Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect five additional selections for 2015. Our earlier selections are on the following page
Though our perceptions of winter travel likely amount to inflated airline fares and holidays with your in-laws, if you’ve got a penchant for cutting powder on skis or snowboard, an alpine resort getaway should be a welcome opportunity to break up the monotony of the winter weekday routine. And while hopping in the car and driving to your local slope is all well and good for a quick weekend getaway, we suggest if you go, you go B-I-G. These 15 are regarded as some of the finest in the US for their consistency and quality of snow, their exceptional terrain and — of course — their dynamite après-ski scene.
Alta Ski Area (Alta, UT)
Located in the Wasatch Mountains just outside Salt Lake City, Alta gets an average of 560 inches of snowfall during the season on a mixture of trails that suit experts and novices alike. Visitors can stay at a ski-in/ski-out base lodge, rent a condo or vacation home or just crash in Salt Lake City and make the short drive in the morning. Snowboarders take note: Alta is one of the few remaining mountains in the US that allow skiers only.
Alyeska Resort (Girdwood, AK)
It’s a long haul for most folks (especially if you’re on the East Coast), but make the trek and be rewarded with tons of powder, terrain that favors experienced skiers and limited crowds. Heli-skiing and snowcat skiing are good possibilities, as is a local seafood cooked Cajun-style at nearby Double Musky Inn in downtown Girdwood.
Big Sky Resort (Big Sky, MT)
After it merged with neighboring resort Moonlight Basin in 2013 it became the largest ski resort in the nation with 5,800 acres of terrain, 30 lifts and over 300 runs all on four mountains. As such, Big Sky is home to great variety in terrain, plenty of slopes for beginners, intermediates and experts, as well as a distinct lack of crowded runs.
Bridger Bowl Ski Area (Bozeman, MT)
What comes to mind when we think of many destination ski mountains is expensive lift tickets and high-budget accommodations. But Montana’s Bridger Bowl is a community-owned ski area where lift tickets go for $50 and the vibe is decidedly more laid back. Terrain ranges from novice at lower elevation to expert toward the top of the bowl and up along the ridge terrain. Likewise, all manner of accommodations are available, from budget hotels to beautiful homes on Airbnb.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (Teton Village, WY)
Grab a direct flight from one of 12 US cities to Jackson Hole Airport in Grand Teton National Park and you’re just a half hour from some of the best skiing and snowboarding on the continent. Though it’s known for steep and deep, with more backcountry terrain than inbounds, Jackson Hole also caters to beginners and families with plenty of intermediate terrain, lessons and programs for kids. Make the most of a long weekend by catching a few extra hours of skiing under the lights at Snow King and then hitting the town’s famous après-ski scene.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (Mammoth Lakes, CA)
With 3,500 acres of terrain, 400+ inches of snow annually and 3,100 vertical feet, Mammoth Mountain is one of the best spots in California to find the pow. And thanks to the high altitude of the resort it’s able to stay open until June, giving it one of the longest seasons in the country. Like air time? Mammoth Mountain is also notorious for its nine Unbound terrain parks which have attracted pros like Shaun White and have even operated as grounds for Winter Olympic snowboarding trials.
Mount Bachelor Ski Resort (Bend, OR)
For skiers and snowboarders in Washington and Oregon, the most acreage around is at Mount Bachelor just outside Bend, which gets plenty of light, dry snow and has terrain for all ability levels. Since Bachelor is on and surrounded by National Forest, there’s no lodging in the immediate area — but nearby Bend is a destination for outdoor recreation, with plenty of lodging, dining and beer options to support a three-day vacation.
Ticket to Ride
If you’re planning on attacking as many spots on this list as you possibly can, getting the Mountain Collective ski pass ($399) is a sound investment. For your money you get two days of skiing at 11 different skiing destinations, six of which are on this list: Stowe, Snowmass, Taos, Squaw Valley, Mammoth Mountain and Jackson Hole. The pass pretty much pays for itself after two visits and you’ll get deals for logging included. It’s a great value, though we can’t say the same for all those plane tickets you’ll be buying.
Taos Ski Valley (Taos, NM)
Though sold in late 2013 to a billionaire investor, Taos had been family-owned since it was founded in 1954 by Ernie Blake. It’s known for light, dry powder, steep terrain and a funky setting that includes a resort village with Central European influence within of a region that has a rich Native American heritage. Stay in the village at a ski-in/ski-out accommodation or in town, where you can grab local brews and solid pub food at Eske’s.
Telluride Ski Resort (Telluride, CO)
Telluride is widely considered one of the best ski resorts in the country. What makes it so great? The appeal is partly the historic town tucked away in the Four Corners region of Colorado, part exceptional terrain (that’s well dispersed amongst all experience levels) and part extravagant resort locale.
Smuggler’s Notch (Cambridge, VT)
Smuggler’s Notch — or “Smuggs” as its patrons lovingly refer to it — is generally billed as a family resort. That’s great if you’re bringing the kids, but don’t let it deter you if you focus on the steep stuff. Smuggs is home to some of the most difficult runs on the East Coast like Black Hole run, (the only triple black diamond in the Northeast) Freefall and the unsanctioned Birthday Bowls (if you’re feeling dangerous). Smuggs is also neighbors with Stowe Mountain (another entry on this list) so new skiing opportunities are always available.
Snowmass (Aspen, CO)
If the Crique Poma lift is running when you’re at Snomass you’ll be treated to the second to most vertical feet of any ski resort in the US at 4,406 (Telluride has it beat by just 19 feet). This makes for long runs, easy to access thanks to Snowmass’s extensive ski-in/ski-out logging. When you’re done on the slopes, take a quick nine mile jaunt to downtown Aspen for some après-ski.
Solitude Mountain Resort (Solitude, UT)
The name intimates much at Solitude, which has a reputation for being less crowded and more laid back than other resorts in the region. And with more than 500 inches of snow per year on 1,200 acres of skiable terrain — plus a Nordic Center suitable for classic and skating styles — it’s an ideal spot for a long weekend less than an hour outside Salt Lake City. Feel like snowshoeing to a Yurt for a five-course meal? They’ve got that, too.
Squaw Valley Ski Resort (Olympic Valley, CA)
Lake Tahoe’s Squaw Valley is a beast of a resort in an area that’s filled with them. With 300 days of sun per year, 450 inches of snowfall and terrain for absolutely every type of skier and rider — from steeps to super pipe — Squaw is a no brainer for anyone who can catch a quick flight to Reno.
Stowe Mountain Resort (Stowe, VT)
East Coast skiing gets dumped on more than Squaw during a blizzard, but for New Englanders Stowe is among the best, with lots of powder, challenging terrain and après-ski that rivals its brethren out west. Ski the Goat, hit some tabletops in the Tyro terrain park, grab some pizza at the Matterhorn and then head out on the town for late-night beers and music.
Whiteface Ski Resort (Wilmington, NY)
Great East Coast skiing and snowboarding is not exclusive to Vermont. Located on one of the highest peaks in the Adirondack Mountains, Whiteface has 3,166 feet of vertical drop serviced by lifts and 87 runs. If you’re still not convinced, know that the mountain was a major venue at the 1980 Winter Olympics so it’s not only a great place to ski but also a great place to experience some sports history. Whiteface is only a 13 mile jaunt from, Lake Placid, home to one of the best après-ski scenes on the coast.