Top Ski Resorts in the United States: Find Fresh Snow this Winter

Aspen, Vail, Lake Tahoe, Jackson Hole – whether you're a skier or snowboarder, Amanda Starkey knows the best ski resorts for beginners or experts.

Photo © Getty Images/Peter Dopchev Photography

The United States has over 400 ski resorts across the country, from tiny one lift spots to well-known resort destinations such as Aspen and Vail. Whether you're a novice skier learning how to stem or a snowboarder seeking a fast and thrilling ride down the slopes, here's a quick guide to some of the best snow playgrounds.

Fresh Pow in Colorado

The Rockies are undoubtedly one of the most picturesque places in America to ski and snowboard. Drive two hours west of Denver to Vail Resort, where you can purchase an Epic ski pass that will also give you access to Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and the more extreme Arapahoe Basin (A-Basin). The Epic pass holds great value, as each of these resorts offer a totally different experience.

Vail

Vail is hard to beat, with five incredible back bowls and a heap of fun tree runs. Advanced riders should take advantage of the snow park at the top of the mountain. If you’re a skier, moguls are what you’ll find. With plenty of road runs, the ride down the mountain is a lot of fun.

Take the Interstate 70 to exit 176, about 99mi (160km) out of Denver. Grab your ski pass and take the big gondola to the top of the mountain. At the top of the mountain there are several restaurants and bars, so you won’t have to ride down when you get hungry, just grab a bite and take in the view.

Beaver Creek

Take the Interstate 70 and drive about an hour and a half from Vail to the smaller resort of Beaver Creek. Not as busy as Vail, Beaver Creek is great for little fun runs that go over and under bridges and roads. Much of the resort is not used, so there is plenty of fresh powder to be found. There is also a little outdoor ice skating rink, which is fun for some time off-piste.

You could also ride the trails over to Arrowhead, a smaller area with basic fun runs. You can then catch a bus back to Beaver Creek. Be careful though, it's easy to get lost.

Beaver Creek. Photo credit: iStock

Breckenridge

On your way back to Denver, Breckenridge is another ski resort you can access with an Epic Pass. Much smaller and quieter than the other parks, you can cover almost the entire mountain in a day. Keep an eye out for squirrels and chipmunks, these little guys are all over the place.

Arapahoe Basin (A-Basin)

Strictly for advanced riders, A-Basin is a large bowl for thrill seekers. The mountain is not for beginners, and there are only eight chairs. Featuring black and double black runs, the mountain runs to Montezuma Bowl with advanced cornice runs. A hike of about 30 minutes takes you to North Pole, where you can ride through chutes, however, this is terrain for only the very experienced.

Aspen

Aspen is not quite as big as the other ski resorts, but is just two hours from Vail. Snowmass is where you will find decent runs. Be careful after dark, as Aspen does have a reputation for being a little rough. Snowboarders should be careful with skiers, as there is a culture of rivalry here. Check out the black diamond runs if you're an advanced rider.

Aspen is part of the Mountain Collective snow pass, which allows you to ski or snowboard at other resorts in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Snowy Slopes in Wyoming

The Mountain Collective pass gives you the opportunity to ski at Jackson Hole, as well as another 14 resorts, including Thredbo in Australia, Lake Louise and Sunshine in Canada, and Queenstown, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables in New Zealand. Plus it also gives you two days each in Chamonix in France, Hakuba in Japan and Valle Nevado in Chile.

Jackson Hole

One of the most popular ski resorts in the United States, Jackson Hole caters for all snow adrenalin junkies. It's mostly suitable for intermediate and advanced skiers or snowboarders, with a small percentage of trails for beginners. If you are new to the snow, start at the nearby Snow King Resort.

Accessible from Jackson Airport, there are flights from most major US cities. Located near Great Teton National Park, the incredible landscapes make it worth your while to explore Great Teton National Park on foot to see the wildlife, including bears, elk, bison, wolves and moose.

Where to Shred in Utah

If you've got a few extra days in Utah, check out Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon. After a day or two on the snow-capped mountains, the contrast of the red ochre sand will blow your mind.

Park City

Park City is not just home of the Sundance Film Festival. Fly into Salt Lake City airport and jump on the highway for a quick 35 min drive to the mountain. Park City is blessed with mostly sunny days, and the passes are great to ride, with on-mountain facilities. Park City also is included in the Epic pass.

Park City. Photo credit: iStock

Note: Utah is a conservative state. Drop the foul language, and under no circumstances bring any alcohol into the state. Bringing alcohol is an offence, and can land you in serious trouble with the law.

Best Snow Playgrounds in California

In California you can go from beach to snow covered slopes in one day. Most resorts in the area are owned by Vail Resorts Group, so purchasing an Epic pass will give you entry to more than one resort. Most resorts are within an hour of each other, so it’s worth staying a few days to take it all in. 

Kirkwood

Located about 170mi (280km) from the Bay Area on Highway 88, Kirkwood has some easily accessible backcountry for more advanced riders. With big vertical drops and a number of decent black runs, Kirkwood might be the thrill you've been searching for. A day pass will set you back about US $100 a day.

Heavenly

Also owned by Vail Resorts Group, Heavenly offers amazing views over Lake Tahoe, and spreads from California to Nevada. If riding between two different states isn't a thrill, perhaps the varied terrain will be. Localted just two hours from Sacramento, take Highway 50 East to the junction of Highway 89 North. Head up the Ski Run Blvd, and turn off at the sign for Heavenly. If you fly into Reno, it’s only about an hour on Highway 50.

Heavenly and Kirkwood are only an hours drive from each other, so it's better value to buy a pass for a few days and explore both.

Squaw Valley. Photo credit: iStock

Squaw Valley

Stay after the sun sets for night skiing at Squaw Valley. Riding at night is a whole new experience. Squaw Valley also has great views of Lake Tahoe. This resort area also hosted the 1960 Winter Olympic Games.

If you're a Mountain Collective pass holder, you are entitled to discounts on accommodation in Squaw Valley. Plus, this location has one of the longest snow seasons in the United States due to consistent snowfall, which can last into spring.

Mammoth Mountain

This small mountain with not many trees is located in the open area of Mammoth, and best for an easy day on the mountain. Ride the Panorama Gondola to Mid Station for nice views. If you're starting out, this is the perfect place to begin. Drive about five hours from Los Angeles or three hours south of Reno in the town on Mammoth Lakes.

Like Squaw Valley, Mammoth Mountain also gets solid snowfall throughout winter into spring, thanks to weather conditions which draw moisture from the Pacific Ocean up into the mountains.

Want to know more about the USA? Check out our podcast. Embracing the kitsch in America’s South, what are the bees up to in Brooklyn? The budget travel idea proving a hit, and exploring New York with the Bowery Boys.

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