By Christine Yu
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (Jackson Hole, WY)
If you’re an expert skier, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort needs no introduction.
The 2,500 acres of super-steep terrain offers plenty of long, continuous runs and proving grounds for downhill bombers. Ski 4,139 vertical feet from the summit down Rendezvous Bowl to Wally’s World or Bird in Hand and straight down to Teton Village for one hell of a leg burner.
Or wind through the trees and head to the Hobacks, an ungroomed playground of 2,000 vertical feet. On powder days, hit it in the morning and it’s like a “poor man’s heli-skiing” experience.
Jackson is also home to some epic hike-to terrain. From Bridger Gondola or the Sublette Quad Chair, it’s a short trek to access Headwall or Casper Bowl. If you want to check out the backcountry, hook up with a guide and explore Jackson’s 3,000 skiable acres beyond its gates.
But Jackson’s claim to fame is Corbet’s Couloir.
Think you’re hot stuff on skis? Try the rock-bound chute of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s famous Corbet’s Couloir.
As you approach the top of Rendezvous Mountain on the tram, you’ll see the legendary run to your left—a narrow, steep chute bordered by rock walls on either side. It’s a move to get into the run—dropping off a cornice and a 10- to 20-foot free fall followed by some fast, technical turns to avoid slamming into the rocks or having an epic yard sale (when you wipe out and lose all your equipment down the mountain). First-timers usually drop in on the skier’s left (a.k.a. the goat path), which is a slightly more forgiving entry. Just don’t make it your first run of the day.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort (Crested Butte, CO)
Crested Butte has some of the most extreme in-bound (on-property) terrain: The resort’s famed double–black-diamond playground is actually called “The Extreme Limits”—a hint of what awaits.
You’ll find ungroomed technical runs in the upper reaches of the mountain with steep pitches (40°+) and technical features galore, from narrow chutes and alpine bowls to rocks and trees to cliffs and mandatory airs—terrain many skiers won’t even touch. No wonder Crested Butte is one of the birthplaces of extreme skiing.
Ready to bring your A game? To reach the Extreme Limits, you’ll need to take one of two T-bar lifts and hike. The Headwall is the most accessible area off the High Lift; then it’s a choice between Headwall, Powder 8 Gully, Headwall Glade and Big Chute.
Crested Butte’s Third Bowl offers a backcountry-like experience in a resort setting.
For something a little more secluded, take the North Face Lift and make your way to Third Bowl. It’s the furthest in-bound terrain on the mountain, but it’s worth it for the backcountry-like experience. Or skip the hike and head for Rambo, the steepest-cut run in North America: The run immediately pitches straight down at a consistent 50° angle until the bottom.
And the peak jutting up in the distance? When it’s open, the run off the peak of Mt. Crested Butte is a must-do for advanced skiers (you will need to hike in). You’ll get sweeping views and link into some of the mountain’s classic front side runs including Banana and Funnel.
If it’s your first time skiing the Extreme Limits, consider opting for a guided tour. Since signage in much of the area is limited, it’s much easier to get around with a CB Steep Guide (go to skicb.com and click on Winter Activities under Explore the Resort).
Big Sky Resort (Big Sky, MT)
Everything is bigger in Montana, so it makes sense that it’s home to one of the biggest ski resorts in America.
With 5,850 acres spread over four mountains—60% of which is rated advanced or expert—and 4,350 continuous vertical feet, Big Sky Resort is vast. With a lot of space to spread out, the mountain doesn’t feel crowded and lift lines are nonexistent. And with an average of 400 inches of snow each year, there’s a lot of good skiing.
Lone Peak is the most iconic part of the mountain and where most of the expert—not to mention gnarliest—terrain is located. At the summit, you’ll get 360° views and you can ski 300° off the peak, the closest thing to heli-skiing in Montana.
Big Sky Resort is big, as in 5,850 acres big, resulting in a spacious feel with short lift lines.
It’s also where you’ll find Big Sky’s marquee run—Big Couloir. With a sustained 50° pitch and rock walls on both sides, it feels like you’re flying down the mountain through a tunnel. Or opt for Liberty Bowl, a six-mile run back down to Mountain Village.
Underneath Lone Peak is another experts-only area. From the Challenger lift, hike along the knife-edge ridge to the Headwaters to access epic north-facing runs. You can drop into one of 17 different steep chutes, which all converge in Still water Bowl.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (Golden, BC, Canada)
If you’re looking for a true hardcore mountain town where skiers go to rip, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is for you.
Part of Canada’s “Powder Highway,” it gets an average of 24 feet of snow, plenty to cover its 85+ in-bound chutes, five alpine bowls and double-black diamonds galore across its 3,486 ski able acres—perfect for powder hounds.
You can follow in the tracks of the pros on the Freeride World Tour (Kicking Horse is the only North American stop) and head up the Stairway to Heaven lift. Once there, hike up to the top of Ozone, the highest point of the resort at 8,218 feet. You can’t quite see what’s beneath you, so it takes nerves of steel to drop in. But once you do, you won’t regret it as you slide into a massive bowl and can ski all the way down to the base.
If you love to ski powder, Kicking Horse’s annual average snowfall of 24 feet make it a powder-hound heaven.
Or head to the Terminator 2 Peak (T2), on the other end of the resort. Hike up along the fixed rope to the top, where you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of five national parks and countless peaks. Choose one of the five chutes off the T2 north ridge or drop into the steep, deep Super Bowl.
|Family-Friendly Ski Resorts
If you’ve traded your double–black-diamond days for making tracks with your family, don’t fret.
There are a number of resorts that offer a variety of terrain to keep everyone happy, along with high-quality ski/snowboard schools and childcare programs. Plus, many offer a host of amenities to make life a little easier like complimentary wagons to haul your gear and activities to keep the kids occupied off the slopes—think ice skating, snow tubing, sleigh rides and—of course—daily hot chocolate.
Some of the best options include:
Keystone Resort in Colorado
Northstar California Resort in North Lake Tahoe
Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows (Olympic Valley, CA)
Most skiers look to test their skills at Lake Tahoe’s Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows by heading straight to Squaw’s iconic KT-22, 2,000 vertical feet of challenging terrain and cliffs.
Choose lines like Chute 75 for a tight, steep ride or Nose to Fingers, where you’ll ride right under the lift and get a chance to show off your skills over rock chutes. For monster bumps, head down Moseley’s Run, named after Olympic gold medalist Johnny Moseley (you can ski the same runs athletes competed on during the 1960 Games).At Squaw Valley, you can ski the same runs featured in the 1960 Olympics
In heavy snow, go to the Silverado area. It’s an out-of-the-way, rugged playground filled with steep, rolling terrain of chutes, bowls and trees. The Headwall and Granite Chief areas also offer lake views and diverse terrain including fun tree skiing, hike-to terrain, bowls and, of course, steeps.
If alpine bowls are your jam, head over to Alpine Meadows, Squaw’s 2,400-acre sister resort. Off of Summit Express, you can pick off the Pacific North Bowls one by one along the ridge line—heaven on a powder day. If you want to avoid the crowds, head to Scott’s Chair. It’s a little further away, which means fewer people.