Seven Unique Ski Resorts You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of
If you’re fortunate enough to think on a global scale when planning your ski-vacation, you probably focus on the name-brand resorts in the Rocky Mountains, Swiss Alps or Canada.
Granted, those resorts have invested a lot of money in making people comfortable sitting in their designer ski-wear in the lodge, sipping drinks in the bar and eating out after a day of skiing. But real snow-riders care more about the mountain than the lodge.
So it’s worth mentioning that those famous resorts probably also have better snow, faster lifts, and more terrain.
BUT they DO NOT have something that each of the resorts on this list has, an idiosyncratic, peculiar quality that gives you a story to tell long after you’ve left the mountain (or lodge) behind.
A ski-resort in Africa makes about as much sense as a jungle safari through North Dakota, but that didn’t stop Afri-Sports from building one. High in the mountains of Lesotho (that little country completely surrounded by South Africa) the most unlikely ski-resort in the world operates June to August and continues to September if the weather is good.
Although the mountain is high enough to get some snow, the resort relies on snow-making for the bulk of their snowpack and draws about 3,000 tourists a year, largely from South Africa.
Lifts are limited to a few rope-tows and almost all of the runs would be considered bunny slopes at most resorts, but how often do you have the chance to check an entire continent off of your "To Ski" list?
>>read our Lesotho Travel Guide
It’s common knowledge that skiing is good for the soul, but at Turner Mountain, it’s also easy on your wallet and conscience. Located in Libby, Montana near the Idaho border, Turner is the epitome of a community ski-hill, staffed by an all-volunteer work force from the town and built with funds from the Libby Economic Development Fund.
It answers the question: what would a ski-resort look like if it was run by the people riding it instead of a profit-hungry corporation?
For starters, it would only be open on weekends. Turner operates on a Friday-Sunday schedule so that there are volunteers to run things, or, if that doesn’t work with your schedule and you have a very high credit limit, you can reserve the entire mountain for you and your buddies on a weekday.
If you instead spring for the regular $28 dollar lift ticket, this is not the place to take a first-timer. Most of the runs are expert-level plunges through trees and tough terrain, 70% rated as black diamonds.
But all of this is just a fancy way of restating the resort’s wonderfully accurate tagline: Steep, deep and cheap.
>>search flights to Missoula, Montana
Wolf Creek resort in Colorado has the best kind of claim to fame, it averages more snow than any other resort in Colorado, possibly the most in America. 38 feet of snow falls onto its slopes each year, to the envy of nearby mountains around the state
Except that, located in the upper reaches of the San Juan Mountains, Wolf Creek is not really near any other resorts, or a major metropolis, or pretty much anything. The closest airport is 75 miles away; it’s so unpretentious, google maps isn’t sure whether it’s in New Mexico or Colorado.
Not only is there abundant snow, but without crowds racing each other for turns it’s bound to stay fresh for as long as you can withstand the elements. And with snow like this, it will be a long, long time.
>>book cheap flights to Colorado
At 17,400 feet above sea level, the Chacaltaya Glacier is nearly as high as base camp on Mt Everest. It is the highest lift-served ski area in the world, and if you’re not used to the elevation, the lack of oxygen can make you feel like the highest skier in the world.
Chacaltaya is the only ski area in Bolivia, the closest ski area to the equator anywhere in the world and possibly the hardest hit by global warming. Over the last 20 years 80% of the glacier’s mass has melted and some experts predict that it will be completely gone by 2010.
The Andes mountains are particularly susceptible to warming temperatures due to their proximity to the tropics, so now is the time to hurry up and acclimatize to three miles of elevation and get some turns in where the air is thin and the runs are getting shorter every summer.
Middlebury College Bowl
Middlebury College students are smart. Not just because it’s hard to get in and there’s a commitment to academics and blah blah. In 1934 the ski team cut the first trails into Snow Bowl and ever since the students have had access to a thousand feet of vertical in their backyard, at a resort overlooked by New England crowds.
Middlebury gets about 8,000 applications each year for about 600 spots. Those who don’t get in have a second shot at this kind of college experience at Lyndon State College just down the road. The ski slope’s not as nice, but they do offer a degree in Ski Resort Management.
The school is most famous for its meteorology program, which may have grown out of the need to predict when there would be good snow down at Middlebury.
Some resorts do get enough snow to stay open until July, but none with the staggering consistency of Timberline, in Oregon. Timberline claims the title of the United States’ only year-round skiing, thanks to the Palmer glacier on the southern slope of Mt Hood.
The chance of grabbing fresh snow in August is pretty slim, as is attracting first-timers, so Timberline builds massive jumps and lets expert riders run amok and take pictures.
Since this is where many pros come to train during the summer and summer is the time for trying new tricks off of jumps the size of houses, it’s thought that more new stunts have been invented at Timberline than any other resort in the world.
>>book cheap flights to Oregon
Continuing the tradition of unlikely locations for ski-resorts, the United Arab Emirates have turned their back on common sense and built a ski-resort in Dubai.
Ski-Dubai, an indoor icebox with a vertical drop of about 180 feet isn’t exactly a prime training ground for Olympic hopefuls, but they do provide "an unforgettable snow experience" and staggeringly consistent snow conditions for the middle of the desert.
Snowboarders and skiers can try any of the five runs and tricks in the Freestyle Zone, or if you’re not looking to break a collarbone, paying customers can don the provided winter gear and flop around in the snow park singing Frosty the Snowman for once instead of Mr. Sandman.
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- 8 of the Most Affordable Ski Resorts in North America