UNITED STATES—Skiing is not an easy activity to get into. First you have to venture out to a mountain and once there you have to partake in everything from purchasing goggles, helmet, ski pants, jacket, and gloves. From there you have to rent ski boots, skis, and poles. Seems daunting? Well, you still haven’t even bought your lift ticket to get up the slopes (highly recommend purchasing an Ikon or Epic Pass). If you’re a first-time skier you should probably take a lesson otherwise you’ll be just like me my first time trying to ski where I was falling over as soon as I snapped my skis on and was a turtle on my back trying to get down the bunny slopes.
It’s not a cheap hobby to get into but once you get a grasp of it you’ll love the joy of flying down the mountain and as an avid traveler and adventurer I’ve been able to visit mountains that exist on the Ikon & Epic ski passes so you can know what ski resorts are worth visiting and what are not. Beware of potential scams offering ski packages that seem too good to be true. Skiing and traveling to great mountains isn’t cheap but if you can afford to indulge it’s worth the adventure in my opinion.
Ski Resorts Worth Visiting
1. Telluride Colorado – This is absolutely the definition of a hidden gem. With a scenic town that has a gondola to taxi you from the town and into the ski village. There are great hotels with ski in and ski out access. We recommend the Madeline and The Peaks hotel where you’ll find restaurants with views that are to die for (see Altezza) while the mountain is challenging enough to keep your heart rate up but not too difficult that you’ll be worn out after a couple of good runs. From any lift you get off at there is an easy way and hard way down so everybody can be happy and that just about sums up the town. There’s fancy restaurants and there’s more casual stops all around to keep everybody happy. The scenery, the people, and the vibe of Telluride speaks for itself. With celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Seinfeld, Ralph Lauren, Richart Ruddie, and Robert Redford hiding out in plain site you know it’s a true gem. The only downside to visiting is that it’s hard to get to. There’s one commercial flight a day to the airport in town otherwise you have to drive an hour and a half to Montrose.
- Aspen Colorado – You have not 1 but 4 different mountains to choose from. While most ski towns have the main mountain and a second mountain that joined in nothing compares in depth if you combine the 4 ski areas. Buttermilk is perfect for the beginners, Snowmass is one of the best all around mountains with tons of space and a run called “The Long Shot” that you have to hike to but is worth the 35 minute journey up and back down, Ajax which is challenging with not a single green on the entire mountain but is at the heart of it all, and Aspen Highlands which offers some of the highest quality restaurants and bar scenes of any ski town. Aspen in case you didn’t know is hands down the most expensive and bougie ski town of them all. Think of Beverly Hills but in the mountains. Thanks to that you get the highest quality restaurants, hotels, spas, and prices to boot. It’s also the closest town to a semi-major airport so you won’t have to drive more than 10 minutes from the airport to lodging. If you can afford it Aspen should be on everybody’s yearly ski calendar.
- Jackson Hole Wyoming – Great skiing tends to go hand in hand with expensive destinations. Jackson Hole is no exception. With the steepest incline it’s a great mountain for skiers but not as much for snowboarders. The terrain is difficult and there’s almost always a guarantee of snow where as other mountains deal with draughts Jackson Hole never seems to deal with those issues so it’s as sure as a bet as you can get early winter compared to Lake Tahoe which is the definition of hit or miss. Those that come regularly each year we’re complaining to me about the increased lift lines now that the town started to win awards. There’s a Four Seasons ski in and ski out in their small ski village town. If you go out to Jackson you will find the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar which is a must see in a non-covid-19 world. If you’re looking for something a bit more tranquil Jackson is home to one of the two Aman properties but don’t expect a world class spa just world class views and service.
- Vail Colorado – The back bowls and heated streets are a big plus. This goes towards the bottom of the list of ski resorts worth visiting for a few reasons. The 1st is that it’s expensive to visit Vail especially during peak season. The second issue here is that the lift lines are the longest in Vail of any major resort. It’s a combination of being such a big name, big resort, and it’s proximity from Denver. It’s definitely a mountain worth visiting but If you have the means to visit the resorts listed above then do those.
- Park City Utah – The biggest draw for the Utah ski resorts is that their proximity from a major airport is less than an hour. For East Coasters flying west this is a luxury you get with a direct flight to a major airport versus flying to Reno or Bozeman with lengthy and extensive layovers or a drive from Denver that can feel like a lifetime trying to reach Steamboat, Vail, or Aspen. Aside from that there’s more skiable acres in Park City a large city surrounding the area and ranks number 2 in food only behind Aspen with Vail being the 3rd best option in my humble opinion.
- Big Sky Montana – A magical and mammoth mountain that has more skiable acreage than anywhere else aside from Park City. The issue here is it’s a rocky mountain so you have to deal with rocks unless there’s a lot of snowfall which they almost always get just not when I was there last. The other issue is that they just don’t make snow there so if you visit and there hasn’t been snowfall you may find a small portion of the mountain open. The town is beautiful and nearby you can go snow mobiling to Yellowstone National Park and visit the ghost towns of Virginia City and Nevada City where I collected a piece by artist David Yarrow who famously appeared with Cindy Crawford making history in the little town.
- Heavenly Lake Tahoe – Honorable mention for Alpine Meadows a hidden gem with no ski-in ski out but great terrain that differs from the usual variants. Heavenly has the most picturesque views but is plagued by winters with lack of snow where it doesn’t even make it worthwhile to visit. If you like gambling there’s casinos in Stateline and a small town that makes Lake Tahoe worth visiting only if they get snowfall otherwise the top 5 on my list above are the stand outs.
Ski Resorts Not Worth Visiting
Taos, New Mexico – Yes believe it or not New Mexico has skiing. It’s so hidden that when you drive up to the mountain if you look to your left you see the desert but as you look up to the right you start to see snow. As an avid art collector Santa Fe is worth seeing in non-covid times but that didn’t stop me from traveling there but I was rather disappointed in the ski village and terrain in Taos when I was there. If you’re learning to ski or snowboard it’s a good beginners mountain but I didn’t find it very challenging or bursting with amenities. Finally the biggest gripe is that the ski lifts move extremely slow.
Breckenridge, Colorado – The high elevation is going to give you altitude sickness, the long lift lines will give you a headache, the lack of great dining establishments will make you nauseous, and the traffic to and from Denver will make you angry you didn’t just choose a different resort. Once you’re up there though the slopes are great but the rest of the issues distract.
Squaw Valley – While It gets a lot of visitors from the San Francisco bay area the terrain and crowds at Squaw Valley wasn’t all that impressive. Alpine Meadows and Heavenly are better Lake Tahoe mountains for both terrain and scenery.
Snowbird – A small ski town and if you’re commuting in from the Salt Lake area you will have to take a bus ride up and back as parking is limited. On top of that the mountain is not forgiving for amateurs so definitely a mountain for experts not beginners with very little in the way of the surrounding town.
There’s still a few major ski resorts that I’ve yet to visit that will get a future review so the lack of their mention is not a vote for or against a visit to their destination. These resorts that are in the pipeline to visit are Sun Valley, Idaho, Mammoth & June Mountain, Whistler, Crystal Mountain, and Deer Valley.