The Big Empties
Where deep powder meets uncrowded runs
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Even during the deepest powder days, these five hidden gems somehow remain blissfully uncrowded. Need we say more?
Powder Mountain and Snowbasin, Utah
In-the-know skiers and snowboarders have been raving about the awesome and empty slopes at these mountains for more than a decade. And yet both remain delightfully uncongested. That's because they're a little over an hour's drive from Salt Lake City, or about 30 minutes farther away than Utah's big-name resorts. When storms roll in, as they often do (the two hills, which are 30 minutes apart, average 500 inches of snow a year), untouched stashes stay fresh for days. At Powder, hit Lightning Ridge, which accesses 35-degree steeps. At Snowbasin, head straight for any of the 2,400-vertical-foot runs off the John Paul Express.
Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho
Arguably the Northwest's most desirable ski resort due to its large size (2,900 skiable acres) and big snowfall (300 inches annually), Schweitzer never gets tracked out, thanks to its location, a two-hour drive from Spokane, Washington, the closest major airport. When big British Columbia storms blow through the southern tip of the Selkirks, locals head straight for the snow-ghosted glades that the mountain has built a reputation around. The best runs are JR Trees, a mellow cruise through well-spaced aspens, and Kohli's Big Timber, 1,000 vertical feet of 40-degree steeps through tight glades.
Kirkwood has always had a special status among Tahoe-area resorts: it's harder to get to (50 minutes from South Lake on a two-lane highway) but always worth the effort because of the K-Factor, a snowstorm funnel that drops an average of 600 inches a year here—240 more than nearby Heavenly gets. Industry giant Vail Resorts bought Kirkwood in 2011 and did some sprucing up, adding an umbrella bar in the village and renovations to the Kirkwood Inn, but the mountain's off-the-grid feeling and epic cat skiing remain intact.
Magic Mountain, Vermont
Stratton gets all the attention in the state, but Magic's steeps and tree skiing are better. Start your day by heading up Red Chair, which was refurbished last winter, gaining a little more pep. Then ski the narrow, 25-degree slopes of Upper Wizard to Broomstick all the way down to Bail Out and through the thick trees in the Hallows.
Red Mountain, British Columbia
Just north of the Washington border, this funky, sleepy, and massive resort (five peaks spread over 2,800 acres) keeps getting bigger and better. Last year it grew by almost 25 percent with the addition of Grey Mountain, which features 40-degree chutes with names like Helter Smelter. This year Red Mountain expanded into Mount Kirkup, full of wide-open tree runs. What hasn't changed? The vibe. Although there are a few more condos, there are never any lift lines and everybody still meets up at Rafters, the bar above the day lodge, to drink and listen to live music.