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.
There are bottomless snow days on the west coast, champagne powder in the Rockies and many a throwback ski and board bum paradise in the mountains in between. Plan your winter trip to wonderland with this insider’s guide to top picks and some seldom-seen stashes.
Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.
Whistler-Blackcomb – British Columbia, Canada
The vibe: Big powder days, heli-skiing, big city proximity
With over 200 marked runs and an astounding 8171 acres of terrain, including 16 broad alpine bowls and three glaciers, Whistler-Blackcomb is considered by many to be the largest ski resort in the western hemisphere. The resort’s peak-to-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 long runs, while families dig the kids' forts and action in the village. Just 78 miles km from the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver, there are plenty of nearby cultural attractions too.
Jackson Hole – Wyoming, USA
The vibe: Long runs, gnarly terrain, zero pretension, Led Zeppelin
It’s an electric feeling heading up the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram, the most iconic lift ride in the United States. 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.
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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. For starters there’s an ungodly 551 inches of snow every year. And because it’s in Utah, it’s the driest, heavenliest snow you’ll ever get.
The après ski scene is on the sedate side, but you won’t have much time for partying anyway what with the over 2000ft of steep-and-deep vertical drop and 2614 acres 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: “This is pure snow. Have you any idea what the street value of this mountain is?”
Aspen – Colorado, USA
The vibe: Beautiful people with lots of money… and their mountain-shredding scion
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, and the instructors at the ski and snowboard school are top.
But there are also impossibly steep pistes, deep chutes and remarkable bowls in Aspen Highlands and Snowmass areas. After a quick hike to the top of the 12,392ft Highlands Bowl, you’ll be rewarded with arguably the best inbounds run in the United States.
After you hit the slopes, it’s all about fashion, remarkable dining and the arts.
Squaw Valley – California, USA
The vibe: Throwback cool and California sunshine
Near the glistening shores of Lake Tahoe – the biggest grouping of ski resorts in the United States – this stand-out hill was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. There’s still a throwback air to the midsize mountain that 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).
There are 30 lifts all in all, keeping people moving across the 4000 skiable acres. California snow is sometimes called “Sierra Cement” because the day after it falls it can turn rock hard. But it also comes in plentyful supply, with three-foot dumps not unheard of. It’s also a chance to show off your flair and California cool, and with Santa Cruz just five hours away, you can ride and surf in the same day!
Vail – Colorado, USA
The vibe: Après ski hijinks, rip-roaring wide runs
For a youthful, energetic and yet still highly upscale skiing experience, think no further than Vail, Colorado. This huge resort has some of the best bowl skiing in the western US. From the mountain’s backside, you 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 a-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.
Big Sky, Montana, USA: Sick super-steep terrain… and, well, big skies
Telluride, Colorado, USA: Gorgeous views, refined dining, star-sighting
Taos, New Mexico, USA: Green chile, cornice drops, art galleries and no lift lines
Mammoth, California, USA: Eastern sierra isolation and direct flights on United Airlines
Copper Mountain, Colorado, USA: Ridiculous hike-to-terrain and great downhill lines
Worth a peak
Here’s a few small less-known resorts that pack on the powder with nearly half the level of pretension as some of the bigger resorts.
Wolf Creek, Colorado, USA: Hot springs and huge snow falls
Silverton Mountain, Colorado, USA: One chair lift, 1800 acres 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: Home-grown, laid-back, powder-chugging Alaskan classic
Crystal Mountain, Washington, USA: Massive dumps and plenty of steep terrain
This article was originally published in December 2014.