Let’s start by stating the obvious: there are a lot of great ski resorts out there. Far more, even, than the 80 we put on our initial list when we set out to pick the top picks in North America—which is why we asked for your help.
The results are in. Your participation did more than help us make unkind cuts and add color commentary. It showed an appreciation for just how many ways a resort can stand out, be it through a bustling base village, frequent powder days or a superb ski school for the kids.
Not surprisingly, those twin stalwarts of destination skiing, Colorado and Vermont, ran away with it. A perfect dozen from the Rocky Mountain State—including the number one spot—set the tone for resorts in western states: big. Big mountains with huge drops, sprawling ski areas that span multiple peaks, outsized terrain parks and endless buffets of winter activities and luxurious amenities.
Vermont’s picks, while not as massive as their western counterparts, helped prove that the Rockies don’t have a lock on great skiing. Old standbys like Stowe and Jay Peak were popular with voters, and picks like Smugglers’ Notch, with its triple black diamond run, demonstrate that New England can satisfy even the most adrenaline-addicted powder junkie.
Not far behind was Utah—with most resorts within a few miles of each other. There was no higher concentration of incredible skiing and snowboarding on our list than in Utah’s Wasatch range, which lies between Salt Lake City and Park City. This has to do, in large part, with the Utah’s slogan, “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” Many of these resorts average around 500 inches a year—that’s over 41 feet—and as recently as 2011 some posted figures as high as 776 inches. You’d have to work very hard to run out of fresh powder there.
British Columbia’s so-called “Powder Highway” gave the Canadian province a strong showing, independent of its mega-resort Whistler Blackcomb. The Lake Tahoe area of Northern California also notched three spots.
In making the final list, we combined publicly available stats, other expert lists and—with added weight, of course—our own survey results.
1. Vail (Vail, Colo.)
The second-largest resort in the U.S. is also America’s favorite, at least by the numbers. It’s no wonder: The wide variety of terrain spread out over Vail Mountain is enough to satisfy every level of skier and snowboarder. There are the miles and miles of groomed runs on the front side of the mountain, and for expert skiers there are the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin. “Take your pick if you love bowl skiing,” wrote one reader. As a dedicated resort town, Vail Village is also a walkable, concentrated dose of gourmet dining, après-ski nightlife and shopping.
2. Deer Valley (Park City, Utah)
“Luxury” is a word you often hear tossed around when describing Deer Valley. But while this resort is definitely an upscale choice in an area packed with choices—Alta, Snowbird, Park City and Canyons are all nearby—the quality of its skiing is as good as the service provided by its uniformed ski valets. True, the terrain isn’t quite as challenging as Alta’s or Snowbird’s, but the immaculately groomed runs are uncrowded since Deer Valley limits the number of lift tickets sold and—a modern-day rarity—forbids snowboarding.
3. Telluride (Telluride, Colo.)
Serene and secluded, Telluride prides itself on its uncrowded trails, which include such famed terrain as Revelation Bowl, Palmyra Peak and Gold Hill Chutes. With everything from neatly groomed beginner runs to demanding downhill slopes and more than 2,000 skiable acres, the resort welcomes beginners and experts alike. Choose between hotel, condo, or vacation home lodging, spend your downtime with activities like free mountain tours, snowshoeing, and guided hikes, and at the end of an active day cash in on your complimentary chair massage at the Gorrono Ranch.
4. Jackson Hole (Teton Village, Wyo.)
Located in Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole is an extreme skier’s dream. It’s home to the legendary Corbet’s Couloir, an expert run that begins with a 30-foot drop and draws daredevils from all over the world. But while it’s famous for super-steep terrain—half of its trails are rated expert—and incredible backcountry, Jackson Hole is also starting to build a reputation for attracting families and the less adrenaline-addicted set. And of course, there’s the nearby gateway town of Jackson, Wyo., which has a cultural and culinary cachet that belies its remote location.
5. Alta (Alta, Utah)
Alta first opened its doors to skiers in 1939, making it one of the oldest and most storied ski resorts in the U.S. Nestled amid the Wasatch Mountains in a unique microclimate environment that differs from the surrounding area, the location is characterized by 500 inches of high-volume, low-moisture snow every year. Alta especially prides itself on its exceptional beginner and intermediate slopes but offers a wide variety of terrains, including quite a few advanced gradients. As one reader so succinctly put it, “The snow at Alta is fantastic. [This is a] resort for real skiers.”
6. Whistler Blackcomb (Whistler, B.C.)
No stumper here: One of our reader-favorites also happens to be the most popular skiing destination on the continent. First let’s look at the stats: it has the most skiable acres in North America, two mountains with nearly mile-high verticals, 16 alpine bowls, over 200 marked trails, 6 terrain parks, 17 on-mountain restaurants… should we keep going? With such a huge footprint, varied terrain and some 460 inches of snow annually, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to find fresh powder even with the crowds. This mega-resort, which is a gorgeous 2-hour drive from Vancouver, is also known for its off-slope amenities in Whistler Village, its access to endless backcountry terrain, and the Peak-2-Peak Gondola, with breathtaking 360-degree views.
7. Park City Mountain Resort (Park City, Utah)
Ski directly into town at Park City Mountain Resort, which is famous for hosting the snowboarding and men’s and women’s alpine giant slalom events in the 2002 Winter Olympics, and also for being featured in the Xbox 360 Shaun White Snowboarding game. With several courses designed for U.S. Ski Team training, a handful of terrain parks, and the ever-popular “Alpine Slide” toboggan coaster, Park City is truly a family-friendly resort set to serve every type of skier.
8. Snowbird (Snowbird, Utah)
Tucked in Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah’s Wasatch range, Snowbird and its sister resort Alta (which shares a lift ticket) have long seasons and tons of snow. We’re talking an average of around 500 inches a year, and as high as 776 inches in 2011. While not known for being beginner-friendly, Snowbird makes up for its relative lack of groomed blue and green runs with some of the most highly rated expert terrain in the country. Expect lots and lots of fresh powder, steep chutes, and some seriously memorable skiing.
9. Steamboat (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)
Comprised of six peaks on and around Mount Werner, Steamboat calls itself a “complete mountain range” with 165 named trails and more than 2,900 acres. Pioneer Ridge, Sunshine Peak, and Storm Peak are the resort’s biggest draws, and powder hounds who frequent here know the slopes are never void of smooth and dry “Champagne powder.” Tucked away from some of the area’s other ski resorts, one reader notes, it may be “a little bit of a pain to get to, but worth it when you get there.”
10. Squaw Valley (Olympic Valley, Calif.)
The biggest resort in Tahoe in terms of skiable acreage, Squaw Valley (which now shares a lift ticket with nearby Alpine Meadows) goes toe to toe with Northstar and Heavenly in terms of popularity. This freeriding and freeskiing mecca is the home resort for many of the sports’ biggest names, including Jeremy Jones, Tim Dutton and J.T. Holmes. The KT-22 lift leads to hucking heaven, which is why air lovers line up at the crack of dawn on powder days and weekends. Not to say beginners or intermediate skiers can’t have a good time here: the greens and blues are high up on the mountain, affording wow-worthy views of the lake below.
Check out the full list featuring the best ski resorts in North America.
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