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(Photo: Telluride Ski Resort)

Where to Ski the Top-Ranked Terrain in the West

When your crew has differing abilities, choosing a resort with varied terrain is crucial

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Samantha Berman

from Ski Mag

As skiers, we put a lot of stock in certain resort attributes: snow, challenge, and lifts are among the top-three qualities that readers rank as most important when choosing a ski area. But terrain variety—the amount of different types of terrain—is also incredibly important, especially if you have skiers of various abilities in your crew. After all, it’s a vacation, and the overarching theme should be having fun. Getting stuck on runs that are too steep, or lapping low-angle groomers all day when you want to be bashing bumps, isn’t exactly fun. 

See the Whole List: These 10 Western Resorts Ranked at the Top for Terrain Variety

Our advice: don’t overlook variety of terrain as a highly important metric when choosing a ski resort to visit. The following three ranked at the top of Ski magazine’s 2022 Reader Resort Survey for their varied terrain, so we asked around and identified some of the best runs and pods for every ability level at each. If you’re striving to satisfy a family or ski group with beginner-to-expert skiers, consider one of these for your next trip.

Top Three Resorts in the West for Terrain Variety

No. 3: Telluride, Colorado

Telluride Terrain Variety
Telluride isn’t the biggest resort, but its amazing variety of terrain belies its size. (Photo: Telluride Ski Resort)

Known for some of the best views in skidom, as well as hike-to and backcountry access that attracts world-class skiers to the region, Telluride serves up a surprising amount of varied terrain throughout its 2,000-plus skiable acres. The best part? You don’t have to be a rippin’ skier to take in these San Juan vistas, thanks to lower-angle terrain that tops out at elevations as high as 12,000 feet. Here’s where to find the goods at Telluride.

Terrain-Variety Score: 9.27/10

What Readers Say

“Telluride is a skier’s mountain. There is terrain for beginners to experts, with amazing backcountry areas that will challenge the best and open horizons for newbies.”

Best Beginner Terrain at Telluride 

Sundance: Although upper Sundance is rated blue and lower Sundance is green, as a whole we’d call the run a wonderful advanced-beginner trail that’s long, wide, and boasts just enough pitch to help you get moving at a good clip. It’s also located in a pod comprised of all beginner terrain, so you needn’t worry about speeding yahoos taking you out. Chair: Sunshine Express

Best Intermediate Terrain at Telluride 

See Forever: Revelation Bowl is wide-open, usually groomed, and serves up views of the knife-tipped San Juans that are among the most scenic at the resort. The rest of Revelation Bowl is best for experts, but See Forever offers intermediates the chance to soak in the same vistas on an iconic run that’s a long, cruisey dream. Chair: Revelation 

Best Expert Terrain at Telluride 

Bushwacker: All the terrain off the Plunge chair will give experts a chance to strut their stuff, and Bushwacker, with its consistently steep, thigh-burning pitch, is one of the most classic black diamonds at the resort. More challenge? No problem. Double-black Power Line adds moguls to kick it up a notch. Chair: Plunge 

Best Extreme Terrain at Telluride 

Gold Hill Chutes: The hike-to terrain off Palmyra Peak may not be that much steeper than what you’ll find off Plunge, but add in a 15-to-30-minute hike at 13,000 feet, and exposed rocks and such, and this becomes an endeavor for only the fittest and strongest of skiers. The chutes themselves are technical, with rocks, stumps, cliffs, and hazards. But when the snow is good, there’s no better way to get the adrenaline pumping at Telluride. Chair: Revelation 

No. 2: Big Sky, Montana

Big Sky Variety
With 5,800 skiable acres, the sky’s the limit at Big Sky Resort. Here, Parkin Costain takes flight. (Photo: Jonathan Finch)

Most people think of the iconic Big Couloir when it comes to Big Sky, but this massive resort really does have all types of terrain—and lots of it. With an astounding 5,800 skiable acres that range from the mellow cruisers of Spanish Peaks to the triple blacks off the Lone Peak tram, Big Sky delivers in spades. Even beginners could spend a week here exploring the greens and not get bored. Here’s what Big Sky has to offer when it comes to terrain variety.

Terrain-Variety Score: 9.39/10

What Readers Say

Big Sky is a large resort with an outstanding lift system that makes crowds almost nonexistent. There is a great variety of terrain for all abilities, and its grooming is both impeccable and there is lots of it. I would recommend Big Sky to almost all type of skiers, from families, couples and groups and to those seeking the most challenging steeps or those who are focused on cruising groomers.” 

Best Beginner Terrain at Big Sky

Jaywalk: The green runs off the Explorer chair are the most accessible beginner terrain on the mountain and just long enough to really get your ski legs under you. When you feel like you’ve got more stamina, ride the Swift Current six-pack and try Jaywalk, a cruisey green with great views. Chairs: Explorer and Swift Current 

Best Intermediate Terrain at Big Sky

Hangman’s: Just about anything off the Ramcharger eight-person chair will float any intermediate skier’s boat, but especially long groomers such as Hangman’s and Ambush. Chair: Ramcharger Express 

Best Expert Terrain at Big Sky

Liberty Bowl: It’s easy to become so enthralled with all the frontside terrain at Big Sky that the back side gets forgotten. Experts, don’t make that mistake. Liberty Bowl has some of the most fun, moderately angled terrain at the resort, and it funnels down into awesome glades to boot. Chair: Lone Peak 

Best Extreme Terrain at Big Sky

North Summit Snowfield: This wide-open, north-facing terrain empties into a series of seriously steep chutes. Sign out with ski patrol, and ask about conditions and where to find the best lines. Chair: Lone Peak

No. 1: Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia

Whistler Variety
From groomers to powder pillows, skiers will find it all at Whistler Blackcomb. Tom Peiffer shows us how it’s done. (Photo: Guy Fattal)

That Whistler Blackcomb ranks No. 1 in terrain variety in the Reader Resort Survey year after year speaks to its ability to serve all skiers and abilities on its 4,700 acres spread across two distinct peaks. Yes, there’s amazing above-tree-line bowls, chutes, and couloirs. But there’s also winding groomers and wide corduroy-plastered cruisers that seem to go on and on. With over 5,000 vertical feet, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Here’s a sampling of Whistler Blackcomb’s impressive terrain variety.

Terrain-Variety Score: 9.54/10

What Readers Say

Spanky’s Ladder, long, sweet-pitch giant slalom runs, Secret Bowl, Symphony & Harmony Bowls, and Whistler’s double-black runs make for the most outstanding variety in skiing across the continent. Whistler Blackcomb is the granddaddy of skiing in North America.”

Best Beginner Terrain at Whistler Blackcomb

Green Line: Whistler offers incredible opportunities for novice skiers to get up off the bunny slopes and take in some of the Coast Range views. Green Line is the location of the famous Inukshuk stone structure, plus you can see the famous Black Tusk volcano in the distance. Chair: Seventh Heaven Express

Best Intermediate Terrain at Whistler Blackcomb

Symphony Bowl: More of a terrain pod than a trail, per se, Symphony Bowl is striped with blue cruisers, including main drag Adagio, the Glissando Glades—widely spaced, low-angle trees—and Encore Ridge. It’s truly a playground for intermediates and a testament to Whistler’s variety amid blue-rated terrain. Chair: Symphony Express

Best Expert Terrain at Whistler Blackcomb

Blackcomb Glacier: The Showcase T-bar is an experience in itself and something all high-intermediate to expert skiers should ride. Showcase Bowl is rated as blue, but it drops into a web of black-diamond trails and glades, including Dave’s Day Off and Overbite. Chair: Showcase

Best Extreme Terrain at Whistler Blackcomb

Saudan Couloir: Home to the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme, this Blackcomb Mountain legend is steep, technical, and narrow, making it one of the premier spots on the mountain to test one’s skills. Chair: Seventh Heaven Express

Lead Photo: Telluride Ski Resort

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