of your own design. According to Joey Klein, a former A-Basin employee who’s been skiing the mountain since the early eighties, springtime at the Beach is unmatched. “You can ski morning pow on the East Wall and then unwind at the Beach in boardshorts and bikinis in the afternoon,” says Klein, who recommends showing up early to nab a space or calling ahead to reserve one of the premium spots, complete with a picnic table.
5) Events Worth Marking Your Calendar For
From closing-day parties to spring music festivals to costume-clad pond crossings, events are what bring the communities around these diverse destinations together. You’ll find signature, fun-filled gatherings and festivals all over the map. The competitive spirit reigns supreme at events like the Winter Games NZ at Coronet Peak, New Zealand. Music is the top priority at both Reggae Fest, at Maine’s Sugarloaf, and Sunsation, at Colorado’s Copper Mountain. Looking for plain old fun and silliness? In March, head to the Pain McShlonkey Classic at Squaw Valley, California, for an all-day costume party on snow, featuring laughable events like the Snowblade Slalom.
The Ikon Pass is the ski & ride season pass that unlocks worldwide adventure and real community feel. Learn more at ikonpass.com.