Use our insider’s guide to the region’s most popular spots – and a few more-off-the-beaten-track destinations, too.
Skiing in North America is all about wide swooping runs, gorgeous forested glades, powder shots and some of the fluffiest, deepest, most bewitching snow on the planet.
Think of bottomless snow days on the West Coast, perfect powder in the Rockies and countless ski-bunny and board-bum paradises in the many mountains in between. As you contemplate your next winter-wonderland trip, let this list help you decide.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA
The vibe: Long runs, gnarly terrain, zero pretension, Led Zeppelin
It’s an electric feeling to catch the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram, the most iconic lift ride in the USA. The 100-person gondola has piped-in music, chosen by the operator – think AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and just about anything the gods of rock would approve of. As you cruise up, you get a bird’s-eye view of the terrain you’ll be riding on your dream snow-cation: steep couloirs, excellent glade skiing and a few wide-open bowls.
Jackson Hole isn’t especially close to anything, so all you get here is the mountain. And we’re fine with that.
Aspen, Colorado, USA
The vibe: Beautiful people with lots of money…and their mountain-shredding spawn
Aspen hasn’t been the world’s go-to ski destination for the past 50 years for nothing. This glitzy former mining town has amazing turns for just about everybody in the family, and four mountain areas to choose from. Buttermilk is one of the best hills for beginners in the nation, with top-notch instructors at the ski and snowboard school.
But you can also expect impossibly steep pistes, deep chutes and remarkable bowls in Aspen Highlands and Snowmass areas. After a quick hike to the top of the 12,392ft (3777m) Highlands Bowl, you’ll be rewarded with arguably the best inbounds runs in the United States.
After you hit the slopes, it’s all about fashion, remarkable dining and the arts. Better dress the part.
Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada
The vibe: Big powder days, heli-skiing, big-city proximity
Thanks to more than 200 marked runs and an astounding 8171 acres of terrain – including 16 broad alpine bowls and three glaciers – Whistler-Blackcomb might be the largest ski resort in the western hemisphere. The resort’s Peak 2 Peak gondola is the highest and longest in the world, and nobody can beat the sheer exhilaration of throttling down the mountain that hosted many alpine events in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Serious skiers and boarders will love the big dumps of heavy coastal powder and the long runs, while families won’t be able to resist the kids’ forts and action in the village. Just 78 miles (125 km) from the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver, you can seek out plenty of nearby cultural attractions, too.
Alta, Utah, USA
The vibe: The fluffiest powder on the planet, skiers that hate snowboarders
Alta has a whole lot going for it – especially for skiers, as snowboarding is still forbidden here. For starters, an ungodly 551 inches of snow falls every year. And because it’s in Utah, it’s the driest, dreamiest snow you’ll ever get.
The après-ski scene is on the sedate side, but you won’t have much time for partying, what with the over 2000ft (609m) of steep-and-deep vertical drop and 2614 acres of terrain. We also love that many of the ski scenes from the 1980s classic Better Off Dead were filmed on the resort’s slopes. As Charles de Mar puts it in the film: “This is pure snow. Have you any idea what the street value of this mountain is?”
Palisades Tahoe, California, USA
The vibe: Throwback cool and California sunshine
Near the glistening shores of Lake Tahoe – which has the biggest grouping of ski resorts in the United States – this standout hill (formerly known as Squaw Valley) played host to the 1960 Winter Olympics. There’s still a throwback air to the midsize mountain, which has a good mix of terrain for all levels, including rad steeps like the KT-22 and a killer terrain park filled with all the jumps, rails and free-styling spills you could ask for.
Some 30 lifts all in all keep people moving across the 4000 skiable acres. Be warned that California snow is sometimes called “Sierra Cement,” since the day after it falls it can turn rock-hard. But it also arrives in plentiful quantities, with three-foot dumps not uncommon. Palisades also offers the chance to show off your flair and California cool. And with Santa Cruz just five hours away, you might consider skiing and surfing in the very same day.
Vail, Colorado, USA
The vibe: Après-ski high jinks, rip-roaring wide runs
For a youthful, energetic and yet still highly elite skiing experience, think no further than Vail, Colorado, a huge resort that has some of the best bowl skiing in the western US. From the mountain’s backside, you’ll hit a never-ending streak of wide-open treeless terrain, plenty of powder and a few secret stashes that only locals know about. From there, it’s off to Blue Sky Basin for forest skiing and a few short steeps that will get your spine tingling.
Vail is perfect for young revelers as well as families. The resort’s frontside has plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain, and in the Tyrolean-style village (actually built in the mid 20th century), you’ll find a great collection of fun bars, sophisticated restaurants and fancy shops.
Big Sky, Montana, USA: Sick super-steep terrain…and, well, big skies.
Telluride, Colorado, USA: Gorgeous views, refined dining, star sightings.
Taos, New Mexico, USA: Green chile, cornice drops, art galleries and no lift lines.
Mammoth, California, USA: Eastern Sierra isolation.
Copper Mountain, Colorado, USA: Ridiculous hike-to-terrain and great downhill lines.
Worth a peak
Here are a few smaller, lesser-known resorts that pack in the powder with far less pretension than their bigger counterparts.
Wolf Creek, Colorado, USA: Hot springs and huge snowfalls.
Silverton Mountain, Colorado, USA: One chair lift, 1800 acres of terrain, no newbies allowed.
Whitewater, British Columbia, Canada: Bottomless snow and great backcountry slopes.
Kirkwood, California, USA: Vertigo-inducing chutes, huge cornices and plenty of natural half-pipes.
Alyeska, Alaska, USA: A homegrown, laid-back, powder-chugging Alaskan classic.
Crystal Mountain, Washington, USA: Massive dumps and plenty of steep terrain.