go to content go to search box go to global site navigation
Best of luxury travel

Best powder in the world

Your endless winter is here with snow adventures that take you to the best pow-pow our planet has to offer. Stay frosty. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures.

Heli-skiing, Utah, USA

Skier jumps down a steep face of snow in Utah. Image by Johannes Kroemer / The Image Bank / Getty Images.

While Utah doesn’t get the prodigious dumps of the West Coast, the snow here is so light you’ll think you are floating on feathers. The resorts – top powder kegs include Snowbird, Alta and Powder Mountain – have tremendous powder skiing. But to sample untracked fluffy bliss, you’re best off taking to the air for a 20,000-vertical-foot day with a custom-crafted heli-skiing trip. It’ll take you to every type of terrain imaginable, from powder-packed glades to steeper bowls and chutes, and you’re basically ensured untracked powder all day. The snowpack in Utah is quite unstable, so you won’t always get the chance to head up in a helicopter. For more terrestrial adventures, putter out for a snowcat adventure from Powder Mountain.

Visit www.diamondpeaks.com for heli-ski options or www.powdermountain.com for cat tours.

Aspen Highlands, Colorado, USA

You can’t avoid it. Aspen has been America’s top ski destination – attracting the Hollywood glitterati and ski bums alike – for more than half a century. And while most come for the top-notch restaurants, outrageously opulent hotels and hob-knobbing opportunities, there’s skiing here too. Aspen Mountain, Snowmass and Buttermilk offer some fun runs, but the real snow riders all head to Aspen Highlands for the best hardcore terrain in the state on powder troughs like Highland Bowl, Olympic Bowl and Steeplechase. Make sure you leave enough in the tank for après-ski drinks at the Hotel Jerome or Little Nell.

You can fly to Aspen (hopefully on a G6), or you might want to take a shuttle from Denver (2.5 hours away). Visit www.aspensnowmass.com for more on skiing, lodging and looking good.

Niseko, Japan

There may be better resorts in the world – in fact, there may be plenty of them – but Niseko Ski Resort on Hokkaido has the second-highest average snowfalls of any resort in the world, averaging 595in of the white stuff every year, so it is worth the trip. The five ski areas of the Niseko megaresort – Annupuri, Higashiyama, Hirafu, Hanazono and Moiwa – all offer easy and efficient lift access with 27 chairs and three gondolas. The runs are pretty short, averaging 900m, but there’s a sweet hot spring nearby and the steepest run tips the scales at 37 degrees. Plus there’s night skiing.

To get here, fly to New Chitose Airport. Skijapan.com provides some basics on the resort.

Heli-skiing, Valdez, Alaska, USA

A snowboarder in Valdez, Alaska. Image by Whit Richardson / Aurora Open / Getty Images.

If heli-skiing is bad-ass, than Valdez must be super bad. This once-in-a-lifetime ski adventure takes you to what is perhaps the steepest, deepest, biggest and baddest ski terrain in the world. Over 1000 inches of snow falls on Alaska’s Chugach Mountains each year, and there are about 2 million acres of glaciated peaks to explore with your own private guide and helicopter. The operator will tailor a trip to your needs and wants – most deals run for five to seven days – and take you around 20,000 vertical feet over a week. You can go steep with 50-degree white-knuckle couloirs or work on your powder eights on 6000ft top-to-tail cruises. Needless to say, this is an adventure for expert skiers only.

Most operators run trips from February to May. Check out www.valdezheliskiguides.com for more info.

Lech, Austria

Lech and Zürs get more snow than any European ski resort, making this a top Austrian pick. Most people start in the posh village of Lech (using it as a base to explore the Zürs and Arlberg ski areas). Lech is the only resort in Austria to offer heli-skiing, so you can almost guarantee fresh tracks. There are also plenty of short hikes to non-groomed off-piste areas that will sate your addiction to the white powdery stuff. The best way to explore Lech’s steeps is with a guide. The slopes are avalanche controlled, but not patrolled – watch for hidden obstacles.

This is Austria’s most popular resort so check aggregators for deals. More info is available at www.ski-lech.com.

Whitewater Ski Resort, Nelson, British Columbia, Canada

Whitewater may not be the biggest ski resort in Western Canada (that honour falls on Whistler Blackcomb) but it does get an amazing amount of the white stuff – more than 40ft a year. The resort only has three chairlifts and a tow bar, with a meagre 1184 acres of skiable areas. But good things do come in small packages, and Whitewater’s mixed terrain of open glades, chutes and bowls makes it easy to find freshies even a week after a storm. The resort’s inland location in the Selkirk Mountains makes for drier snow than the coastal BC offerings.

The resort is a long way from everything, so consider a week-long trip. Bring extra ski clothes; you’ll be wet by the end of the day. Visit www.skiwhitewater.com.

La Grave, France

La Grave by Guillaume Baviere. CC BY 2.0.

France has plenty of great ski areas. The resort-minded head en masse to Chamonix and other Alps hotspots every winter (and sometimes in the summer), but for a big-mountain experience that’ll set your mind on fire, La Grave is your spot. You get here from a cozy 12th-century village, heading up at dawn with your guide (de rigueur) by a three-stage gondola. There are only a couple of official runs on the glaciated mountain and where you go is up to your abilities, your imagination and your guide, who will help you stay safe in this crevassed area.

La Grave isn’t far from Grenoble, your easy entry point. The resort’s website (www.la-grave.com) offers more information.

Wolf Creek Ski Area, Colorado, USA

Colorado gets some of the lightest, driest snow in the world and nowhere is the champagne powder better than the small throwback ski area of Wolf Creek. The area opened way back in 1939 and still retains some of that old-time feel, plus its ideal location in the San Juan Mountains gives the resort an average of 465in of natural snow each year – the most of any Colorado resort. The resort has just five chairs, but from the top you can hike into the back country for steep glade and bowl skiing in places like the Bonanza Bowl, Exhibition Ridge and the Peak Chutes.

Get info on Colorado’s major resorts at www.coloradoski.com or visit www.wolfcreekski.com.

Kirkwood, California, USA

Kirkwood ski area by YoTuT. CC BY 2.0.

The rugged peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range offer some of the steepest ski terrain in the continental US. While there are plenty of resorts in the Lake Tahoe area, Kirkwood is a best bet for ultra-steep terrain and cool couloirs, plus a laid-back feel that other resorts in the area lack. After a day or two exploring Wagner Wheel and Sentinel Bowls plus an obligatory huck off the massive Wave cornice, head out with Expedition Kirkwood for a day of snowcat-skiing in the back country. They give you a guide, avalanche gear and take you to some of the gnarliest gnar-gnar Kirkwood has to offer.

Kirkwood is a 30-minute drive from the cheap hotels of South Lake Tahoe. You can stay at the resort, too. Visit www.kirkwood.com for details.

Ski Portillo, Chile

It snows over 8m (27ft) a year at Chile’s star resort, known for its dry snow, sunny days, fun nightlife and stellar off-piste terrain. You can hire a guide or go it alone to ski the famous Primavera and Kilometro Lanzado runs on your never-ending winter adventure. While the resort offers 760m (2500ft) of vertical drops and spectacular Andean vistas, you may wish to take to the sky, the way the condors do, and hire a helicopter for a day. While a day of heli-skiing here will cost you a few pesos, it’s definitely one for the bucket list.

Ski Portillo (www.skiportillo.com) is an easy two-hour drive from the capital, Santiago.