Ski and Be Seen
The Ski Junkie's guide to the sickest skiing and hottest cold-weather happenings this winter
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ENVY THE TRUSTAFARIAN: his Sahara-weary Blundstones, his digicam full of pics from his heli-skiing trip in New Zealand, his endless free time to pursue such far-flung travels. Is there a better fantasy than the trustafarian lifestylefreeing yourself from the punch clock and hopscotching around the globe with skis or board in tow? If you’ve ever come home to an empty fridge and considered turning on your heels and blowing your whole 401(k) on a winter walkabout, you’ll appreciate our calendara discerning datebook for well-heeled ski bums worldwide. From the greatest ski-town parties to the best times to hit the best resorts, it’s all here. Your first step? Buy the limited-edition $6,000 Gold Pass, good at more than 260 resorts in 35 states (800-974-2226, http://goldpass.usskiteam.com/). Proceeds from Gold Pass sales help support U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team athletes, and passes are fully transferable to an unlimited number of your moochy ski-bum friends. Not ready for a radical life change? Just clip our list and knock off an item or two per year. You’ll be the richer for it.
Wolf Creek, Colorado
While most of North America is still patching together its ski season with Hail Marys and snow guns, point your rig toward Wolf Creek Ski Area, a homey, pint-size (1,600-acre, 1,604-vertical-foot) mountain in southwestern Colorado’s San Juans, 275 miles southwest of Denver, that traditionally chokes its patrons with snorkel-mandatory dumps well before Thanksgiving. A good rule of thumb: Check the snowfall forecast for Telluride or Crested Butte, then double that. Lift ticket, $45; 970-264-5639, www.wolfcreekski.com
Most resorts start their season by merely switching on the lifts. Not Keystone, which kicks off the winter with the annual 36 Hours of Keystone. It may sound core, but the Keystone event is a day and a half of parties, concerts, movie premieres,and, of course, nonstop racing on Dercum Mountain for just a buck an hour. Call for exact dates; 800-468-5004, www.keystone-resort.com
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Park at the Beav between December 1 and 4 to see the world’s top ski racers, including reigning overall champ Bode Miller, compete in the 2005 Visa Birds of Prey World Cup races. Admission is free; 800-404-3535, www.beavercreek.com. After a long day among the hoi polloi, ski over to Trappers Cabin, a private luxury lodge at 9,560 feet. The cabin keeper greets you at the door with fleece slippers, hors d’oeuvres, and a flute of champagne. While you soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi, a chef prepares your five-course dinner in the kitchen. From $850 per person per night (two-night minimum), including a day of skiing and lunch; 970-845-5788, www.trapperscabincolorado.com
Grand Targhee, Wyoming
Christmastime is always tricky for skiers: Is there anyplace where the snow is guaranteed but the crowds aren’t? Head to Grand Targhee Resort, advises Tony Crocker, a California actuary who crunches snowfall data from major North American resorts. (Check out his site, www.bestsnow.net.) Only twice in the past 30 years has this 2,000-acre Tetons ski area seen fewer than 110 inches of snowfall before New Year’s Day, Crocker says. Lift ticket, $55; 800-827-4433, www.grandtarghee.com
Don’t forget Dad’s 1975 one-piece ski suit when you pack for Chris Davenport’s New Year’s Retro Bonanza, December 30January 1 at Silverton Mountain, in Colorado’s San Juans. The throwback party is the crescendo of this hard-skiing camp, which includes three days of on-hill instruction, avalanche training, and freeskiing with stars Davenport and Brant Moles. And don’t worry about jockeying for powder during the holidays: Silverton limits its lift-ticket sales to a scant 80 people per day. $750; 970-387-5706, www.silvertonmountain.com
Park City, Utah
Hang out with the Sundance Film Festival’s rebellious offspringthe lower-wattage film festivals that run concurrently across town in Park City. First, score some seats at the 12th Slamdance Film Festival (January 1927; 323-466-1786, www.slamdance.com), which was hatched by filmmakers who were rejected by Sundance and is dedicated to showcasing work by first-time directors. Or catch some free viewings at the six-year-old X-Dance Action Sports Film Festival (January 2024; www.x-dance.com), where you can see action-sports films ranging from skating to surfing to motocross. In all the excitement, don’t forget to bring your sticks so you can hit Park City Mountain Resort’s Jupiter Bowl. Preening Hollywood types don’t tend to ski.
This January 2022, watch the world’s top skiers try to survive the world’s most unforgiving downhill course, above Kitzbühel. Austria’s Hahnenkamm Race, now in its 66th edition and 39th year on the World Cup, has created such heroes as Franz Klammer, who won the event a record four times. The knife-edged derring-do of racers is breathtaking: If the 260-foot jump in the “mousetrap” doesn’t send these shrink-wrapped huck dolls skittering, there’s still the unsettling prospect of catching an edge while hurtling at nearly 90 miles an hour through the Zielschuss Kompression. www.hahnenkamm.com
Even if the sight of motocross bikes launching 70-foot gap jumps to the thump of rap music doesn’t twist your throttle, Winter X Games 10 shouldn’t be missed: It’s the best party in Aspen. January 2831, more than 200 athletes compete at Buttermilk Mountain in disciplines like slopestyle, superpipe, and snowmobile snow-cross. While 70,000 people gawk at the high-fliers at Buttermilk, the slopes of Ajax and Snowmass are often less crowded. At night, tens of thousands converge on Aspen’s Victorian streets, where the bars overflow. 800-525-6200, www.aspensnowmass.com
Chatter Creek, British Columbia
By late January, the heart of British Columbia is on its way to another 30-foot winter, so head on up to snowcat-ski 60 miles north of Golden at Chatter Creek Mountain Lodgesa six-year-old operation that’s already created a buzz among Bombardier aficionados. Chatter Creekowned and operated by four former heli-loggers who felled trees to build a 9,200-square-foot lodge in a single summeroffers a white-collar powder-skiing experience (tricked-out snowcats, massages, fancy lettuce on your dinner plate) with a blue-collar feel (snowmobiles, pool tables, canned beer). Three-day trips start at about $1,350; 250-344-7199, www.chattercreekcatskiing.com.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
According to snow geek Tony Crocker, the Tetons usually have the best snow conditions in January, when colder temps keep the white stuff fluffy. This makes it a perfect time to attend the January 2629 Jackson Hole Steep and Deep Camp, where you can hone your high-angle techniques. Each morning, small groups of four to six skiers get on the resort’s early tram and hit the mountain hard, learning how to deal with tight gullies, execute crux moves, and billy-goat their way out of trouble. The $820, four-day clinic includes instruction, lunches, lifts, two dinners, parties, and video analysis. 800-450-0477, www.jacksonhole.com
Lake Tahoe, California
A hard-skiing winter isn’t complete without pulling up a chair(lift) to the all-you-can-eat buffet that is Lake Tahoe in winter. Surrounding the lake, or a short drive away, are 15 resorts. The wild card, says Tony Crocker, is California’s snowfall variability, which is among the highest in the West. So rent a car and follow the most auspicious snow reports. As a general rule, Tahoe’s north shore is a better bet for higher snowfall, says Crocker. Translation: Think places like Squaw Valley USA and Northstar-at-Tahoe, with its newly revamped base village. With the most snowfall (550-plus inches) in Tahoe, Kirkwood will have the best conditions if it hasn’t snowed much recently. 888-824-6338, www.skilaketahoe.com
Steamboat SpringsCharming Steamboat Springs pays homage to its frontier past during Winter Carnival, its 93-year-old event held every February.
Mt. Baker, Washington
Come winter, a jet stream often trains like a fire hose on this near-mythical ski area that once received a world-record 1,140 inches of snowfall in a single year. At the annual Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom, February 35, 300 racersfrom ankle-biters to Olympianstake their shot on the same racecourse: a natural sluice that careers down the mountain. The laid-back extravaganza culminates on Saturday night with a salmon barbecue for 600. $40$55, depending on category; 360-734-6771, www.mtbaker.us
Wasatch Range, Utah
Want to poach six resorts in one day? Sign on with the Ski Utah Interconnect Adventure Tour and you’ll sample up to six Wasatch Range resorts before the sun drops over the Great Basin. Be one of 12 skiers to don avalanche transceivers and take the Deer Valley Resort lifts before they open. After a few powder runs, you’ll hop over to adjacent Park City Mountain Resort. Then leave the ropes behind for a two-mile backcountry descent to the base of Solitude Mountain Resort and on to nearby Brighton Ski Resort. Next, it’s back to Solitude, across the dramatic 500-yard traverse called Highway to Heaven, and into Little Cottonwood Canyon via Twin Lakes Pass. Another long backcountry run deposits you at the upper base of Alta Ski Area. But your quivering legs aren’t done yet: You’ll drop into Mineral Basin, return to the mountaintop, and ski to Snowbird’s base before catching a shuttle back to Deer Valley. The $175 price tag includes guide, lunch, lifts, beacon rental, and transport; 801-534-1907, www.skiutah.com/resorts/interconnect
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
There’s a charming wholesomeness to Steamboat’s 93-year-old Winter Carnival. Today’s version (February 812) takes over the entire town. A favorite event: the Friday-night phenom where a celebrity exhibitionist covers himself in glowing lightbulbs, then skis down the mountain launching fireworks from his pack. Head to Howelsen Hill to see if someone can break the world record in the gelandesprunga ski-jump contest in which leapers use standard alpine gear. Many events are free; 800-922-2722, www.steamboat.com
Forget figure skating and soporific biathlons: At the XX Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy (www.torino2006.org), unpack Old Glory and head 40 miles west to the town of Bardonecchia, home of all the snowboarding events. There, February 1617, Vermont’s Lindsey Jacobellis, 20, and Maine’s Seth Westcott, 29, are both early favorites to mine top metal in the new medal sport of snowboardcross, a.k.a. SBX. (Think motocross on snow, with four athletes plunging down a banked course, elbow to elbow.) Tickets, $59$151; 877-457-4647, www.cosport.com
More than a century ago, Butch Cassidy stormed the San Miguel Valley Bank, in Telluride, Colorado, and snatched more than $20,000. In an unusual celebration of that heist, Telluride Ski Resort can relieve you of your own 20 grand. After flying in to Montrose or Telluride, you and three guests are picked up by helicopter and flown to town, then driven by snowmobile up to Tempter House, a sumptuous ski-in/ski-out rental perched on a 12,200-foot ridge. For the rest of the weekend, the ski patrol is your chauffeur. There’s also an on-call massage therapist, a personal butler who waxes skis, and a breakfast delivery each morning. $20K (really!); 970-728-6900, www.tellurideskiresort.com
Jay Peak, Vermont
A beautiful thing called orographic uplift, coupled with 3,861 feet of Jay Peakthe biggest summit that storms pass over after barreling across Canada for hundreds of milesguarantees that this small but storied ski area gets walloped with 355 inches of natural snowfall each winter. Some of the best stuff falls in mid-March, when the days are blessedly warmer. Track the Doppler, then drop in for a midweek powderfest at this 2,153-vertical-foot Wolf Creek of the East, starting with a tram run up to Tuckermans Chute. Lift ticket, $58; 800-451-4449, www.jaypeakresort.com
Moonlight Basin, Montana
Feeling strong after almost five months on skis? Test your quads against the hale Montanans’ on March 18 at Moonlight Basin’s mini-triathlon, the Headwaters Spring Runoff. Competitors boot it up a timed hike of nearly 1,000 vertical feet to the top of the resort’s Headwaters, a crashing fist of a mountain face. Competitors choose a run down lines like Hellroaring for the race’s freeskiing segment. This trifecta ends with a 1.5-mile Super G race to the resort’s midmountain Madison Lodge. Last year’s men’s champ, a ski patroller, smashed the other 50 racers’ times by more than two minutes and took home $1,700. Still feeling a little soft for hiking? This year, Moonlight installed a double chairlift to access the Headwaters, increasing the resort’s lift-served vertical terrain to 2,720 feet. Entry fee, $75; 866-212-0612, www.moonlightbasin.com
La GraveHit La Grave for the sanity-testing Derby de la Meijie festval, held every April on the 5,900-foot mountain. The catch? No gates, no fixed route, and minimal grooming.
La Grave, France
Imagine signing up for a ski race with no gates, minimal groomed piste, and no fixed route. Now imagine that said race also plunges 5,900 feet through bumps, crud, and icy patches on the flanks of 13,081-foot La Meije. You’ve just envisioned the tallest downhill ski race on the planet, and the centerpiece of the Derby de la Meije festival (April 47). The race begins atop the famously raw ski area of La Grave, which overlaps with Ecrins National Park, in southeastern France’s Hautes-Alps. From there, taking in some great views of the mountain’s treacherous glaciers, up to 1,000 racers depart in waves of ten. Chuckleheads abound: A few years ago, an American lit something resembling dynamite on the back of his mono-ski to propel himself over the flat section of the glacier, where the race turns off-piste. About $70; 011-33-4-76-79-90-05, www.derbydelameije.com
Check your alpine bindingsand your inhibitionsat the valley’s entrance when you head for the Live Free Heel Fest (formerly La Skieda), a weeklong grappa-drenched party that bills itself as the world’s biggest tele-skiing festival. As many as 1,000 heel flappers from some 20 countriesa virtual bent-knee United Nationsdescend on the small mountain village of Livigno, in northwestern Italy, April 18, to participate in silly races (a crowd fave in the past has been the slalom through heavy, swinging bags that knock racers out of their boots), a film festival, cookouts, gear demos, and guided daily ski tours for up to 100. $170, including lift tickets and all events; 011-39-0342-052230, www.livignofreeheel.it
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
Whistler’s Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival is the season-ending blowout. Last year, the pros showed their stuff on the rails, boxes, and hips of the terrain park in the slopestyle events. The centerpiece of this April 1423 bash is the superpipe, where boarders and skiers air 20 feet out of the pipes. But what really attracts the 275,000 revved-up groms and jibbers are all the other off-hill eventsfree concerts at the foot of the ski hill; a nighttime urban rail session under the lights, attended by 7,000 fans pumped full of Red BullandJägermeister antifreeze; pro photo and filmmaker throwdowns in front of keyed-up audiences; and parties throughout Whistler Village. 604-938-3399, www.whistler2006.com
Chilkat Mountains, Alaska
In the spring, the skies over Valdez buzz with choppers from nearly half a dozen heli-skiing companies, so if you’re looking for the lonesome Valdez experience of 15 years ago, do like ski-porn auteurs Teton Gravity Research and Absinthe Films: Head southeast to discover the new heli-skiing frontier of the Chilkat Mountains. The ragged Chilkats have better weather than the Chugach range during the March and April flying seasonand, some say, better snow. Sign on with Alaska Heliskiing (formerly Out of Bounds Adventures) and you’ll likely get snowboarding star Tom Burt as your guide ($3,750, based on a five-person group for six days of skiing and eight nights’ lodging; 907-767-5745, www.alaskaheliskiing.com). If you stay at Bruce and Carrie Bauer’s bed-and-breakfast (907-767-5668), by Mosquito Lake, you can practice your jumps and tricks on Bruce’s homemade terrain park.
Mammoth Mountain, California
Every resort says it has spring skiing, but if you want heavenly April turns, Tony Crocker advises heading to Mammoth. Why? “No Sierra Nevada mountain preserves its snow as well,” Crocker says. This 3,500-acre resort has the high altitude (9,000 feet) to keep the place open until Memorial Day or later 90 percent of the time, and the cycle of warm days and freezing nights is the recipe for perfect corn snow. Spring lift ticket, $56; 800-626-6684, www.mammothmountain.com