While ski resorts worldwide have become increasingly attractive to the non-skier with breweries, distilleries, Michelin-starred restaurants, world-class shopping and wellness centers all available slopeside, they haven’t forgotten their roots.
That’s great news for the avid skier and snowboarder who books a ski holiday with one purpose in mind: Hitting the slopes. And hitting them hard. Après-ski activities may be a welcome respite after a full the day on the mountain, but to the ski enthusiast, they’re ultimately just what comes after the main event.
Resorts in the United States and Canada can hold their own against Europe’s most elite ski areas. From heli-skiing to uphill climbing to private backcountry tours, here are eight of the best destinations for skiers who really care about skiing.
Telluride Ski Resort
Once a Victorian mining home, Telluride is now home to one of Colorado’s swankiest ski areas. It’s about as difficult to get to as one might expect of a jet-setting locale – and worth the trek.
With 41% of its terrain deemed advanced territory (that leaves 23% for beginners and 36% for intermediate level), stellar skiers will have plenty to keep them on the mountain all day. Skiers and riders looking to elevate their snow adventure can book a heli-ski trip and descend upon untouched, virgin snow.
Telluride is just one of two resorts in Colorado to offer heli-skiing (Telluride Helitrax operates the heli-ski out of the town), but it’s not the only way to experience fresh powder on this part of the Rockies.
Black Iron Bowl is an area of the resort that’s accessed via lift and hike. Once reached, it offers advanced skiers and boarders untracked, challenging terrain. Tucking into a locally sourced pork chop and craft beer at Smuggler Union Restaurant and Brewery is a recommended way to finish the day.
Telluride Ski Resort 565 Mountain Village Blvd, Telluride, CO 81435, (866) 754-8355
Although there are dozens of ski areas in Colorado, home to most of the southern Rocky Mountains, only two offer heli-sking: Telluride and Silverton. Silverton is “unique” in its single-ride offering, says Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director at Colorado Ski Country USA. Instead of renting a helicopter for the whole day or multiple days, newbie heli-skiers can purchase one ride for as little as $39.
This price point makes a typically pricey venture accessible and low-risk, at least in terms of the financial obligation.
But if hopping out of a helicopter and heading down a piece of what Linsmayer says is the “highest and steepest ski area in all of North America” doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of other ways for the advanced skier to appreciate Silverton.
The website calls the area “all thrills no frills,” so there is little question as to what the mountain offers, and beginners may want to stick with the après options. Avalanche Brewing Company and Golden Block Brewery help cement Colorado’s solid reputation among beer lovers.
Silverton Mountain 6226 State Hwy 110, Silverton, CO 81433, (970) 387-5706
Park City Mountain
A charming, quintessential ski town if there ever was one, Park City, Utah, offers world-class skiing for all levels and plenty to see and do off the slopes too.
In 2015, Park City joined forces with nearby Canyons Resort to form the unified Park City Mountain Resort. The merger made Park City Resort the largest single ski and snowboard resort in the United States. The resorts make up over 7,300 acres with 348 trails and 14 lifts between the two.
You won’t find heli-skiing in this part of the Rocky Mountains, but thrill seekers can pair up with a professional guide who’ll take participants on a journey to discover the best runs on the mountain.
The Peak-to-Peak Guided Mountain Tour takes skiers and riders to areas with the best conditions (otherwise known as soft, powdery snow that seemingly goes on forever). And the Silver to Slopes Historic Mining Tour is available to intermediate and above skiers. It’s a chance to experience the fine slopes of Utah while learning about the region’s mining history.
Park City Mountain 1345 Lowell Ave, Park City, UT 84060, (435) 649-8111
Average snowfall at this Utah resort is 500 inches. That’s snow sitting on over 8,464 skiable acres with a total of 164 runs. Folks at Powder Mountain, who endearingly call it “Pow Mow,” are so enamored by the area’s natural snow (and low ice factor) that they even have a name for it: creamy corduroy.
While other resorts boast of their advanced snow-making technology, Powder Mountain brags about, well, not needing to make snow. Ski Utah’s tagline is “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” and visitors need only travel 55 miles from the Salt Lake City Airport to experience the unparalleled powder of these Rockies.
Pow Mow limits the number of lift tickets sold per day to just 1,500 to preserve the skier experience and prevent crowding on those pristine slopes. Visitors might encounter crowds at the post-ski live music shows at Powder Mountain Powder Keg, but making friends is easy when you’re swapping shredding stories.
Powder Mountain 6965 E Powder Mountain Rd, Eden, UT 84310, (801) 745-3772
The highest ski resort in California, Mammoth is known for getting heaps of snow each season – 400 inches average. You won’t find heli-skiing here, but an alternative for the hardcore fitness fanatic is skipping the chairlift and walking up a very big hill.
This season, Mammoth is excited about the launch of their uphill policy, which will allow skiers and snowboarders a chance to experience the entire mountain in a new way.
Skiers put something called climbing skins on the bottom of their skis, and the against-the-grain texture of the skins helps the climber ascend the mountain.
It’s an “option for guests who just want to get a really good workout in,” says Mammoth Mountain Marketing Manager Gabe Taylor. And it’s a good way to see the backcountry terrain when the weather isn’t cooperating and lifts may be temporarily closed, Taylor says.
Mammoth Mountain 10001 Minaret Road Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, 760-934-0745
Between the two mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb – there are 200 runs and 16 alpine bowls to make up over 8,000 acres of terrain. This part of the Coast Mountains in Canada’s British Columbia is considered the largest ski area in North America.
Of note this year is a new 10-passenger Blackcomb Gondola, which together with PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola and Whistler Village Gondola will form “the first three-gondola connection in the world,” says Mary Zinck, a manager for Tourism Whistler.
Easier-to-access mountaintops mean more opportunity to explore as much of the expansive region as possible, but for a truly extreme skiing experience, there’s the backcountry. Availability of tickets to access this typically unmarked and unpatrolled virgin snow is determined by the ski patrol.
Would-be backcountry skiers can wait out unfavorable conditions in the Squamish Lilwat Cultural Centre, a First Nations museum and cultural center celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Whistler Blackcomb 4545 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, BC V0N 1B4, Canada (800)-766-0449
RED Mountain Resort
Located in Rossland, British Columbia, Red Mountain considers itself Western Canada’s original ski destination. The resort area offers up to 4,200 acres of skiing, and “unspoiled” is a word RED Mountain likes to use to describe its slopes. There’s some beginner territory here, but most of the mountain caters to expert, advanced and intermediate levels.
But if standard chairlifts up to the summit don’t seem extreme enough, there are cat and heli-skiing opportunities. Like heli-skiing, cat-skiing takes skiers and riders out to areas of undiscovered, untouched powder, often in the mountain’s backcountry.
Since snowcats, a type of snow vehicle, are used to access the territory, it’s a more budget-friendly option than taking a helicopter up to the top.
At the end of a rigorous day of cat-skiing, which can mean vertically traversing up to 18,000 feet per day, guests could do worse things than curl up in a booth in The Josie Hotel’s Velvet Restaurant & Lounge. Its soulful, seasonal food offerings in a cozy setting make for a quintessential après-ski.
RED Mountain Resort 4300 Red Mountain Rd, Rossland, British Columbia, Canada
Big Sky Resort
While Montana’s most elite resort doesn’t offer heli-skiing, it has plenty on deck for adventurous skiiers and riders and has advanced technology to boot.
You may not be able to take a helicopter to the top of the mountain, but beginning next month, you can board the Ramcharger 8. This high-speed lift includes heated seats and a weather-proof bubble. It’ll help skiers and snowboarders do more runs, if, you know, counting ski runs per day is your thing.
Experienced skiers and riders won’t want to miss Lone Peak, the iconic peak of Big Sky. The resort limits the number of skiers who can ski off the 11,166-foot peak at a time making this a unique feature of the resort. It is the closest thing Montana has to heli-skiing, says Stacie Mesuda, public relations manager for Big Sky Resort.
It’s worth noting that the longest run off of Lone Peak is six miles, and you’re bound to find plenty of powder stashes in this part of the Northern American Rockies. A six-mile downhill run on skis or a board would seem to merit a massage, and Solace Spa & Salon can help tailor one to your individual needs.
Big Sky Resort 50 Big Sky Resort Road, Big Sky, MT 59716, (800) 548-4486