Use our insider’s guide to the region’s most popular spots – and a few off-the-beaten-track destinations, too.

Skiing in North America is all about wide swooping runs, gorgeous forested glades, powder shots and some of the fluffiest, deepest, most bewitching snow on the planet.

Think of bottomless snow days on the West Coast, perfect powder in the Rockies and countless ski-bunny and board-bum paradises in the many mountains in between. As you contemplate your next winter-wonderland trip, let this list help you decide.

A steep, snow-laden slope backed by craggy mountains at Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole isn’t especially close to anything, which means all you get here is the mountain. © Kevin Cass / Shutterstock

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA

The vibe: Long runs, gnarly terrain, zero pretension, Led Zeppelin

It’s an electric feeling to catch the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram, the most iconic lift ride in the USA. The 100-person gondola has piped-in music, chosen by the operator – think AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and just about anything the gods of rock would approve of. As you cruise up, you get a bird’s-eye view of the terrain you’ll be riding on your dream snow-cation: steep couloirs, excellent glade skiing and a few wide-open bowls.

Jackson Hole isn’t especially close to anything, so all you get here is the mountain. And we’re fine with that.

Gondolas delivering skiers in Aspen, Colorado, USA
Expect killer inbounds runs in Aspen © Dstarj / Shutterstock

Aspen, Colorado, USA

The vibe: Beautiful people with lots of money…and their mountain-shredding spawn

Aspen hasn’t been the world’s go-to ski destination for the past 50 years for nothing. This glitzy former mining town has amazing turns for just about everybody in the family, and four mountain areas to choose from. Buttermilk is one of the best hills for beginners in the nation, with top-notch instructors at the ski and snowboard school.

But you can also expect impossibly steep pistes, deep chutes and remarkable bowls in the Aspen Highlands and Snowmass areas. After a quick hike to the top of the 12,392ft (3777m) Highlands Bowl, you’ll be rewarded with arguably the best inbounds runs in the United States.

After you hit the slopes, it’s all about fashion, remarkable dining and the arts. Better dress the part.

A skier making a turn in fluffy powder snow, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Whistler might be the most extensive ski resort in the world © stockstudioX / Getty Images

Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada

The vibe: Big powder days, heli-skiing, big-city proximity

Thanks to more than 200 marked runs and an astounding 8171 acres (33 sq km) of terrain – including 16 broad alpine bowls and three glaciers – Whistler-Blackcomb might be the largest ski resort in the western hemisphere. The resort’s Peak 2 Peak gondola is the highest and longest in the world, and nobody can beat the sheer exhilaration of throttling down the mountain that hosted many alpine events in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Serious skiers and boarders will love the big dumps of heavy coastal powder and the long runs, while families won’t be able to resist the kids’ forts and action in the village. Just 78 miles (125km) from the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver, you can seek out plenty of nearby cultural attractions, too.

A man skiing the slopes of Alta, Utah
Alta has some of the driest, most heavenly snow you’ll ever get © Scott Markewitz / Getty Images

Alta, Utah, USA

The vibe: The fluffiest powder on the planet, skiers that hate snowboarders

Alta has a whole lot going for it – especially for skiers, as snowboarding is still forbidden here. For starters, an ungodly 550in of snow falls every year. And because it’s in Utah, it’s the driest, dreamiest snow you’ll ever get.

The après-ski scene is on the sedate side, but you won’t have much time for partying, what with the over 2000ft (609m) of steep-and-deep vertical drop and 2614 acres (10.5 sq km) of terrain. We also love that many of the ski scenes from the 1980s classic Better Off Dead were filmed on the resort’s slopes. As Charles de Mar puts it in the film: “This is pure snow. Have you any idea what the street value of this mountain is?”

Three smiling skiers on a chair lift during a sunny day in Palisades Tahoe (Squaw Valley), California, USA
Palisades Tahoe is a midsized mountain that has a good mix of terrain for all levels © Venture Media Group / Getty Images

Palisades Tahoe, California, USA

The vibe: Throwback cool and California sunshine

Near the glistening shores of Lake Tahoe – which has the biggest grouping of ski resorts in the United States – this standout hill (formerly known as Squaw Valley) played host to the 1960 Winter Olympics. There’s still a throwback air to the midsize mountain, which has a good mix of terrain for all levels, including rad steeps like the KT-22 and a killer terrain park filled with all the jumps, rails and free-styling spills you could ask for.

Some 30 lifts all in all keep people moving across the 4000 skiable acres. Be warned that California snow is sometimes called “Sierra Cement,” since the day after it falls it can turn rock-hard. But it also arrives in plentiful quantities, with 3ft dumps not uncommon. Palisades also offers the chance to show off your flair and California cool. And with Santa Cruz just five hours away, you might consider skiing and surfing in the very same day.

A family playing in the snow at a resort in Vail, Colorado, USA
On and off the slopes, Vail is great for families © Daniel Milchev / Getty Images

Vail, Colorado, USA

The vibe: Après-ski high jinks, rip-roaring wide runs

For a youthful, energetic and yet still highly elite skiing experience, think no further than Vail, Colorado, a huge resort that has some of the best bowl skiing in the western US. From the mountain’s backside, you’ll hit a never-ending streak of wide-open treeless terrain, plenty of powder and a few secret stashes that only locals know about. From there, it’s off to Blue Sky Basin for forest skiing and a few short steeps that will get your spine tingling.

Vail is perfect for young revelers as well as families. The resort’s frontside has plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain, and in the Tyrolean-style village (actually built in the mid 20th century), you’ll find a great collection of fun bars, sophisticated restaurants and fancy shops.

Honorable mentions

Big Sky, Montana, USA:  Sick super-steep terrain…and, well, big skies.
Telluride, Colorado, USA: Gorgeous views, refined dining, star sightings.
Taos, New Mexico, USA: Green chile, cornice drops, art galleries and no lift lines.
Mammoth, California, USA: Eastern Sierra isolation.
Copper Mountain, Colorado, USA:  Ridiculous hike-to-terrain and great downhill lines.

Two athletes cross-country skiing on a frozen lake against the snow-covered forest
You’ll find some of the fluffiest snow on the planet at North America’s top ski destinations © Borisenkov Andrei / Getty Images

Worth a peak

Here are a few smaller, lesser-known resorts that pack in the powder with far less pretension than their bigger counterparts.

Wolf Creek, Colorado, USA: Hot springs and huge snowfalls.
Silverton Mountain, Colorado, USA: One chair lift, 1800 acres (728 hectares) of terrain, no newbies allowed.
Whitewater, British Columbia, Canada: Bottomless snow and great backcountry slopes.
Kirkwood, California, USA: Vertigo-inducing chutes, huge cornices and plenty of natural half-pipes.
Alyeska, Alaska, USA: A homegrown, laid-back, powder-chugging Alaskan classic.
Crystal Mountain, Washington, USA: Massive dumps and plenty of steep terrain.

This article was first published December 2014 and updated November 2023

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