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.
Crystal Mountain: perfect powder in Washington state
Resort: Crystal Mountain
Drive time: 2 hours
A short trip into the Cascade Mountains from the Emerald City brings you to Washington State’s largest ski area, Crystal Mountain (crystalmountainresort.com). 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 (www.whistlerblackcomb.com), one of North America’s gnarliest mountains and site of the 2010 Olympics.
Kirkwood: big boarding and cat-skiing in California
City: San Francisco
Drive time: 3.5 hours
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 (www.kirkwood.com) 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 in the US West. 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.
Bear Mountain: epic terrain in California
City: Los Angeles
Resort: Bear Mountain
Drive time: 2 hours
Snowboarders won’t want to miss the easy drive up to Bear Mountain (www.bearmountain.com), a small punked-out resort with a massive terrain park and SoCal’s only Super Pipe. 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. To top it off, there’s a little history here. Snowboarding wunderkind Shaun White, the Flying Tomato himself, got his start here.
Extra turns: fill up the tank and grab some Cheetos for a five-hour drive to Mammoth (www.mammothmountain.com). This destination ski resort on the eastern side of the Sierras is perhaps Cali’s best.
Deer Valley: champagne powder in Utah
City: Salt Lake City
Resort: Deer Valley
Drive time: 40 minutes
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 (www.deervalley.com) 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 (www.alta.com) stands out above the rest with a whopping 560 inches of snow most years.
Copper Mountain: snowboarding heaven in Colorado
Resort: Copper Mountain
Drive time: 1.5 hours
There’s 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 (www.coppercolorado.com) 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.