Major ski destinations can have all the charm of a factory assembly line—lifts dump snowsuit-clad locals and tourists into chaotic, crowded clusters. It's like the difference between booking a stay at a private resort vs. cramming onto a mass-market cruise liner. It pays to venture on the path less traveled.
"Resorts that take a little longer to get to often reward skiers and riders riders with fewer crowds, untracked powder, and down-to-earth mountain towns that make you feel at home,” says Dan Sherman, chief marketing officer at ski.com, North America’s largest provider of mountain vacations.
With more than 46 years of ski-vacation planning experience, the experts at ski.com recommend here seven hidden gems in the U.S. and abroad.
"Taos is one of those places where you step back into an era when skiing was simple,” says ski.com mountain vacation expert Bryan Donnelly. The town and resort are secluded, rising above the Northern New Mexico desert—part of the area’s charm. Taos is nestled in the famed Sangre de Cristo mountain range at an altitude of more than 8,000'. The high elevation, combined with New Mexico’s arid climate yields bone-dry champagne powder. As a cultural center comprising Native American, Spanish, and Anglo tradition, a ski trip to Taos is like going to a faraway land. On your way to the resort you’ll notice adobe buildings, art galleries, and a Native American Pueblo. The resort matches what the town’s culture has to offer with every kind of terrain imaginable at Taos Ski Valley, "from wide-open bowls and long groomers, to crazy cliffs, chutes, and some of the steepest terrain this side of Wyoming,” says Donnelly.
Only 42 miles from Jackson Hole, WY, and with stunning views of the Tetons, Grand Targhee is a resort that should be on your radar. Grand Targhee retains the laid-back, grass-roots vibe of Wyoming and Idaho. The resort receives a whopping 500" of snow annually, but this hidden gem rarely sees crowds or extensive lift lines. With a quaint base village, live music at the local bar, and no high-rise condos to block the vistas, Targhee is a must-visit for skiers looking for private powder. Combine Targhee with nearby resorts like Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Big Sky, and those near Salt Lake City for an ultimate winter road trip.
Red Mountain is the affordable luxury resort you’ve been dreaming of, what with its stellar skiing and affordable, spacious three-bedroom condos with private hot tubs. The area is considered one of the last great undiscovered ski resorts. Located in the low-key town of Rossland, B.C., Red Mountain is two hours from Spokane International Airport. Since its beginning back in 1896, Red Mountain has retained the charm on which its reputation was built. The resort was recently put up for crowd-funding with the slogan “fight the man, own the mountain”. This anti-establishment (going against the grain of recent mergers) mentality can be felt at the laid-back resort. With terrain for all abilities, from wide-open groomers to steep tree skiing, Red Mountain offers something for everyone. Take advantage of the Canadian exchange rate for additional savings, and put this resort on your bucket list.
You’ll find down-to-earth Schweitzer Mountain Resort nestled in Northwest Idaho, about 12 miles from Sandpoint and less than two hours from the Spokane, WA, airport. This quaint, rustic ski area is considered a hidden gem because you don’t have to fight crowds or waste your ski vacation in lift lines. There are also 3,300 acres of skiable terrain, and a consistent 300" of snow annually. Schweitzer has a wide variety of terrain options for all skill levels, and the snowmaking capacity to cover all its intermediate and beginner trails if it's a low-snow year. The views atop the resort of Lake Pend Oreille aren’t too shabby either. As a bonus, if you fly Alaskan airlines to get there, you can ski for free the day of your flight.
Sun Valley started as a playground for European nobility and Hollywood stars in 1936 when it opened the world’s first chairlift. Today it's home to a handful of Olympians, yet remains under the radar. Bright, sunny days with comfortable temperatures combined with long, wide-open groomed runs are just some of the reasons to add Sun Valley to your bucket list. The resort offers a laid-back atmosphere, yet maintains the highest standards of service. There are more than 70 runs, a 3,400' vertical drop, and more uphill capacity per skier than any other destination. “The best part about Sun Valley is you can still drive to and park at the base of the mountain for free," Sherman says. "You'll never have to worry about standing in lift lines, not even on a powder day.” Characteristics you’d be hard-pressed to find at the majority of North American ski resorts.
Minimal crowds, stunning views, great nachos, and that cool Montana vibe make Whitefish a gem of a destination. Skiers used to Colorado and Utah crowds will feel as if they have their own private mountain. On a clear day, the resort’s notorious “snow ghosts”—pine trees coated in fog and ice—create great photo opportunities, as does the view of the surrounding mountains. Whitefish is located at the northernmost end of Montana, near Glacier National Park. The friendly, low-key town offers a slew of accommodations for all budgets, as well as local bars with character to wet your whistle. "Whitefish has a feeling of exclusivity,” says Sherman, “like it’s your own hidden treasure you don’t want anyone else to discover.”
Bormio is the perfect ski vacation for those looking to get away from it all. The remote hamlet is located in the Italian province of Sondrio, near the Swiss border. Due to its remote location, Bormio has very few crowds, which make the ski resort’s spacious woodland slopes that much more enjoyable. It was the site of the 2005 Alpine World Championships, so it boasts world-class facilities. The historic village exudes ancient charm, and provides visitors with plenty of quaint, reasonably priced accommodation options. Since Roman times, Bormio has also been known for its relaxing thermal baths. Intermediates will love the spacious, moderately pitched slopes. Terrain park enthusiasts will love the superpipe and slope-style course. And designated beginner parks ensure novices learn in a safe manner.