Head out into the great white winter for the best quick-break ski adventures North America has to offer. Each of these top five destinations is within easy day-trip distance of a metro area, making it easy to catch some powder shots on just a tank of gas.

USA, Washington State, Crystal Mountain, man skiing on steep slope
Watch out for the steep slopes of Washington's Crystal Mountain © Scott Markewitz / Getty

Crystal Mountain Resort, Washington: all about variety

2 hours from Seattle 

A short trip into the Cascade Mountains from the Emerald City brings you to Washington State’s largest ski area, Crystal Mountain. This rip-roarer has 2600 acres of skiable terrain and remarkable views of Mt Rainier. There’s plenty of variety, from corduroyed cruisers for the family to the too-steep-for-toddlers Thrown Chutes.

Side-country enthusiasts can head out from the top through a gate to Silver Basin, a perfectly pitched bowl with guaranteed powder on most days. With an average of 486 inches of snow each year, this is hands-down the best short trip from Seattle.

Extra turns: About five hours north of Seattle, you can easily make it up to Canada for a weekend trip to Whistler-Blackcomb, one of North America’s gnarliest mountains and site of the 2010 Olympics.

5 US ski towns you can enjoy without hitting the slopes

Friends in ski gear socialize and enjoy a beer on the deck on a sunny day on the mountain.
The celebratory post-day-on-the-slopes toast © Jose Azel / Getty

Kirkwood, California: a mom-and-pop hill

3.5 hours from San Francisco 

Depending on how long it takes you to get out of Bay Area traffic, this throwback mom-and-pop hill has great chuted steeps, plenty of cliff drops and some fun natural halfpipes on its lower thirds.

Kirkwood is a great mountain for boarders, with little cat-tracking; big-mountain riders can head out for cat-skiing from the summit. The Wave is one of the most impressive cornices on the west coast. Drop off the near 30-foot quantum leap for bragging rights back at the bar.

Extra turns: Heavenly Ski Resort sits above the azure blue Lake Tahoe and has good powder and wonderful tree skiing. Plus you get to gamble in the Lake Tahoe casinos après ski.

The best ski resorts in California to hit the slopes this winter

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Big Bear Mountain, California: ski, sun and a superpipe

2 hours from Los Angeles 

Snowboarders won’t want to miss the easy drive up to Big Bear Mountain, a small punked-out resort with a massive terrain park and SoCal’s only superpipe. It’s not the biggest resort, they don’t get the best snow – you’ll have to go to the Tahoe Area for that ­– but you can surf and ride in a day, making it back in time for a show at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip

Extra turns: Fill up the tank and grab some Cheetos for a five-hour drive to Mammoth Mountain. This destination ski resort on the eastern side of the Sierras is perhaps Cali’s best.

Explore Southern California on these top 5 day trips from Palm Springs

Pillows of new fallen snow bedeck pine trees at Deer Valley Resort with Bald mountain in background on snowy day in Park City, Utah
Deer Valley is a quick drive from Salt Lake City © Tom Kelly Photo / Getty Images

Deer Valley, Utah: the best powder skiing in the world

40 minutes from Salt Lake City 

OK. You might not spend too much time in Salt Lake City itself, but within an hour's drive you have access to the best powder skiing in the world. A five-star resort with more than 2000 acres of skiable terrain, great restaurants and plenty of high-speed quad chairlifts to move you around the mountain, Deer Valley has been named Ski Magazine’s best resort in North America more than half a dozen times in the past decade. Utah’s deep champagne powder is part of the draw, but the resort’s amenities, fun terrain and high-tech infrastructure make it a winner.

Extra turns: In a state known for its powder, Alta stands out above the rest with a whopping 560 inches of snow most years.

Catching air at Copper Mountain, Colorado
Catching air at Copper Mountain © Andy Cross / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty

Copper Mountain, Colorado: perfect for boarders

1.5 hours from Denver 

There are at least a half-dozen world-class resorts within a two-hour drive of the Mile High City. While many skiers just have to ride Vail or Aspen, Copper Mountain is a little closer to town, and has some remarkable terrain, fun steep bowls, plenty of trees and a naturally flowing pitch that’s perfect for boarders. The resort built a small village about a decade back, but if you want to stay for the party, you’re better off at nearby Vail or Breckenridge.

Extra turns: If you hit traffic right (hint: shoot for a 6am departure and aim to be off the mountain by 1pm), it’s about an hour to Loveland Ski Area, a Colorado classic that has high terrain above tree line and a free cat trip from its summit.

Top ski resorts in Colorado for beginners to powder hounds

You might also like:
Choosing the perfect ski resort in North America 
Ski season begins in the US and Canada: What to know before you hit the slopes in 2021
The best ski areas you've never heard of


This article was first published November 2013 and updated December 2021

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