Quote = r99r:
1. Mountain collective pass and drive: (3.5-4 days driving): Palm Springs - Snowbird/Alta - Jackson Hole - Kalispell/whitefish - Banff (for at least 2 days in delirium dive ) then fly to Chicago and see the peeps for couple of days there.
2. Palm springs direct to Kalispell (fly/drive), then ~12 days in montana / banff
3. Palm springs - alaska - (forget visiting the people - we're here to do mountains. suspect we might upset the friends... of course they could come visit us in alaska?)
First let's rule out #3. The "big lines" in Alaska are heliskiing and the season doesn't even start until late February due to limited daylight hours before then at that latitude.
You have a misconception about Sunshine/Delirium Dive as a magnet for steep skiers. The Dive requires avalanche gear for each person, is not easily repeated for multiple runs per day and is often not open until later in the season due to coverage and/or snow stability issues. Sunshine is overall a mostly intermediate area. Lake Louise has more steep terrain overall, but both mountains can be bitterly cold in January and due to modest snowfall (see below) some of the steeps may not yet have adequate coverage until later in the season.
You are still spending a week in Palm Springs + Chicago, leaving only 2 weeks for skiing + driving. As far as #1 and #2 are concerned you need to get out a map and check drive times. SoCal - Salt Lake = 10 hours. Salt Lake - Jackson = 5 hours. Jackson - Big Sky = 5 hours. Big Sky - Kalispell = 5 hours. Kalispell - Fernie = 2.5 hours. Fernie - Banff = 4 hours. All of these times assume clean roads and good weather. Some road warriors can ski a full day, drive 5 hours to new lodging and get up to hit more big lines early the next morning, but I'm guessing this is not a realistic plan with 2 kids, one of whom likes "cruising around taking it easy."
sibhusky's advice on #2 is sound:
Actually, Fernie has big lines and is way more accessible to Kalispell than Banff. It would even, as a "long day" be a day trip from Kalispell. In addition to Whitefish, there are Blacktail (smallish) and Turner (small, but supposed to be a great place in terms of terrain) that are day trips. I think as an overnight, Castle and Schweitzer are also easy drives. You could definitely fill up your time between here and Canada. The current long term outlook for next winter is excellent for this part of the country.
For steep terrain from most to least: Kicking Horse (but lift layout limits how much of it you can ski in a day), Lake Louise, Fernie, Castle have a lot. Panorama, Sunshine, Whitefish, Schweitzer have some.
For snow, season average in cm: Fernie 953, Whitefish 826, Schweitzer 704, Castle 671, Sunshine 653, Kicking Horse 645, Panorama 478, Lake Louise 429. By comparison Mt. Hutt, reputedly the most reliable NZ South Island area, averages 485cm.
So the #1 option to me remains dividing the ski time between Alta/Snowbird and Jackson Hole. If you polled knowledgeable North American skiers on "who has the best/most extensive lift served steep terrain in North America, you would of course get differences of opinion, but I suspect Jackson Hole would get the plurality vote as #1 and Alta/Snowbird would definitely be in the top 5. Kicking Horse, Lake Louise and Fernie/Castle would be contenders to make the top 10.
As for snow Jackson Hole's 935cm is similar to Fernie, the snowiest area on the Montana/Canada trip. Alta/Snowbird's 1200+cm is on a completely different level. Alta/Snowbird's high snowfall not only increases powder odds, but also increases the likelihood that the "biggest lines" will have adequate snow cover in January. If you do get new snow, there will be less powder competition at the Montana/Canada areas than at Jackson or Alta/Snowbird though.
Despite having friends in Kalispell, the Alta/Snowbird/Jackson alternative rates to be no more expensive:
1) All of the lift tickets will be on Mountain Collective
2) Kalispell is an expensive airport to fly into. You may want to look into Calgary as an alternative if you choose that trip.
3) Due to drive distances you may be staying with the friends in Kalispell only the days you ski Whitefish. Fernie is possible as a daytrip but the other places are too far. As noted before, Salt Lake and Jackson lodging is reasonably priced.
4) I would definitely say #1 is cheaper than #2, but the Canadian dollar is low now, which will bring the costs closer. Canadian lodging will still be no less than Salt Lake and Jackson IMHO.
Edited by Tony Crocker - 4/21/16 at 9:07pm