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Trip Ideas

A Ski Town for Everyone

Whether you're a first-timer, speed seeker or junior ripper, writer Tim Neville knows the North American slopes and ski scenes to suit you

See recent posts by Tim Neville

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Best for Après: Whistler, BC

Combined, Whistler-Blackcomb is about as big as it gets with 200 marked runs, 8,171 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls, three glaciers, and an average of 38 feet of snowfall a year, and yet it’s the nightlife here that really gets people going. The dance floor at Tommy Africa’s can get packed, especially on Monday’s with 80’s night, while singles tend to go to Buffalo Bill’s for live music. Garfinkel’s — or Garf’s to locals — supplies a rowdy dance scene and laser show on Thursday nights. DJs and live acts keep the masses happy at Maxx Fish almost any night of the week. If you’re not sure where to begin, sign up for the Whistler Club Crawl, which, for about $60, allows you to skip lines as your group bounces between four clubs throughout the night.

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Best for Groups: Park City, UT

Park City’s three resorts rise from the town’s main drag to offer skiers combined access to a whopping 388 runs across more than 9,000 acres of terrain — enough to accommodate the most mismatched of ski groups. Each of the resorts has its own personality, too. Deer Valley’s wealth of more intermediate terrain and posh services (like ski porters) attracts those who want champagne with their views, while Park City Mountain Resort, with its parks and pipes and steeper shots, is where you’ll find Olympians training from time to time. Canyons, which recently underwent major upgrades with new lifts and services, sits somewhere in between with 4,000 acres of skiing and 182 named runs. Expert-only runs like Red Pine Bowl and Fantasy Ridge drop off the Ninety-Nine 90 Express Lift while the Iron Mountain Express will take you to kinder, gentler terrain.

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Best for Families: Steamboat, CO

Every ski area wants to be family friendly but Steamboat takes the prize with an entire mountain range of options. Not only do kids 12 and under ski for free (on free rental skis, too) when a parent or grandparent buys five days of lift tickets for that same period, but new for this year, they can ski long after the sun has set, too. The Kids’ Adventure Club at Night unfolds on weekend nights and offers dinner, games, crafts and movies for even the tiniest of rippers. The Rough Rider Basin, a kids-only zone, features teepees, log cabins and a surface lift to keep them active and entertained. (You can find free red wagons around the resort to help haul them around, too.) Though the resort spans six mountains and almost 3,000 acres, you can keep the clan together off the Burgess Creek lift. There, the family hot shot can ski expert runs like White Out, while beginners can cruise more forgiving runs like Lightning and Flat Out. You’ll all meet back up at the lift.

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Best for First Timers: Taos, NM

From the parking lot, Taos can look intimidating with runs that seem so sheer you can wonder how they even hold snow. But fear not: Exactly 49 percent of the 113 runs is made for beginner and intermediate skiers. Founder Ernie Blake, who was raised in St. Moritz, Switzerland, also created one of the country’s most celebrated ski schools. Start off with the Yellowbird program that uses beginner friendly lifts and slopes for four-and-a-half hours a day to get you up and going. Progress beyond the basics with the Greenbird package, a full-day of lessons and rentals. Best of all, beginners can see the entire mountain with access to easy runs off all 14 lifts. Honeysuckle, off Lift 7 and 7A, a long and windy beginner run, will take you right below the expert terrain off the Highline Ridge — inspiration to keep getting better.

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Best for All Day-ers: Big Sky, MT

Sure, the country’s biggest ski area has lots of easy slopes, fluffy powder and a relaxing vibe, but with 4,350 vertical feet, a huge 5,750 skiable acres and a tendency to have little to no waiting times at the 22 lifts, the resort really shines for those who want to ski long and hard all day long. Warm up with runs like Hangman’s and Ambush off 8,800-foot-high Andesite Mountain before journeying over to the Swift Current high-speed quad for longer runs down Calamity Jane, a stiff intermediate run. When you’re ready, log the big miles up the Lone Peak Tram to the top of 11,166-foot Lone Peak. Take in the views of the Gallatin and Madison ranges before dropping down the Liberty Bowl for a six mile run all the way back to the base. Afterward, a tipple at Whiskey Jack’s may help snuff the burn.

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Best for Speedsters: Sun Valley, ID

From the very beginning in 1936, Sun Valley, the nation’s first destination ski resort, was out to entice Hollywood stars to come zoom around on its slopes but it didn’t take long for another personality type to admire the wonders of runway-wide runs and beautifully groomed snow: speed junkies. Ride the Challenger Lift from the Warm Springs Lodge for about 3,100 vertical feet to the top and then break the sound barrier on Limelight, a three-part (upper-, middle-, lower-) run so steep that grooming machines need winches to haul themselves up it and make it smooth. When your legs give out, head over to the Seattle Ridge Lift for more forgiving beginner runs like Muffy’s Medal. No wonder downhill champion Picabo Street got her start here.

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Best for Year-Round Mountain Fans: Telluride, CO

Cupped in a cul-de-sac of stunning San Juan Mountain peaks, Telluride has the rare advantage of being a real town first and ski resort second. It does both equally well. In winter, skiers have more than 2,000 acres of terrain to keep them busy with everything from steep faces to meandering greens. After a big dump you can start off with a ride up the Oak Street Lift for double black-diamond powder runs right into town or keep it mellow with intermediate turns off the Polar Queen Express. The Mountain Film Festival comes to town in May and bands like The Del McCoury Band, Bela Fleck and Nickel Creek will perform at this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival in June. When the snow melts hike about five miles round trip to Blue Lake or take a leisurely stroll around Mountain Village, accessible by a free gondola.

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Best for Adrenaline Junkies: Jackson Hole, WY

There’s a reason why some of the world’s best extreme skiers end up in Jackson Hole, what with so many cliffs, chutes and steep bowls to squeeze the adrenaline glands. And while 50 percent of Wyoming’s premier resort is suitable for beginner and intermediate skiers, more advanced skiers have the most fun. High Mountain Heli-Skiing can whisk you off to untracked runs across 305,000 acres of the country’s most stunning terrain. More budget-friendly backcountry runs come easily with a guided snow-cat adventure at nearby Grand Targhee. The Jackson Hole Paragliding school can also teach you how to use a kite to zoom around the snow on skis or give you a bird’s eye view of Grand Teton National Park with a tandem paragliding flight.

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Best for Luxury Seekers: Beaver Creek, CO

The guys in chefs hats who hand out hot chocolate chip cookies to folks queuing up for the Centennial Express Lift in the Beaver Creek Village is just one of many signs that this Colorado resort is all about pampering. The spas are another. After a day of skiing gentle runs like Booth Garden off the Drink of Water Lift or working the legs on expert-only slopes like Bald Eagle off the Grouse Mountain Express, slip into robe for a hot stone massage at the Allegria Spa, a European-style spa with 23 treatment rooms and hair and nail salons. Pick up a designer dress at Mistral and then head out for a four-course meal of lobster bisque, foie gras and truffle ravioli at Mirabelle.

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Best for Boarders: Bachelor, OR

Oregon’s biggest resort might not have Sochi-size jumps or the craziest rails, but snowboarders still flock to Mount Bachelor for what it does have: six terrain parks, a 22-foot half-pipe, and coolest of all, nearly 3,700 acres with plenty of natural, wind-sculpted wave-like features for racking up the air time. Start off small in the Short Sands park off the Sunrise Express with confidence-building boxes and jumps before cranking it up with 520 corks in The Point, the biggest of the parks off the Skyliner Express. You can slash wind lips that form on the edges of runs off the Outback Express and Red Chair lifts or dig trenches carving down fast groomers like Atekson’s Zoom. Traversing along the West Traverse off Northwest Express can test your edging abilities but rewards await with steep trees and gullies that fill with deep snow. When the storms stop raging, ride the Summit chair to Bachelor’s 9,065-foot summit for 360-degrees of options down wide-open faces.

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