Sixteen huge, snow-fattened bowls scallop across majestic twin peaks. Punctuated with glaciers, the expanse feels like the Alps—with consistently great service (No. 5), seamless connectivity (Lifts, No. 2, including the bold Peak 2 Peak gondola), and a lifetime of choose-your-adventure skiing (Terrain Variety, No. 1; Challenge, No. 7). Whistler Blackcomb is back at the top of the rankings (it was No. 1 in 2012–13), and readers are giddy. “Nothing else in North America compares.” “The mountain is an 11- plus... Just more in every way.” The slopes descend a whopping vertical mile through lush spruce forests (and frequent dreaded mid-mountain fog) to a dynamic ski-tropolis as abundant and diverse as the mountains above. (Edited to add after it came out..)
2. Deer Valley, Utah
It’s been three years since Deer Valley topped the rankings. No matter. Management continues to run the place as if it were No. 1. After all, it is No. 1 to its deeply devoted fans. This is the place where you’ll find the old-school belief that a vacation should be defined as time off from the grind, so not surprisingly “Deer Valley does everything possible to eliminate the hassles,” one reader says. “They treat you like royalty.” Granted, the “maze around mansions” mountain layout can be confusing. And for a resort that makes just about all aspects of your visit as easy as falling out of your 800-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets, you do need to work a bit to find the most challenging skiing. But it’s there. And often untracked. The Empire Canyon pod and Bald Mountain’s bowls will work up a sweat. Sure, its no-boarders policy is quietly controversial, but it also reflects the resort’s consistency and tenacious adherence to its core values, which translate to No. 1 ranks in Grooming, Service, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, and Kid-Friendly Activities—and also loyalty, if that were tallied.
3. Sun Valley, Idaho
When visiting Sun Valley, one tends to get caught up in the history (it’s No. 2 in Character), especially when taking a leisurely lunch in the 75-year-old Roundhouse Lodge after a morning of 3,400-foot top-to-bottom cruisers on “fabulous fall-line terrain.” It takes only a little imagination to mentally trade state-of-the-art, liftline-eliminating high- speed lifts (No. 1) for single chairs and direct flights from Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now Denver for the Union Pacific railroad, and you’ll understand why the rustic yet refined atmosphere of this secluded Idaho gem has beckoned skiers since 1936. It starts with the skiing. When it snows, expect epic sunny bowl skiing off the Mayday lift. The rest of the time, immaculate grooming (No. 2) and the country’s best snowmaking system make Bald Mountain—where chasing fresh corduroy has become cultish—a thrilling place to set an edge.
4. Telluride, Colorado
We don’t want to take undue credit, but following years of elite rankings in SKI’s Resort Guide Scenery category—including No. 1 yet again this year—Telluride has circled back to the motto it brandished in the 1990s: “The Most Beautiful Place You’ll Ever Ski.” Coincidence? You be the judge. Or let the reader who raves, “The most scenic place in North America,” make the call. The resort also boasts a No. 1 rank in Character thanks to the town’s National Historic District status. The mountain’s vertical, meanwhile, is gobsmacking: a thigh-melting 3,845 feet, and you can bump that up to 4,425 feet if you choose to hike up 13,320 foot Palmyra Peak (its slopes are patrolled).
5. Vail, Colorado
There may be no hill as polarizing. Vail is the Starbucks of skidom—owned by a massive corporation that seems to be buying every snow-related business it can stick its poles into. “Vail is evil, plastic. It has no soul,” decries one reader (dramatic much?). But even the haters have to acknowledge that, like that little Seattle-born coffee shop, Vail consistently serves up the goods. “It’s like Disney World for skiers—it doesn’t get any better,” gushes one commenter. From greedy pow turns in the wide-open Back Bowls to classic bump runs like Highline and Prima, the terrain is so massive, so diverse (No. 5 in Terrain Variety), and so much fun that skiers flock here by the millions.
6. Snowmass, Colorado
It was the view from across the valley of the vast, perfectly pitched flanks of Mount Baldy that inspired Bill Janss to take a small plane to the top of the mountain, ski down bowls, steeps, and glades in ideal powder conditions, and buy up a bunch of ranches around the base to create Snowmass in 1967. Janss’s assessment of “the perfect mountain” is echoed by many readers, who extol its size and variety of terrain (No. 10) with comments like “You can ski six days in a row and feel like you’re at different resorts” and “Snowmass has it all...it’s perfect for any level of skier.” A well-earned reputation for grooming (No. 4; one reader called it “the gold standard”) is bolstered by the Noon Groom, a delight for late risers and tired legs.
7. Park City Mountain Resort, Utah
Lately, Park City Mountain Resort has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. But despite its legal battle with Vail Resorts (see the latest here), the ski area can’t be beat when it comes to Access (No. 2): A mere 35-minute drive from Salt Lake City puts you deep in ski country. Of course, easy access can mean big crowds at peak times, so take advantage of Park City’s well-run bus system instead of searching for parking. It’s true that older ski lifts like Pioneer and Motherlode “desperately need an upgrade,” on-mountain dining is lackluster, and readers are ready to riot over the lack of lift footrests. However, look a little closer and you’ll find “much more than meets the eye,” with “phenomenal terrain parks,” loads of amenities for kids (No. 2), and a hopping après scene (No. 3).
8. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
In case you hadn’t heard, Jackson Hole got hammered with snow last season. Three hundred forty-six inches of fluff blew in between Jan. 1 and April 6, when the mountain closed, making it the deepest winter in 20 years. So there’s that. Then there’s the terrain. Forty-degree steeps in the Alta chutes. Thirty-foot leaps off Corbet’s Couloir. Technical glades in Saratoga Bowl. Some of the best and easiest-to-access backcountry anywhere. “Trees, cliffs, steeps, snowfall—what a great place to explore!” says one reader. It all nabs the resort the No. 1 rank for Challenge. But Jackson isn’t only about the skiing. Massive views of Grand Teton National Park garner it a No. 3 for Scenery; archways made of elk antlers, classic watering holes like the Cowboy Bar, and a more laid-back, we’re-not-in-Aspen vibe earn it another No. 3 for its charming Western Character.
9. Breckenridge, Colorado
Breckenridge’s well-deserved renown means that its liftlines (and its sole free parking lot) get crowded. This is not news to readers: “This place is huge and jam-packed. Guess that’s the price of popularity.” They also know it can be hard to get around if you don’t know where you’re going: “If you don’t ski it smart, you can spend half your day traversing the mountain instead of skiing downhill.” While these gripes have merit, readers applaud the magnitude of the place, which grew last season with the huge Peak 6 expansion, perhaps helping to push Breck up to No. 9. With size comes responsibility: If you know where to go, you’ll be rewarded with fresh lines, untouched bumps, and snowy glades. Breck’s best terrain is above treeline, where it can get windy and cold. Layer up and take North America’s highest lift, Imperial, to deep bowl skiing and hike-to terrain.
10. Steamboat, Colorado
Steamboat just makes readers feel good. It’s pretty simple. You guys love the town, the friendly locals, the snow, the trees, the overall vibe of the place. “The ’Boat captures the Colorado ski dream better than any other resort in the state,” says one devotee. From the Snow (No. 9) and the Service (No. 9) to the family programming (Kid-Friendly Activities, No. 3) and Terrain Parks (No. 13), Steamboat keeps all kinds of skiers happy. But those who favor trees are especially delighted. (“Trees! Trees! Trees! Trees!” chants one reader.)
11. Beaver Creek, Colorado
Some resorts have reputations that precede them, and Beaver Creek is one of them. Yes, the service is superb (No. 3). Yes, the grooming is meticulous (No. 3). And yes, the place loves families, with an excellent ski school and family programming most nights of the week (No. 8 in Kid-Friendly Activities). But there’s more here than meets the eye. Mediocre terrain scores in both variety (No. 24) and challenge (No. 27) are puzzling to anyone who’s ever pounded Grouse Mountain or dropped into Stone Creek Chutes.
12. Aspen Mountain, Colorado
A study in contradictions, Aspen rewards those who take the time to get to know it. At 675 acres, the mountain “skis much bigger than it is,” as one reader puts it, thanks to the gondola, which rises 3,200 vertical feet from downtown to summit, and to 64 miles of efficiently connected, fall-line runs with hundreds of hidden stashes and lines to explore. Even when the town is hopping, and it always is—No. 4 for Off-Hill Activities (including a vibrant cultural scene), No. 4 for Dining, and No. 2 for Après (more than 100 bars and restaurants)—liftlines are rare.
13. Whitefish, Montana
In 2007, Big Mountain was renamed Whitefish Mountain Resort to better connect it to the charming ski town down the road. Seven years later, the passionate ski community still refuses to use the new name. Though management has polished up the place with three high-speed quads, a new day lodge, and continuing upgrades, it remains a true skier’s mountain. There are 3,000 acres and 2,300 feet of vert, and just about all of it “a great ski hill with lots of character.” But it’s the Colorado-30-years-ago vibe that keeps people coming back, with one fan calling it “the last best place on Earth.
14. Canyons Resort, Utah
As Utah’s biggest ski area, with 4,000 skiable acres and 21 lifts, Canyons Resort doesn’t lack for terrain. The Vail Resorts–run mountain is an “intermediate skier’s paradise,” and locals love the value-happy Epic Pass. The sheer size of the place can mean skiers have “a hard time getting from point A to point B,” so spend a few minutes with the trail map. And while a powder day here is fun, the resort’s low base elevation at 6,800 feet means Utah’s legendary snow might not be as fluffy as you expect.
15. Winter Park, Colorado
Winter Park continues to move in the right direction with this year’s No. 15 rank (up from No. 18 last year). Looks like readers are taking notice of all the things that make this a great Front Range family resort: It’s pretty easy to get to (No. 11 for Access), it’s kind to the wallet (No. 11 for Value), it has excellent children’s programming (No. 10 for Kid-Friendly Activities), and families love the terrain parks spread across WP and sister peak Mary Jane (No. 10).
16. Aspen Highlands, Colorado
Highland Bowl has become legendary since fully opening to the public in the early 2000s. For good reason. This massive playground (“best bowl in Colorado”) is a skier’s dreamland of wide-open steeps and north-facing glades filled with winterlong deep cold smoke—which you can enjoy only if you’re willing to hoof it about 700 vertical feet to the 12,392-foot peak. The Bowl “was one of the highlights of my nearly 40-year ski history,” one reader writes. But there’s much, much more to Highlands, like the Deep Temerity glades, which are like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
17. Big Sky, Montana
Mixologists? In Big Sky, your beer comes from a bartender. This is a place where the locals are friendly, the fire pits burn with the real thing, and the skiing is as kickass as anything this side of AK. Big Sky boasts astonishing terrain (Terrain Variety, No. 2; Challenge, No. 5), especially since merging with Moonlight Basin last year. From the sun-soaked cruiseways on Andesite to the hairy hike-to Headwaters, this place has everything—except, that is, people.
18. Copper Mountain, Colorado
One reader sums it up: “Copper is the hidden-in-plain-sight gem of Colorado.” Looming just off I-70 in Frisco (No. 7 for Access), Copper has long been something between a local’s hangout and a destination resort. But if the rankings tell a story, it seems readers have decided. Rising six spots from last year’s No. 24, this Front Range resort with formidable terrain and a freestyle following is going places. Maybe readers got their first taste of the 12s, Copper’s multi-year plan to beef up its high-alpine skiing.
19. Crested Butte, Colorado
CB veterans won’t be at all surprised to learn that the resort earns its highest marks in Challenge (No. 3). “Best selection of double diamonds in the state,” says one skier. “Mind-blowing steeps!” raves another. Terrain Variety ranks lower (No. 12), however, due to a relative lack of moderate terrain. Crested Butte scores quite high in Character (No. 9), getting kudos for its “small-town atmosphere” and “the best vibe of any ski location...no pretentiousness.”
20. Heavenly, California
Heavenly is inextricably linked to its hometown’s casino and tourism culture, so it’s great that Tahoe’s South Shore has climbed out of the hole it dug during the real estate crash. The giant foundation crater across from the village gondola is now The Chateau, an upscale shopping, dining, and drinking venue. Heavenly’s brand of high-energy skiing is a unique mix of big terrain (4,800 acres), lake views, and Vegas-style partying. This winter, look for roving on-mountain parties brought via mobile DJ snowcat.
21. Snowbird, Utah
It dumps at Snowbird (No. 5 for Snow). And though there will be a bit of posturing from the bro-brah contingent when it does, the atmosphere on the tram deck is electric when everyone from longtime locals to vacationing families is jonesing for fresh tracks on Snowbird’s famous steeps. It’s that “pure skiing” experience that attracts people from far and wide to ski here—to say nothing of the easy ride from the Salt Lake airport (Access, No. 5). Test pieces in the Cirque and on North Baldy will tempt experts.
22. Mammoth Mountain, California
Due to its immensity—5,000 skiable acres and 28 lifts—Mammoth has terrain for every type of skier (Terrain Variety, No. 9). Experts head to the precipitous bowls and daunting back side off Chair 23, intermediates have the volcanic mountain’s entire lower perimeter, and for those craving airtime, Mammoth’s Unbound terrain parks claim a No. 1 rank. Even with the recent drier-than-average winters in California, Mammoth’s top elevation of 11,053 feet—it’s the highest ski resort in the state—ensures ample snowfall that often keeps the resort open into June.
23. Keystone, Colorado
Some say it’s better to specialize than to try to do it all, and that’s the approach at Keystone. Season after season, this Front Range resort ups its family game, from seasonlong family festivals to free skiing for kids 12 and under. This season is no exception, with après-ski for families, a kids’ brunch, and an indoor/outdoor slide at Camp Keystone ski school. Family vacations are the laser focus here, and Keystone does them well (No. 4 in Kid-Friendly Activities).
24. Northstar, California
Northstar is Tahoe’s epicenter of laid-back family luxury. The temps are California mild, the amenities numerous, and the skating rink and village convenient, classy, and kid-friendly—right down to the free s’mores. This season Northstar ups the sophistication with complimentary champagne for the adults. Now it’s up to El Niño to do its part and deliver those gargantuan dumps for which Tahoe is legendary. With 97 trails across 3,170 acres, there are loads of well-coiffed groomers for beginners and intermediates, plus the Backside trees and steeps for rippers. Park rats can bump elbows with gold medalist David Wise in the pipe.
25. Squaw Valley, California
Squaw Valley has always been known, as one reader puts it, as an “extreme skier’s paradise” (Challenge, No. 10). The Tahoe resort offers expansive, steep terrain that’s been made legendary by ski movies and talented local pros. But lately, Squaw is showing a softer side, boosting family perks like parent-child ski lessons and updated condo-style lodging. At neighboring Alpine Meadows, which has been under Squaw ownership since 2011, you’ll get “the quieter, shy little sister to Squaw” and a more “laid-back vibe,” according to readers.
26. Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Visitors to Taos Ski Valley tend to remark on two things: the resort’s formidable steeps (“Better have your big-boy pants on to ski this mountain,” writes one reader) and its “iconic” culture and “no frills” ambience—part “hippie town,” part “European village.” The lifts may be slow, the amenities dated, and the slopes full of “old codgers”—but that’s all part of Taos’s appeal, say readers. “If you are looking for fancy,” explains one, “this is not the place for you. If you love funky then this is a must.” With the resort’s sale last season to billionaire financier Louis Bacon, however, Taos Ski Valley’s fancy-to-funky ratio may soon narrow.
27. Mount Bachelor, Oregon
Lump skiing at Mt. Bachelor in with Jackie Chan and sauerkraut: Even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty great. Why? In a word, “dependable.” “Season after season Mt. Bachelor’s base is head and shoulders over most resorts’ in the nation, even in snow-lean years.” With 462 inches of average annual snowfall, Bachelor’s season lasts seven months, while the variety of trails, “awesome scenery,” and the “most helpful staff” make the trip to central Oregon “well worth the travel time.” The “whole mountain is up for grabs,” a 3,683-acre volcano that skis like one peak on top of another.
28. Alta, Utah
Even during a less than stellar snow year (432 inches vs. the usual 500), Alta was still able to rack up a No. 2 rank for Snow. Why? Because when it did come, it was classic Alta powder: light, fluffy, and fun. “The best, driest snow on Earth—even into April,” says one reader. And it all falls on legendary terrain—steep, sustained shots like High Boy and Gunsight—good enough for a No. 7 Challenge rank.
29. Solitude, Utah
When you’re looking to get away from the aggro, hard-charging posse that counts tram laps like they count push-ups in a fitness class, there’s Solitude. Known for a “nice, slower pace of life,” this Big Cottonwood Canyon retreat, a mere 45 minutes from Salt Lake International Airport (No. 7 for Access), consistently makes the grade for snow quality (No. 7), kindness to the wallet (Value, No. 9), and lack of crowds. It’s “the place to ski without being seen,” a “hidden gem in the Wasatch,” and everyone who skis here would like to keep it secret.
30. Snowbasin, Utah
Snow-who? We’ve been telling you about how great the skiing at Snowbasin is for several years, and yet the mountain still remains nearly classified. “No crowds” is the common refrain from readers who discovered Snowbasin this year. What they also found were beautiful day lodges, complete with marble bathrooms, serving up dishes like chicken alfredo, wood-fired pizza, and quinoa salad (good for a No. 3 in On-Mountain Food); exceptional groomed terrain (No. 12); and some of the speediest and more comfortable lifts out there (No. 4).
Edited by sibhusky - 9/18/14 at 8:37am