The Go List

The Best Winter Road Trips

The short days and snowy roads of winter shouldn't stop you from a classic tour

The Best Winter Road Trips

Hitting the road—not limited to summer with windows down. Go get some. Photo: William Newman/Flickr

Mountains are never so spectacular as when blanketed in white, and meals are never as satisfying as after a day of vigorous exercise in the cold. Pack your thermal underwear and soaking trunks, line up a car with four-wheel drive, and string together a few of these classic winter destinations.

British Columbia’s Powder Highway

Distance: 776 miles
Time: 10 days

You could spend a month exploring the skiing of central British Columbia, where eight ski resorts, nine heli-ski operations, and ten cat-ski outfits offer a mind-boggling array of deep, crowd-free riding. That’s not even mentioning the ski-touring possibilities.

For ease of connection, fly into Spokane, Washington, rent your car at the airport, and then spin a clockwise lap northward, spending two days at each of the region’s four steepest resorts. Start at Red Mountain, in Rossland, British Columbia, where day tickets are just CA$89 (about $68). Driving an RV? You can park in the lot for an extra $10. While you’re there, hit up Big Red Cats, easily the continent’s best value for cat skiing. The company’s early/late season rate is just CA$449 (about $343) and gets you a dozen runs—about twice the industry norm. Then drive an hour north to hippie enclave Nelson, where you can test your fitness on the fantastic hike-to terrain of this exceptionally steep local’s hill. There’s no on-mountain lodging, but the cafe in the base lodge has the best low-cost dining in ski country.

For après, head to Ainsworth Hot Springs on the shore of Kootenay Lake, just a 40-minute drive away. Three-and-a-half hours north is Revelstoke, with North America’s biggest vert at 5,600 feet. Beware on backside hike-to routes like Discipline—many an expert has been cliffed out there. Next, drive the hour and 40 minutes to Golden, past the famed ski-touring terrain of Rogers Pass, and get ready for Kicking Horse. Go in March to give time for this craggy mountain’s couloirs to fill in as much as possible. On the six-hour drive back to Spokane on Highway 95, you’ll pass Panorama Mountain Resort, Kimberley Alpine Resort, and Fernie Alpine Resort, all powder hound bucket-list spots. Maybe take a sabbatical?

Colorado and New Mexico Soak and Ski

Distance: 268 miles
Time: 6 days

This tour of Southern Rockies ski resorts and hot pools allows you to alternate ski days with ambitious chill time. Modest Ski Santa Fe, in New Mexico, is a good warm-up mountain to start the trip. Cruise the intermediate Gayway, or crank it up a little in the glades under the Millennium chair. Your first soak is at the Japanese-themed Ten Thousand Waves spa, where you can wander the gardens, float in the hot tubs, and recharge in the cold plunge. Book a private “spa suite” for exclusivity. An hour north is renowned Ojo Caliente hot springs, with its 11 separate thermal pools, including a mud bath and specific pools containing elevated levels of iron, arsenic, soda, and lithia, each believed to have particular medicinal benefits. Another hour beyond that is the expert’s mecca of Taos Ski Valley. Its new ownership has sunk millions into upgraded lifts and, this season, the new 80-room four-star Blake Hotel. Experts should challenge themselves on Kachina Peak, but take a minute to admire the view of the high desert from the top. It might be the world’s best view from a ski hill.

Drive three hours northwest to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where for centuries people have been soaking in the mineral baths. Book a room at the LEED-certified Ecoluxe Hotel at the Springs Resort and Spa, which has 23 different thermal baths ranging in temperature from 80 to 114 degrees. Thirty minutes up Highway 160 is Wolf Creek, Colorado’s snowiest resort, averaging 430 inches of snow per season. On a powder day, head for Alberta Face, where, thanks to wind loading, the snow depth usually exceeds the snow report.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Distance: 132 miles
Time: 5 days

Yes, Yellowstone’s roads are almost all unplowed and closed to cars in winter, which is why a chunk of this road trip is by snowcoach—specifically, a Mercedes Sprinter van outfitted with tank tracks. Start in Jackson Hole, home of Grand Teton National Park and the photogenic Teton Range—particularly pretty in their winter whites. Cross-country ski right underneath the Cathedral group to frozen Jenny Lake. Afterward, grab a hot toddy at Dornan’s, where ski mountaineers gather to admire their tracks through the bar’s big plate-glass windows.

Or take a day on the slopes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Intermediates can spin laps on the new Teton lift, while experts can test their skills on the steeps and cliffs accessed via the tram. Book a night in the cozy renovated cabins at Turpin Meadow Ranch, an hour northeast of Jackson. The ranch offers 12 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, a fleet of loaner fat bikes, and farm-to-table dining featuring hearty dishes like risotto and short ribs.

Drive an hour north past frozen Jackson Lake to Flagg Ranch, at the South Entrance to Yellowstone, where you’ll meet your snowcoach from Teton Science Schools Wildlife Expeditions. The naturalist-led trip to Old Faithful features a visit to the famous geyser basin and cross-country or snowshoe excursions among elk and bison herds. Tours range from one to seven days and include nights at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

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