The slopes are calling, Jetsetters. Here’s everything you need to know about ski season 2015–16, from flight news and mountain town intel to tips for maximizing your time and money.
Best Ski Passes for Your Money
It’s not too late to pick up a money-saving pass to ski the best resorts in North America, but you’ll need to do some fast math. One-day lift tickets top $100 at most resorts this winter, so how many days will you ride at a major resort? Do you plan to spend those days at one or two resorts, or do you want to shred multiple mountain ranges?
* If you’re committed to riding more than five days at a major resort in Colorado, Utah or California, the Vail Resorts Epic Pass ($789) can save you money, and it includes six discounted "Ski-With-a-Friend" lift tickets. All told, the pass unlocks 11 North American resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge, Colorado; Park City, Utah; and Heavenly and Northstar, California.
* If you're chasing pow across the continent, consider the Mountain Collective ($409), which includes two days at each of 13 resorts, including Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Aspen, Colorado; Snowbird and Alta, Utah; Sun Valley, Idaho; Taos, New Mexico; Squaw Valley, California; and Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia. Pass holders also get half-price tickets after you use your two days at any one resort and they're entitled to discounts on lodging and on-mountain dining, depending on resort.
* East Coast shredders hoping to make one trip out west should look at the MAX Pass, which gives you five days at 22 ski resorts across North America, including Killington and Stratton, Vermont; Sugarloaf and Sunday River, Maine; and Tremblant, Quebec. Out west, you get a selection of magnificent mountains, including Winter Park, Steamboat and Copper Mountain, Colorado; Brighton, Utah; and Big Sky, Montana. The full pass runs $719.
Top Hotel Packages
We know how a ski trip can kill the bank account, but plenty of hotels are offering great value and discounts.
* Wanna get away from it all? Head to Utah’s powdery Big Cottonwood Canyon. The 1,200-acre Solitude Mountain Resort is ski and shredder friendly, and you can expect improved on-mountain food and guest services this year. Book three nights at The Inn at Solitude with three lift tickets, and you'll get the fourth night free (from $269 per night).
* Hurry up and book Jackson Hole's Golden Ticket promotion: When you buy your flight, hotel and activities by December 1, the resort will throw in an airfare credit of up to $300 per person. We recommend you stay at the slopeside Hotel Terra; the Teton Village hotel will throw in the fourth night free when you cash in your season pass (from $296 per night).
* Intimate and elite, Madeline Hotel & Residences mirrors Telluride's ritzy Mountain Village, an exclusive enclave connected to the historic hamlet via gondola. This December the hotel steps out from a face lift that adds a 4,000-square-foot deck with a heated pool, two hot tubs and tree fire pits all with sunset views. Book your escape by December 19 for 30 percent off rack rates (suites from $300).
* Mountain luxury reaches new heights with Beaver Creek's White Glove Package. Imagine: A first class flight followed by heli-transfer to the Beave's premier private cabin perched atop Bachelor Gulch Mountain where Epic Passes, new Helly Hansen outerwear, state-of-the-art demo skis, and a personal "Cabin Keeper" concierge and chef are waiting. The four-night escape also includes spa treatments and a snow cat tour to dinner at Beano's Cabin, one of ski country's most acclaimed restaurants (from $50,000 all-inclusive for four days / nights).
* In Lake Tahoe, the Ritz Carlton has 23 luxe suites, a farm-to-table restaurant and the best spa on the lake, complete with 17,000-square-feet of space and a heated pool that peeps out over the trees. Book the Ultimate Winter Vacation for a Three-Bedroom Residential Suite; up to six Northstar lift tickets per day for three days; high end ski demos with in-suite fitting; a five-course dinner at the Chef's Table in Manzanita; and six après-ski massages ($10,000 per night all inclusive, four night minimum).
Ski News to Know
This year Park City and Canyons resorts join forces to become the largest ski area in the U.S., with 7,300 skiable acres. The linchpin of the new Park City is the eight-passenger Quicksilver Gondola, which crests the ridge that used to divide the two resorts. Other than that, everything you loved before is still there, from Jupiter Peak's steeps to the Olympic Superpipe to Ninety-Nine 90's rocky chutes. Be sure to download Vail Resorts' new Epic app, which this season adds real-time lift wait times so you can steer clear of the madding crowd.
* Fifty never looked as good as it does in gorgeous Jackson Hole. The celebration begins on "Flashback Friday," November 27, 2015, when a lift ticket will cost just $6 for the day, the price when the resort opened in 1965. If you're a ski pass holder anywhere in the world and want to check Jackson Hole off your bucket list, zip into town between January 11 and 31 for 50 percent off lift tickets. Or go anytime this winter with the resort's new 10-day pass, priced at $799.
* Up in Idaho, Sun Valley is kicking off its 80th year with the rebirth of the iconic Sun Valley Lodge. The tip-to-tail renovation includes a sparkling new 20,000-square-foot spa, a state-of-the-art fitness center and yoga studio, and a heated outdoor pool.
Where to Find the Best Powder
As the first flakes fly across the west, the mountains are atwitter with the promise that El Niño, a complex weather phenomenon caused by warm Pacific Ocean currents, will bring big pow dumps to high elevations. Snow has already pounded Lake Tahoe with Heavenly (South Lake) and Northstar (North Lake) reporting over two feet of fluff by the crack of November.
* Other Resorts betting big on El Niño include those in the Sierra Nevada above Lake Tahoe, legendary ski hills that were left high and mostly dry during the recent drought.
* High in Colorado's San Juan range, Telluride and Silverton haven't been wanting for snow, and they're expected to get a lot more this year. Silverton, which has the most extreme lift-accessed terrain in the country, is betting big with a new demo fleet of K2 ultra-fat Powabunga powder skis, the widest skis on the market, made for waist-deep snow all day, every day.
The Après Ski Scene
When it comes to booze, the west’s ski towns are replete with local distilleries fueling the après-ski scene.
* The leader of the pack is Park City’s High West Distillery, the country's only ski-in booze factory. Slide in for a smoky dram of Campfire Whiskey and stay for the highbrow pub grub, such as braised lamb tagine and gruyere-and-blue-cheese-topped bison burger. New this winter, High West has opened a second distillery at Blue Sky Ranch, a local dude ranch where you can tour the distillery after taking a snowshoe hike into the hills.
* Over in the Rockies, Breckenridge Distillery is the world's highest distillery, turning pure snowmelt into award-winning bourbon and vodka. Pop into the tasting room on historic Main Street, or tour the 4,000-square-foot distillery, on the outskirts of town, where the hooch ferments in traditional open-top Scottish-style fermenters before going into a 700-gallon Vendome copper still. Also be on the lookout for the distillery's pop-up saloon around town ⎯ you can't miss the converted Airstream trailer (dubbed "the Burro"), which has a sit-down bar and a kickass sound system.
* Way before it was a world class ski hill, Aspen Valley was known for its amazing potatoes, grown at altitude in mineral-rich mountain soil. Woody Creek Distillery is going back to the region's agrarian roots, growing organic potatoes for its high-octane vodka. The barkeeps at Justice Snow's in Aspen's historic Wheeler Opera House know just how to serve the sauce; try the Creekside Fizz with vodka, Solerno blood orange liqueur, lemon juice and soda.
Stop shlepping your outdated skis and snowboards on your annual ski trip. With luggage fees you’re probably not saving that much money bringing them along, plus you'll probably need a wax and tune-up at the resort. Instead, demo the latest ski tech through Black Tie Ski Rentals. Their pros meet you at your hotel upon your arrival, fit you for the latest skis, snowboards and boots, and then deliver your boards right to your room later that day.
Best of all, if the weather changes, Black Tie will deliver skis matching the snow conditions. This winter the company works out of 14 mountain towns to service 36 resorts, including Aspen, Breckenridge, Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado; Park City, Utah; and South and North Lake Tahoe, California.
Good news, city slickers: This winter U.S. airlines have more flights than ever connecting major hubs directly to Ski Country.
* To Aspen, Colorado, American Airlines adds nonstop service from Chicago and a third nonstop flight from Dallas. United will offer five daily nonstop flights from Chicago and is increasing frequency from Houston, L.A. and San Francisco. Delta, meanwhile, increases the frequency of service from Minneapolis in addition to its nonstop flights from Atlanta.
* Tony Telluride, Colorado, is now a nonstop flight from New York, L.A. and Chicago on American; United is also adding flights from New York, and Delta adds a new midweek flight from Atlanta.
* Steamboat Springs, Colorado, sees a 13 percent increase in nonstop seats, including additional flights from Chicago, L.A., Minneapolis, Newark, Seattle and Washington, DC.
* Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado, are now connected to 11 major markets with the addition of weekly nonstop service from Toronto on Air Canada.
* Over in the Tetons, service to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is expanding across the board: American adds new flights from Chicago and L.A. and a second daily flight from Dallas; Delta will operate Saturday flights from JFK all winter; and United will now fly daily from New York in addition to existing service from Washington, DC.
* The resorts ringing Lake Tahoe are now a nonstop flight away from New York with JetBlue's new service; the return is a red-eye flight, so you can ride all day, fly all night, and be at your desk in Manhattan the next morning.