Skier Jess McMillan at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Skier Jess McMillan at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. (Photo: Courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain R)

Ski Mountaineer Hilaree Nelson’s Favorite Resorts

Here's where the pioneering skier sends it when she's not shredding the backcountry

“Jackson Hole has amazing sidecountry access, and I tend to go out the backcountry gates if I have the option,

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Hilaree Nelson is one of the boldest ski mountaineers in the world. The 46-year-old lives in Telluride, Colorado, and has skied from the summit of 26,906-foot Cho Oyu in the Himalayas, the sixth-highest mountain in the world; made the first ski descent of India’s 21,165-foot Papsura, also known as the Peak of Evil; and, last year, with her boyfriend, Jim Morrison, nailed the first ski descent of Lhotse, at 27,940 feet, the fourth-highest mountain in the world. She’s also a 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and a mother of two.

When she’s not shredding big-mountain lines around the world, you can find her lapping runs at her home mountain or revisiting her roots at Stevens Pass in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, where she first learned to ski at the age of three. Here are her favorite resorts and inbounds runs from over four decades of skiing. 

Taos, New Mexico

(Courtesy Taos Ski Valley)

Lift Ticket: $110

“This was the first place I ski-bummed when I was a 19-year-old dirtbag. All the super-steep K chutes off Kachina Peak are awesome, high-adventure lines, and they’re pretty accessible. There’s a lift to the top now, but it rarely opens. The peak is open to hikers more often, and I actually like that you have to work to get there.

“When I was a ski bum, I stayed in the town of Taos, which is a 30-minute drive from the resort. But now that I’m an adult with kids, I like staying up on the mountain. The last time I was there, we got a room at the Blake. It’s super nice. You walk out and you’re on the hill.”

Telluride, Colorado

(Courtesy Telluride Ski Resort/Ben Eng)

Lift Ticket: $139

Telluride is my home mountain, so it’s obviously my favorite. The hike-to terrain is some of the best anywhere, especially off Palmyra Peak, which is technically inbounds but takes 45 minutes to an hour to get to. The top doesn’t open very often, so maybe that adds to the allure.

“The Mak-M–Stairs–Plunge combines three different runs—Kant-Mak-M, Spiral Stairs, and Plunge—off of Chair 9. It’s a big giant-bump run, meaning it’s a good way to get in shape. You just lap it. It’s steep, north facing, and always dependable. Dynamo, off Chair 14, a.k.a. the Gold Hill Lift, is probably my other favorite. It’s off a high-speed quad, and it’s this fast, straight-to-the-bottom run, which you can do in three minutes. It’s steep, rarely very moguly, and there are all these little secret shots off of it.

“The town of Telluride is small, but cool. The lifts come right out of town, and you can walk everywhere. But unlike many ski resorts, it feels real because it was a mining town in the 1800s, and then the ski area came in the seventies.”

Crystal Mountain, Washington

(Crystal Mountain, WA/Zach Doleac)

Lift Ticket: From $59

“I grew up in Washington, so I like Crystal Mountain a lot. It’s updated all of its lifts, and it’s a big mountain with really fun skiing. The snow is good, and there is a lot of it. There’s also great hike-to terrain that’s still inbounds, and it’s not super crowded since everyone can be pretty spread out.

“There’s no real town, and the après at the base is pretty minimal: there’s only one bar. But it has a really cool camper scene in the parking lot, which is pretty unique. The mountain allows it and even has hookups and services for RVs. It’s a total ski-bum scene.”

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

(Zach Dischner/Creative Commons)

Lift Ticket: $154

Jackson Hole has amazing sidecountry access, and I tend to go out the backcountry gates if I have the option. But there’s lots of steep skiing inbounds, too. I love Cody Bowl, Rock Springs Bowl, and the Hobacks, below the tram. I like all the terrain off the Thunder and Sublette quad chairs, and Corbet’s Couloir is an incredible, classic inbounds run.

“The local scene in Jackson is a little more intense, a little more aggro. It reminds me of Chamonix [France] in that way, but I still have tons of fun there. Plus, it has more of an après-ski bar scene compared to these other places.”

Squaw Valley, California

(Courtesy Ben Arnst/Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows)

Lift Ticket: $169

“I love the people at Squaw probably more than those at any other resort. There’s this really cool local scene where you can go and meet up with people. Everybody’s friendly and a high-quality skier. It’s just fun. The resort gets crowded, though, but I’ve never been there when it’s too crowded, because I’m able to ski weekdays.

“The terrain off Squaw Peak is really nice. The Palisades are obviously well-known, and I like the Headwall below the Headwall Express Lift and everything off KT-22.

“There’s a good town at the base, but it doesn’t feel as authentic as Telluride, since it was built after the lifts. I usually stay in Tahoe City with my boyfriend. Lift tickets are pricey, but the resort is on the Ikon Pass, which is reasonable. California resorts also stay open the longest—Squaw has run lifts through the Fourth of July before. It has really sunny days, and it’s super fun to ski spring corn snow.”

Stevens Pass, Washington

(Courtesy Stevens Pass Mountain Resort)

Lift Ticket: From $84 

Stevens Pass has fantastic skiing. I grew up skiing there and love that it’s small and rootsy. Lift tickets are still under $100. There’s no town, no bars, no après-ski, but it has a really cool parking-lot scene. That’s it: the parking lot, the lodge at the base, and the mountain. Some of my favorite runs are Nancy Chute and Bobby Chute off Cowboy Mountain, and I love everything off Big Chief Mountain. It’s a quick drive from Seattle, so its easy to make a day trip out of it.”

Lead Photo: Courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain R

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