It’s time to plan your ski vacation, and you want what every snow-loving guy wants come winter: epic steeps, deep powder, and a whole lotta vertical gnar...or at least a good hill to take the family for a few cold thrills. Too bad you can’t predict where the snow will be any better than your weatherman. But don’t worry, some mountains will never disappoint. Because, while it <em>is</em> about the snow, it’s also about the terrain, the crowds, the charm, the nightlife--and, sometimes, the whole package together.
To that end, we’ve gathered the 10 best ski resorts on the continent that offer something for <em>every</em> skier or snowboarder. Bottom line: none here will fail you. You wanted a good time on the slopes? Consider it done.
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Taos Ski Valley (Taos, NM)
You won’t find a hopping après scene here, but that’s not the point. Tucked at 9,000 feet in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of northern New Mexico, Taos Ski Valley is rugged and natural for the more adventurous inbounds skiers and boarders. You’ll have access to plenty of tame groomers over its 1,300 acres—though, more than 50 percent of the trails are rated to expert—but the draw here is the matrix of untouched bumps, rocks, and drops on unmatched hike-to terrain. That and the 300-plus days of New Mexico sunshine on top of 305 annual inches of snow. Trudge up to the Highline Ridge or 12,481-foot Kachina Peak for dozens of heart-hammering shots down steep chutes and over cornices.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> Watch elite skiers and boarders catch big air and land flips on Kachina Peak at the Salomon Extreme Freeride Championships. February 28 - March 2.
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> Fly into Albuquerque and drive 2.5 hours north to Taos. The ski valley sits 15 miles into the mountains north of town. (<a href="http://www.skitaos.org/" target="_blank">skitaos.org</a>)
Telluride (Telluride, CO)
Telluride, which boasts an impressive lift-served 3,845-foot vertical drop, 125 trails (the longest is 4.6 miles,) and three terrain parks, caters to experts and beginners alike. The timid can ride lifts to the highest peaks and score views generally left to the more intrepid—Telluride sits among the highest concentration of 14ers in North America—who will drop big vert with a little off-piste hiking to 13,320-foot Palmyra Peak. You’ll carve dry snow on the west-facing San Juan slopes and, when the light fails, a soulful après in Mountain Village.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> Catch big laughs at the Telluride Comedy Festival. February 14 - 17.
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> Telluride is notoriously tough to get to. While it now has direct jet service from 9 cities, most will want to fly into Durango or Grand Junction and drive about 2.5 hours to the resort. (<a href="http://tellurideskiresort.com/tellski/index.aspx" target="_blank">tellurideskiresort.com</a>)
Sun Valley (Sun Valley, ID)
Sun Valley Ski Resort
America’s oldest ski resort—it’s in its 77th season—Sun Valley still manages to be a bit of a well-kept secret among locals. That means smaller crowds than big-name resorts and a pristine slope with more than 2,000 acres and a 3,400-foot drop at the edge of the Sawtooth National Forest. Plus, Sun Valley has some of the best resort Nordic trails in the country. The 220 inches of average snowfall is a tad scant, but friendly staff and superb on-mountain dining top most other resorts. Take the 56-car Roundhouse Gondola up to the fancy Roundhouse Restaurant on Bald Mountain’s summit for a Northwest lamb burger and long alpine views.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> Sun Valley hosts the Norwegian Olympic team for their annual Nordic Festival, a weeklong event filled with nordic skiing, demonstrations, seminars, and the Boulder Mountain Tour Race.
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> Alaska Air offers daily direct flights to Sun Valley from Los Angeles and Seattle, and SkyWest flies direct from Salt Lake City. (<a href="http://www.sunvalley.com/" target="_blank">sunvalley.com</a>)
Vail (Vail, CO)
First, the stats: 350 annual inches of snow, 3,500 vertical feet, 31 lifts, and 193 trails on more than 5,000 acres. Much of Vail’s terrain is expert class, and the steep back bowls—Sun Up, Siberia, China—are legendary. Vail’s Ski and Snowboard school is also top notch with workshops in Nordic and telemark styles, and Adventure Sessions match skiers with an expert guide for a day on the mountain. Throw in scores of stellar restaurants in the village and environmental efforts in the form of solar panels and reduced water use, and there’s little—aside from solitude—Vail doesn’t offer.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> The Burton US Open, the longest-running snowboard competition in the world, comes to Vail starting this year, after 30 years on the east coast.
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> Fly into Denver and drive an hour and 45 minutes west on I-70. (<a href="http://www.vail.com/" target="_blank">vail.com</a>)
Jackson Hole (Teton Village, WY)
Jackson Hole Ski Resort
With a staggering 459 inches of average snowfall, Jackson Hole is all about the big-mountain powder. Half of the 116 trails are for experts, and you’ll get bragging rights plowing through the dry stuff down steep chutes and bumps. Those less comfortable on the steeps can take private lessons with the staff of Olympians and pro boarders, or join a Steep and Deep camp to improve your confidence and grace in pow.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> Take a nearby Wildlife Tour with EcoTours and Adventures to scope moose, bighorn sheep, elk, and bison in Grand Teton National Park and National Elk Refuge.
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> This year Jackson added nonstop flights from Newark, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. (<a href="http://www.jacksonhole.com/" target="_blank">jacksonhole.com</a>)
Stowe (Stowe, VT)
Stowe Ski Resort
Stowe has the East Coast’s best skiing and biggest charm, with 333 inches of annual snowfall, 116 runs (on only 485 skiable acres,) and a European-style village. But, not surprisingly—we’re in Vermont, after all—Stowe also shines in its environmental conservation efforts. The only U.S. ski resort certified as an Audobon International Sustainable Community, Stowe makes use of storm runoff with a 110-million-gallon snowmaking lake, composts food from its kitchens, and sources 50 percent of its energy in hydropower.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> The serpentine Nosedive trail, with its steep, narrow chutes, is a classic.
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> Stowe is just a three-hour drive from Boston, or fly direct to Burlington, an hour’s drive from Stowe, from Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, New York, and Washington. (<a href="http://www.stowe.com/" target="_blank">stowe.com</a>)
Whistler Blackcomb (Whistler, B.C.)
Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort
Whistler’s insane numbers speak for themselves: an annual average of 469 inches of snowfall, more than 8,000 acres, and almost 5,500 feet of vert. Its 37 lifts and three high speed gondolas can churn over 65,000 people up the mountain per hour, so you’ll not want for bagging big lines. To score big, long steeps and World Cup race runs, head to any of Whistler’s 16 huge alpine bowls. Add in its boarder-friendly terrain parks, halfpipes, and killer nightlife, and you’ve got everything you could want. And with lift tickets pushing $100, you’ll be paying for it, too.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> If you get tired of staying upright, take to the eight-lane tube park and charge down the 1,000 foot hill face first.
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> Fly into Vancouver and drive north 1.5 hours to Whistler. (<a href="http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/" target="_blank">whistlerblackcomb.com</a>)
Deer Valley (Park City, UT)
Deer Valley Ski Resort
Deer Valley, a skier-only resort, was an Olympic venue for the 2002 Winter Games, so you know it has cred, like 300 inches of snow in a typical year and 3,000 feet of vert. Plus, this season brings $8 million in improvements, like Mountaineer Express, a new high-speed quad lift, and expanded snowmaking capacity with low-energy guns. But Deer Valley is best known for its pampering luxury and fine dining, as well as its top-notch manicured grooming that will have you hurtling giddily down mountain.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> See the best in artsy filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival. January 17 - 27.
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> Fly direct from eleven major cities to Salt Lake City, a 40-minute jaunt from Park City. (<a href="http://www.deervalley.com/" target="_blank">deervalley.com</a>)
Snowbird (Alta, UT)
Snowbird Ski Resort
Snowbird sees a miraculous 500 inches of snow every year, and the steep, powdery terrain is no breeze—but it <em>is</em> epic good fun. That terrain is even easier to reach this year with the new Little Cloud high-speed quad chair that shunts visitors up the mountain in three-and-a-half minutes. Another high-speed quad connects to nearby skiers-only Alta, which you can ski with a combined pass. You won’t find much in the way of nightlife or charm here, but that’s fine. You came for the snow, and you got it.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> Come for New Year’s Eve to watch hundreds of skiers carve down the mountain bearing candles in the Torchlight Parade. December 31
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> Fly into Salt Lake City, just 45 minutes from Alta. (<a href="http://www.snowbird.com/" target="_blank">snowbird.com</a>)
Squaw Valley (Squaw Valley, CA)
Squaw hosted the 1960 Winter Games, and with 3,600 acres of terrain over six peaks and 450 inches of snowfall a year, it’s still got the stuff. From groomed trails to open bowls, terrain parks and pipes and classic steeps, it offers something for everyone, including three new lifts this year that access mostly intermediate and beginner terrain. After hours, the pedestrian village is full of restaurants, pubs, and shops for wholly agreeable après entertainment.
<strong>DON’T MISS:</strong> Take the kids to the SnoVentures Activity Zone, where they can strap on a helmet and race mini snowmobiles on a groomed course.
<strong>GETTING THERE:</strong> Fifteen cities have nonstop departures to Reno Tahoe International Airport, an hour’s drive southwest to the resort. (<a href="http://www.squaw.com/" target="_blank">squaw.com</a>)