Sunshine Village photo by Andy Bell
When it comes to choosing which mountains to ride and ski this year, remember that, “more famous” and “more popular” does not equate with “better skiing.”
The following ten ski resorts have been selected based on two criteria more important than any other: consistency of good snow conditions, and quality of terrain. Building your trip around any one of these places will make for an epic days this season.
Please ski and ride safely and we’ll see you out there!
Off Tahoe’s beaten-path, Kirkwood is 45 minutes south of the lake and resorts like Heavenly and Squaw. Its location helps thin the crowds, even as Kirkwood receives the most snowfall of any Tahoe resort, averaging 600 inches a year.
When it’s not snowing, it’s probably sunny, as Kirkwood also boasts a healthy majority of bluebird days. Take Wagon Wheel or Cornice Express and slice down steeps, bowls and chutes like The Wall and Cliff Chute.
With 4,350 feet of vertical, Big Sky is one of the largest in the US. It’s also pretty huge in terms of acreage—3,812. Purchase a Big Sky-Moonlight Basin Interconnect ticket and your skiable acreage expands to 5,512, quickly making Big Sky/Moonlight the country’s largest lift-served resort area.
Ascending the mountain, you can’t help but stare at the sheer face of Lone Mountain, towering ominously in the background, inviting the willing onto its many chutes, bowls and couloirs. While the riding is huge, the crowds and lift lines are virtually non-existent—so if you miss out on any terrain, you can be sure it’s because the resort was just too damn big.
Photo from Silverton Mountain
One of 3 Banff-area resorts, Sunshine Village is all about imposing terrain and quality powder. Delirium Dive, Wild West and Silver City are free-ride areas offering some of Canada’s most extreme terrain within resort boundaries.
In-bounds backcountry, you’d better bring a riding partner, avalanche equipment and big-time skills. Once in, expect to negotiate cliffs, cornices, steeps and variable terrain. You’ll need to have good timing—these areas are often closed due to high avalanche danger.
Not quite ready for the backcountry? Goat’s Eye Mountain offers slightly-tamer, but still demanding expert options.
In a state that earned its reputation on snow quality, only one resort is named Powder. Receiving 500 inches of dry Utah fresh a year, Powder also has more accessible terrain than any other resort in the US— 5,500 acres. You’ve never heard it billed this way because the terrain is a combination of lift-served, snowcat and hike-to.
Powder Country offers 1200 acres of hike-to terrain, notorious for having fresh lines even weeks after a storm. A shuttle comes by regularly to carry you back to the base once you’ve hit pavement.
Cat rides run either daily or for just $12 a ride. If you feel like gravity stifles your flow, 20 bucks buys you access to snowkiting terrain via Sunrise Lift.
A-Basin’s altitude at 13,050 feet allows for a lengthy season that often welcomes skiers on Fourth of July. A-Basin also has some of the gnarliest, steepest terrain in Colorado, with 60% of the mountain graded for advanced or expert riders. Last season, the resort nearly doubled its skiable terrain with the addition of Montezuma Bowl on the backside.
While there’s no lodging on the mountain, there is tailgating—a section of A-Basin’s parking lot dubbed “the Beach” is the place to pull up a lawn chair, grill some brats and enjoy like-minded company and sweet mountain views.
Photo from Powder Mountain
The Horse’s 4,133 feet of vertical is second only to the BC untouchables of Whistler and recently-cut Revelstoke. And that’s not PR-guru spin (i.e. vertical divided among seven base areas). You can drop the full 4,133 in one continuous line, from upper mountain chutes and bowls to lower runs and on to the base.
There are only 5 lifts, so catch Golden Eagle Express Gondola or Stairway to Heaven and choose from 70 chutes, cut across several ridges. Don’t expect smooth turns all the way to the bottom, however; chutes are laden with cliffs, cornices, rocks and other expert fare.
Those who complain that Jay Peak is too cold, windy or isolated don’t come back. The rest of us have different priorities. Priorities like 350 inches of powder, 24 glades and some of the only chutes in the east— numbers that would be impressive in the Rockies; in the east they’re unheard of outside Jay’s boundaries.
For backcountry, find a shred with his thumb out on the side of VT 224; he just tracked a sweet line over Big Jay and should provide some local knowledge. When it’s time to head in, lodges like Grampa Grunt’s (more like a hostel) and Snowshoe Lodge are the closest you’ll find to the Ritz here.
Photo by McPhoto, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
If you’re in BC and looking for a “scene”, head to Whistler. If you’re looking for pure riding and no hassles, consider Red Mountain your spot. Red’s southern inland location allows for much drier powder than resorts toward the coast. It’s still BC though; Red serves big terrain including glades, cliffs and steeps.
The resort also offers easy access points to 2,500 acres of backcountry. Red has piloted The Mountain Project, a cooperative among the resort, locals and outdoor manufacturers to preserve and sustain true mountain community values and lifestyle, the essence of what we sought to capture on this list.
If you had to describe Mt. Baker in just one word, it would undoubtedly be SNOW. Last year, Baker was crowned the unequivocal snowfall king with a lofty 641-inch average. The resort also owns the world record of 1,140 inches in a single season. That’s no misprint.
Baker’s appeal doesn’t stop at deep pow; you’ll also find some of the sickest terrain in the lower 48. With gut-churning cliffs, cornices and steeps inside boundary lines, and a generous backcountry policy, Baker will ingrain lifelong memories (and lessons).
Don’t expect any plush amenities—the nearest lodging is 17 miles away in Glacier, ensuring that people who come have but one motivation.
Adult lift tickets run just $43/weekend and $36/weekdays, probably cheaper than your local hill.
Silverton has taken the vision of a rider’s resort to the next level. There’s a mountain. There’s a lift. And there’s over 1,800 acres of steeps, bowls and chutes. A yurt serves as the base lodge. No grooming. No runs. All terrain is colored black.
Depending upon when you’re there, you’ll have guided or unguided options. Avalanche gear is required. Take THE lift, hike the ridgeline and drop in on the line that looks most promising. A shuttle will pick you up where you land and take you back to start again. Expect to be joined by fewer than 80 others. Epic.
Interested in trying out a new snow sport this year? Thinking you’re finally ready to try telemarking? Check out Chrysser’s First Timer’s Guide to Telemark Skiing.
How about the backcountry? Either way, remember that it’s all about progression and new challenges, but always staying in control.