Every year as the leaves fall off the trees and Thanksgiving approaches, skiers and snowboarders dig into their closets, dust off their goggles, search for the other mitten and get ready to start thinking about the upcoming ski season. Every year there is also always a host of lists complied about the biggest and best resorts with world famous and well-known resorts like Vail, Aspen and Whistler Blackcomb usually topping the lists.
While these places are certainly great places to ski (and I have skied and enjoyed myself at all three), there are a huge number of places that have just as amazing of terrain, but maybe don’t always make the “best of” lists. They may not have as many of the bells and whistles as the bigger, more famous resorts, but if you go up to the mountain to ride some great, serious terrain on light, fluffy powder, then these places are where you are going to want to go.
That’s why this list is different than the others—it’s a list of the best ski areas in North America by a skier for a skier (or snowboarder). Keeping in the spirit of independent travel that BootsnAllers are known for, this is a list of ski areas where not only will you get the greatest terrain, best snow and beautiful scenery, but you’ll also be able to spend a lot more time bombing groomers and making fresh tracks than waiting in lift lines at the bottom of the mountain.
The list is heavily skewed toward resorts in the West because of the quality of snow and terrain there. Although skiing is easily accessible and a favorite weekend activity for many East Coasters, let’s face it, the conditions are usually icy and after one day riding the champagne powder of the Rockies, you may never want to ski in the east again.
So, here are the 12 Best Ski Resorts in North America:
1. Grand Targhee, Wyoming
Located 42 miles from the much glitzier Jackson Hole resort in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, Grand Targhee offers skiers and snowboarders amazing terrain and fabulous snow. Consistently winning awards and being ranked as the resort with the best snow conditions in the world, Grand Targhee gets over 500 inches (40 feet) annually and touts the logo “Snow from heaven, not hoses.”
Targhee’s two mountain peaks also offer 3,000 acres of skiing; including 1,500 acres reserved for snow cat skiing for those who love to get into the backcountry and uncover powder fields. The mind boggling beautiful scenery and superb snow conditions make Grand Targhee the Holy Grail of skiing and the area was recently ranked by Mountain Sports and Living Magazine as the #1 Best Resort in North America for both snow quality and elbow room.
If you are looking for a place where you can cut fresh tracks in light as air powder, get away from the crowds and do some serious riding, then this Wyoming spot is the place for you.
2. Loveland, Colorado
A ski area perched at the top of the Continental Divide, Loveland is one of the highest ski areas in North America–with a base elevations starting at 10,800 feet and the second highest chairlift in North America summiting at 12,697 feet, with a hikeable summit at 13,101 feet.
Loveland’s high elevation makes it consistently one of the first resorts to open, and its unique spot perched atop the Divide provides Loveland with a lot of natural snow, making it one of the best places to ski powder in the country. While Loveland does not boast high speed quads, gondolas or tons of on-site amenities, this ski resort has a huge amount of great terrain above timberline, fantastic powder and stunning views of the Colorado Rockies.
The area, which is very popular among locals, also rarely has lift lines and has significantly cheaper lift tickets than nearby Vail. For those who love to ride Park, Loveland’s Love Park terrain park has rails, tabletop jumps, and kickers. One day dropping into the fluffy powder below The Ridge at the top of the Divide and you’ll be hooked for life on this funky, down home ski area in the Colorado Rockies.
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3. Bridger Bowl, Montana
While tourists usually flock to nearby Big Sky resort near Bozeman, Montana, Bridger Bowl is a resort synonymous for its lack of crowds, outstanding snowfall, great terrain and affordable prices. In fact, Bridger Bowl is actually a locally owned, non-profit ski area, which makes is a favorite among Montana locals. But don’t let this no-frills face of this resort fool you, Bridger Bowl has some of the finest terrain and best powder in North America.
Located on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, the area gets a ton of big powder dumps throughout the winter. Bridger Bowl is also most famous for its challenging and outstanding terrain—it is flanked by two large bowls to the north and South, offering skiers and snowboarders everything from long slopes to glades, chutes, gullies and smaller bowls. With its famous Ridge and powder filled chutes and gullies, Bridger Bowl was one of the first areas where the now hugely popular extreme skiing movement took hold (made famous by filmmakers like Warren Miller). This is the ski area run by and loved by skiers (rather than corporate guys trying to make big bucks).
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4. Kirkwood Mountain Resort, California
While this resort may not be as well known or glitzy as neighboring Heavenly, this is a mountain for those who love to ride deep powder and don’t want to wait in huge lift lines. Consistently one of the areas that gets the most snow in North America, Kirkwood is synonymous with big powder dumps that leave skier and snowboarders riding in powder up to their knees. But don’t let all the deep powder distract you from the excellent terrain at this Sierra’s area. With plenty of ridgeline skiing at the top of the resort, Kirkwood is popular for its cliff drops and cornice skiing, which combined with its fluffy powder make it one of the best areas in North America.
5. Mount Baker, Washington
A ski area uniquely positioned on the Shuksan Arm in Washington state, which connects the almost 11,000 foot Mount Baker with the 9,000 foot Mountain Shuksan, Mount Baker claims the world record of snowfall in one season, when it got 1,140 inches of snow during the 1998-1999 season. However, Baker is famous for more than its big Cascade Mountain powder dumps. With its challenging “The Chute,” and Gunner’s Bowl, as well as a huge amount of backcountry terrain accessible from several chairlifts, Mount Baker is a favorite among those who like big powder and riding big mountains. Paired with stunning views of the Cascades and the impressive Mt. Shuksan peak, Mount Baker has more than 1,000 acres of lift serviced terrain that is almost always basking with a coat a fresh snow.
6. Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont
The only east coast ski area to make the list, Stowe Mountain is located on the tallest mountain in Vermont and is known for its extensive intermediate and advanced ski trails. Located in the “snowbelt” of Vermont, Stowe Mountain also gets plenty of fresh powder–unlike some of the other east coast resorts known mostly for their icy conditions. Stowe is also known for its “Front Four”—National, Goat, Satyr and Liftline–steep runs on the front side of the mountain, which prove to be some of the toughest and most challenging terrain east of the Rockies.
For those skiers back east who can’t make it West, Stowe is your best bet for fidning great runs and great snow.
7. Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
One of the last resorts in the country to prohibit snowboarding, Taos finally opened its slopes to boarders last spring. While some traditionalists may cringe, boarders were eager to enjoy Taos’ challenging and varied terrain. Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with 1,300 acres of great terrain, Taos offers steep chutes, launchable cliffs, great tree skiing and notorious fall line moguls. Pair that with three miles of interconnected ridges with hike-accessible Kachina Peak and you’ve got the makings of one of North America’s premier ski areas.
With steep chutes reminiscent of the Alps, Taos is also home to steep glades with two of the steepest lift accessed runs in the entire country. Although the dry New Mexico climate means this area gets less snow than some of the other powder havens in the country, the challenging terrain and light powder makes Taos one of the top ski areas on the continent.
8. Lake Louise Mountain Resort, Alberta, Canada
Located in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise Mountain is actually the second largest ski area in Canada behind the better know Whistler Blackcomb near Vancouver, British Columbia. With its incredibly vast and varied terrain, jaw dropping scenery and light as air powder, Lake Louise may not have the glitzy exterior of Whistler, but has better terrain and fewer lift lines.
With everything from nicely groomed intermediate runs to truly steep chutes and gullies, Lake Louise has something to offer everyone and its stunning views and down home feeling make it even more appealing.
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9. Snowmass Mountain, Colorado
Less famous than its sister resort at Aspen, Snowmass is actually a bigger and better area aptly named for its location in a large snow field near the Maroon Bells on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies. Snowmass is a huge resort, with 3,128 acres is skiable terrain, and while the mountain is known for its wide cruiser runs and family-friendly atmosphere, Snowmass is also home to several terrain parks, extensive extreme skiing terrain, mogul runs and steep glades.
The resort also has the most vertical feet of skiing in the United States, and a single run from the very top of the mountain all the way to the base will have you skiing for ages without waiting in a lift line and loving the beautiful scenery of the Aspen valley.
10. Mount Bachelor, Oregon
Located on a volcanic peak on the eastern side of the Cascades range, Mount Bachelor is known for its super deep powder and wide range of terrain. While the northwest is usually known for its heavy, wet snow, Bachelor’s location on the dry, eastern side of Oregon makes it famous for dry, light snow, which it gets about 29 feet of annually. Bachelor also has a staggering 3,683 acres of skiable terrain with a vertical drop of 3,365 feet. Boasting wide-open bowls and runs through old-growth trees; Bachelor has incredibly accessible terrain at all levels with powder that rarely gets tracked out.
Recently featured in Warren Miller’s “Children of Winter” movie, Bachelor proves to be one of the best areas in the country for skiing through the trees and finding deep powder. Plus, despite recent revamps to the mountain, Bachelor is still in very way a skier’s mountain with its unpretentious attitude, free parking, slashed ticket prices and banned development.
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11. Alta, Utah
This resort remains one of the few areas in the country to still prohibit snowboarders–a rule angry boarders protest for good reason. The resort, located in the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City, Utah, boasts some of the finest and lightest snow in the country. With its lighter than air powder and varied, challenging terrain, Alta is a favorite for serious skiers looking to shred some amazing terrain. With an annual snowfall of 500 inches and the funky Catherine’s area offering steep glades and excellent tree powder skiing, skiers flock to this area which has lower ticket prices than nearby Snowbird, and shorter lift lines.
12. Arapahoe Basin, Colorado
For those skiers who simply can’t wait all summer for the snow to start falling and ski season to start back up, Arapahoe Basin is probably the right mountain for you. With the highest skiable terrain in North America with a summit at 13,050 feet, A-Basin (as its known by locals) boasts one of the longest ski seasons in the continent. Known for its hardcore, yet relaxed regulars, A-Basin opens as early as mid-October each year and stays open well into June and sometimes even into July.
Located just on the other side of the Continental Divide from Loveland (Number 2 on the list), A-Basin has spectacular views of the divide, Lake Dillon, Montezuma Pass and nearby Keystone and Breckenridge ski areas. A-Basin is most famous for its advanced and expert terrain, although the mountain is home to intermediate and beginner groomers as well.
With the newly opened cornice runs and powder filled bowls in the Montezuma Bowl, skiers can get lost in deep, fluffy powder. For those who are interested in getting even more off-piste, a hike can give skiers and snowboarders access to a group of chutes called the North Pole offers the adventurous some truly extreme skiing opportunities with in a Avalanche blasted area.
Read more about ski resorts around the world:
- 8 of the Most Affordable Ski Resorts in North America
- 11 of the Most Extravagant Ski Resorts in the World
- Ski Travel Deals