I’ve ridden a snowcat to terrain inaccessible by lifts, skinned my way up a mountain (or two) to an off-the-grid cabin, fallen on my butt on bunny slopes, and floated like a dumpling in a hot tub after a hard day of skiing.
In the 28 years since I learned to ski, I’ve visited more than 30 resorts in North America and one in Switzerland – and I still can’t get enough. People ask me which resort I like best, and I always tell them “the one with the best snow.”
That, of course, changes week by week and year to year. Give me 10 inches of freshies on top of a solid base of snow and I’m happy as a pig in slop no matter the location.
Still, I do have some secret favorites. With that in mind, here are my totally subjective picks for the best ski resorts in North America. (And no, I’ve never skied the east coast or California, so they’re not represented here.)
Best grooming: Deer Valley
Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, is known for slopes so perfectly groomed they look like the ridges on Ruffles potato chips. I usually prefer moguls (those hippo-sized mounds of snow that form on ungroomed runs) or picking my way through the trees, but even I enjoy taking some nice big turns down a pristine swath of corduroy now and then. And Deer Valley’s is the best.
Best access to hot springs: Steamboat Springs
Strawberry Park Springs, a natural hot spring nestled in the mountains 20 minutes from Steamboat Springs Resort in Colorado, serves up a hippy vibe and plenty of rock-lined tubs for soaking. You need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get there during the winter months, but shuttle services are available. Visit after dark for star gazing – there aren’t a lot of lights, by design.
Best bowls: Vail
Vail’s back bowls are legendary, for a reason. You could spend days in them and never repeat a run. There’s Sun Down Bowl, Sun Up Bowl, Tea Cup Bowl, China Bowl, Siberia Bowl, and Inner and Outer Mongolia Bowls. My advice? Start with Sun Up Bowl and China Bowl. If you get tired of swooshing through those wide open spaces (is that even possible?), move on to the next.
Best Value: Grand Targhee
Grand Targhee Resort is located just over the mountains from its much more famous neighbor, Jackson Hole, but flies well under the radar. The 2,602-acre, mostly intermediate resort never feels crowded, and you won’t find fancy shopping malls, expensive lodges, or people in real fur coats. Stop by The Trap at the base, where a plate of nachos feeds four people for less than $20. A full-day lift ticket costs $120 for adults, a bargain compared to places like Aspen, where you’ll pay more than $200 for a single day on the slopes.
Best distillery: Vail
This one’s tough. I love the distilleries at Breckenridge and Telluride. But I’m giving the nod to 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit in Vail, which honors the men of the 10th Mountain Division, who trained at nearby Camp Hale, 22 miles west of Vail, during World War II. After fighting in the Italian mountains, many returned to America, and went on to pursue careers in skiing. Some even founded ski resorts. Oh, and the booze is great.
Best free snack: Beaver Creek
Every afternoon, mountain hosts wearing white chefs hats circulate among weary skiers wrapping up their day on the slopes, handing out chocolate chip cookies at the base of Beaver Creek Resort. They’re warm, yummy, and free. Need I say more?
Best retro feel: Copper Mountain
The vibe at Copper Mountain, where runs range from ego-inflating cruisers to gnarly chutes, remains old-school and down-to-earth. Patrons don’t strut their stuff in mink stoles or high-heeled boots. You’ll find lots of locals and others who love to hammer it on the slopes all day, crash hard at night, then wake up, guzzle coffee and do it again. Copper opened in 1971. It doesn’t feel like a lot has changed since then.
Best marketing campaign: Red Mountain, Canada
In 2010, this Canadian ski resort created a video titled “Red Sucks,” during which an obviously hung-over guy in a business suit lamented about “this crappy ski hill I’m staying at,” and complained about the slow, the crowded slopes (far from it) and the “fake trees” (they are not). It went viral and it’s hilarious. (Watch it here.) The best part? Red is amazing. It’s huge, full of powder stashes, free from crowds, and the town of Rossland, a 5-minute drive from the mountain, started as an actual mining town, so it’s got grit and character.
Best on-mountain lodges: Sun Valley
Something about the big stone and timber lodges at the base of Sun Valley in Idaho make me swoon. They’re sturdy, full of character, and offer the perfect place to warm up by a fireplace with a hot chocolate between runs on a chilly day. (Bonus: The pitch at Sun Valley is perfect. The skiing is wonderful.)
Best apres ski bar: Jackson Hole Resort
The Mangy Moose opened in 1967 at the base of Wyoming’s most famous ski resort. I fell in love with the beer-soaked vibe the first time I clomped in wearing my ski boots in 1997. (Also, I met my future husband at Jackson Hole on that very trip.) My only regret? I’d ducked into the bathroom when former World Cup alpine racer Tommy Moe walked past. Order the nachos. And beer. Lots of beer.
Best Scenery: Lake Louise
Lake Louise officially ranks as the most beautiful ski resort I’ve ever visited. From an observation deck on the front side of the mountain, you can see all the way to the Chateau Lake Louise, a veritable castle on the banks of a frozen and snow-covered lake. It’s stunning.
Most intimidating first view: Taos
Pay no mind to Al’s Run, the first thing you see when you get to Taos Ski Resort in New Mexico. It’s steep, covered in moguls, intimidating as heck –– and represents only a fraction of the terrain at this wonderful resort. Little known fact: One of the old chairlifts from Al’s Run now carries bicyclists up Spider Mountain near Marble Falls in Texas.
Most to explore: Whistler Blackcomb
Whistler Blackcomb is huge – 8,171 acres huge. The side-by-side resorts of Whistler and Blackcomb serve up more than 200 marked runs, 16 bowls and three glaciers. You can’t ski it all in just one trip. And while you’re there, visit the Whistler Sliding Center, where I’ve tried bobsledding and luging, which involves flying down the mountain face first on a sled. Big fun!
Best snowshoeing: Beaver Creek
While most resorts relegate their snowshoe trails to the foot of the mountain, Beaver Creek elevates them. Snowshoers can stroll beautiful trails with panoramic views high on the mountain.
Best hidden gem: Monarch
I’d always skipped Monarch, assuming it didn’t have enough terrain to keep me interested. I was wrong. It’s a short drive from the charming town of Salida, and a manageable size – 800 skiable acres, including 130 acres of hike-to terrain, and six lifts. Head to Mirkwood Basin for some of the steepest double-black diamond expert terrain in Colorado. Lift tickets cost about $80 – half the price of most resorts, and if you don’t want to spend money in the cafeteria, bring your own food and eat in the sack lunch room.
Best place to spot Marilyn Monroe: Mount Norquay
Hop a free shuttle bus from Banff to vintage Mount Norquay, which Marilyn Monroe visited while filming “River of No Return” in 1953. Photographs of the glamorous star still hang on the walls at the Cliff House Bistro, perched on a knob at the top. Norquay, which covers just 190 acres, opened in 1926 and once hosted wildly popular ski jump competitions. From its slopes, you can see all the way into Banff.
Best name: Purgatory
The ski resort north of Durango was called Purgatory when it was founded in 1965, but in 2000 the owners switched it to sanitized Durango Mountain Resort. Happily, when Austin, Texas native James Coleman bought it in 2015, he switched it back to Purgatory. We approve. They may call it Purgatory, but it’s close to heaven.
Best family resort: Keystone
[/caption]This was another close contest, but I’m giving Keystone the edge over next-in-line Breckenridge. With a well-respected ski school, tons of on-mountain amenities, including a huge snow castle and a tubing hill, and family-friendly activities like the Giant Snowball Launch and Bigfoot Adventure Walk, it’s got family written all over it.
Best on-mountain grub: Wolf Creek
Wolf Creek Ski Area, located 45 minutes from Pagosa Springs, Colorado, is legendary for its snowfall. On average it gets more than any other ski resort in Colorado — a whopping 465 inches a year. But one more reason to love it? The Frito pie topped with green chili, available at the small, on-mountain warming hut. Dig in.
Most peaceful: Solitude
There’s not much on-mountain lodging, and practically zilch nightlife at Solitude Mountain, located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, just 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s a good thing in my book. People come to Solitude for the solitude –– and the skiing. Bonus: Direct non-stop flights from Austin make it easier to get to the resort than most places in Colorado.
Best place to stay: Sunshine Village
There’s exactly one overnight lodge at Sunshine Village, and you have to take a gondola to get there. At night, after you’ve toasted the day with a cocktail at the Mad Trapper’s Saloon and all the crowds have skied away, you’ll have the place to yourself. Go star gazing. Sit in the outdoor hot tub. Ignore the rest of the world.
Most charming town: Crested Butte
Crested Butte has long ranked as one of my favorite ski destinations. Unlike some ready-made ski resorts, created from scratch by developers to lure in tourists, this one started as a coal-mining town and retains much of its colorful character. That means buildings that once housed brothels and saloons with long wooden bars (I love the Dogwood for cocktails and Slogars for a casual dinner). Toss in plenty of extreme terrain on the mountain, which draws adrenaline junkies to knuckle-whitening areas like Headwall, Paradise Cliffs and Teo Bowl, and you’ve got a winner.
Best overall – Telluride
Drive into the box canyon where Telluride Ski Resort is tucked, and you won’t ever want to leave. Snow-capped peaks, check. Great restaurants, check. Friendly people, check. Free box where you can pick up discarded clothing and gear, check. The resort itself spans more than 2,000 acres, with 19 lifts whisking skiers up those scenic peaks. The longest run stretches 4.6 miles, and from See Forever Run you can, well, see forever. At the end of the ski day, grab a margarita (yes, I live in Texas and I just said that) at Gorrono Ranch on the mountain. Visitors can stay in the original town of Telluride, on the valley floor, or they can book a room in Mountain Village. Either way, it’s a free 15-minute gondola ride from one place to the other, and the night view of town lights sparkling far below alone are worth the trip.