USA



With ski resorts in 40 of the 50 states of America and an estimated 600 ski hills, U.S. skiing is unbelievably varied and prolific. Resorts range from small locals’ hills with one or two lifts to the mega-resorts of Vail, Aspen/Snowmass, Heavenly and Squaw Valley each of which comprises around 4,000 skiable acres.



Skiing is plentiful in the Rocky Mountains, the Northeast, the Pacific West, the Midwest and the Southeast. The chief skiing states are Colorado, Utah, Montana and California in the West and Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine in the East. Colorado’s top tourist resorts include Aspen/Snowmass, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Telluride, Steamboat and Durango. Utah boasts Park City, Alta, Snowbird, Deer Valley, Sundance and Brighton as well as many other smaller hills. Montana has extensive resorts at Whitefish and Big Sky. Californian skiing includes Heavenly and Squaw Valley in the Lake Tahoe area and Mammoth further south. Eastern U.S. skiing is focused on major resorts at Stowe and Killington in Vermont, Lake Placid area in New York State, Black Mountain at Jackson, New Hampshire and Sugarloaf in Maine. There is also good skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico.

Those with the greatest vertical (over 1,200m) include Aspen/Snowmass in Colorado, Big Sky in Montana and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. While this sort of vertical is not as dramatic as many European resorts, it yields challenging skiing coupled with superior snow conditions.

Groomed Terrain Park at Breckenridge, Colorado


One big difference between North American and European ski resorts is that the Americans keep all the skiing within resort boundaries, maintaining it as patrolled and skiable terrain. In Europe there are “off-piste” areas within the domain which are not patrolled and are only for advanced backcountry skiers or those with guides.

Many Colorado resorts have very high altitude skiing, between 2,400m and 3,600m above sea level which can require some acclimatization and a good level of fitness. It also leads to colder temperatures up top.

Wild West-style shop fronts at Breckenridge, Colorado


Although every resort worldwide can suffer from a dry snow season occasionally, snowfall is not usually an issue in the western resorts of North America. Ski areas such as Alta and Snowbird in Utah average around 1,270cm annual snowfall as does Kirkwood in California. Most of the major resorts clock up more than 8m of seasonal snow. Natural snow in the east can be wetter, leading to icier conditions, and has to be supplemented by artificial snow throughout the season but there can be some great groomed skiing perfect for beginners and intermediates.

Snow ghosts at Whitefish, Montana
Another noticeable difference between the U.S. and Europe, is in the lift line system. It can be a free-for-all, unmannerly scrimmage in Europe with a “survival of the fittest” attitude; whereas in America it is a more orderly, monitored system conducted with jovial politeness. Most U.S. resorts only have long line ups at peak holiday and weekend periods and there is generally a less dense concentration of skiers in North American resorts. Grooming of ski runs can also be more fastidious in America and there is often a particular emphasis on friendly service which filters right down to the lift attendants or “lifties”. 

RESORT REVIEWS:




Considered the chicest resort in the United States, Aspen/Snowmass is a winter favorite of screen stars such as Goldie Hawn, Melanie Griffith and Jack Nicholson and was graced by Michelle Obama and kids in the 2011/12 season.

Prada purchases at Aspen, Colorado


The huge Aspen area encompasses four mountains in the White River National Forest - Aspen Mountain, AspenHighlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk - each with its own character. All are linked via a free ski bus which operates daytime and evening.

Snowmass is the biggest resort in Aspen’s “Power of Four” with 91 trails over 3,132 acres plus terrain parks and halfpipes. It’s a great family mountain with its Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center and entertaining Big Air competitions every Friday.
Bumps for Boomers instructor, Bob Mattice
Aspen Mountain is known as black-diamond territory with its great variety of glades, bumps and steep pitches. This is where the “Bumps for Boomers” program is held, run by founder, Joe Nevin and his team of over 50s instructors. The course is for mature skiers who want to master graceful and lasting techniques on varied snow which will keep them skiing effortlessly into their seventies. Nevin says the aim is “to be balletic not ballistic” and to overcome terrain anxiety.

Aspen Highlands also draws more expert skiers and snowboarders with its hikes and backcountry-style ski terrain overlooking the Maroon Bells mountains. There are 135 kilometers (84 miles) of trails with the longest 5.5 km (3.5 miles). A new section of 237 skiable acres has been added recently from the Deep Temerity lift to enhance the big-mountain feel of the domain.

Famous since 2012 as the host to the ESPN Winter X Games, Buttermilk has been catering for beginners and families for over 50 years. There is no expert terrain but an abundance of beginner to intermediate trails. The two, award-winning terrain parks incorporate over 100 different features, including a 22-foot superpipe and an X Games slopestyle course. There are also beginner features in the Ski and Snowboard Schools Park as well as the Panda Pipe.

Snow-free heated floors
Pampering is predominant at Aspen’s ski stations with luxurious, heated sidewalks and stairways all around the gondola station and ski school area at Aspen Mountain. There are ski concierges at the base and free coffee kiosks dotted around. On the hill, skiers can get complimentary cider from barrels and rehydrate at a ski-through water fountain. The lodges on the hill are equipped with deep relaxation massaging chairs and there are private club levels for high flyers costing up to $80,000 to join. Aspen Skiing Company has also integrated sound systems into its gondolas - look out for the red cars which have iPod decks. And, for the very rich or very ostentatious, there are Snow Limos for rent.
MP# dock on Aspen's gondolas

Aspen was the former home of country singer John Denver who is remembered by locals at a mountain shrine. There are now around 50 shrines across the four hills, with pictures and memorabilia tacked to trees off the sides of runs.
9/11 shrine on Aspen Mountain


Stats:

No. of runs: 91 Snowmass; 76 Aspen Mountain; 118 Aspen Highlands; 44 Buttermilk

No. of lifts: 21 Snowmass; 8 Aspen Mountain; 5 Aspen Highlands; 8 Buttermilk

Acreage: 3132 Snowmass; 675 Aspen Mountain; 1028 Aspen Highlands; 470 Buttermilk

Average snowfall: 3.49 metres (137.5 inches)

Summit elevation: 3813 m (12510 feet) Snowmass; 3418 m (11212 feet) Aspen Mountain; 3559 m (11675 feet) Aspen Highlands; 3018 m (9900 feet) Buttermilk

Other amenities: Cross country; Snowshoe-ing; Hot air ballooning; Snowmobiling; Dogsledding; Opera House; Ice-skating; Recreation center; Snow Limo Service

Season: Late November to late April (slightly different in each resort)

Website: http://www.aspensnowmass.com/

Ski/Snowboard School: http://www.aspensnowmass.com/en/ski-and-snowboard-schools


Recommended Accommodation: Fasching Haus (Frias Properties)

Recommended Restaurants: Bonnie’s cabin (onhill Aspen Mtn), Brunelleschi’s, Aspen (affordable Italian, esp. gluten free pizza), Zocalito’s,Aspen (South American) and Elevation (fine dining)

Aspen's J Bar













Recommended Bars: The Little Nell, Aspen (upmarket apres ski) and The J Bar in Hotel Jerome, Aspen (locals atmosphere); Limelight Lounge (live music)  


   
Vail, Colorado

The largest ski resort in the United States, Vail is also one of Colorado’s most upmarket destinations complete with underground heating to keep sidewalks snow-free in designer retail and hotel areas.


Vail attracts top quality restaurants featuring celebrity chefs and avant garde food to cater for its many rich and famous patrons. It is also a “mega resort” with three separate satellite areas - Lionshead (where Olympic and World Cup champ, Lindsey Vonn lives), Vail Village and Golden Peak - linked by the extensive lift system plus a shuttle bus service day and night.

Early morning corduroy at Vail
There might be a focus on cutting-edge après-ski, but Vail is still fundamentally a skiers’ resort with its vast array of 193 runs, undulating glades, and broad bowls spread over 5289 skiable acres. There are also three terrain parks including a superpipe and halfpipe. Around 53 percent of the skiable domain is expert standard with 29 percent intermediate and 18 percent designated beginner slopes. Most of the front side of Vail is groomed with wide, long runs such as Riva Ridge, Born Free and Simba, as well as the Kid’s Adventure Zones and three terrain parks.

As well as expansive views, the Back Bowls provide wide open skiing and glades. Although much of this area is black or ungroomed, there are blue runs in China Bowl. And when all the powder is tracked out, there is usually untouched snow to be found at Siberia Bowl off the #22 T-Bar lift. Vail’s lifts are both named and numbered with most locals referring to them numerically. Chair 16 in Vail Village was replaced by a state of the art gondola for 2012/13 season with heated seats and Wi-Fi access.


One of the really unique things about Vail is its radio frequency and EpicMix-enabled Epic Pass. Vail’s innovators have gone beyond the usual ski pass attributes - such as hands-free access to lifts and double duty as a credit card - by providing a photographic and social media app. Pass holders can use this free app on their smart phones to download and tweet photos taken by EpicMix photographers stationed around the mountain. They can also add their own photos. The app provides lots of interesting challenges - such as clocking up vertical feet, using all the lifts in one day, trying to ski all the runs - for which the user is awarded a digital “pin” for each accomplishment. At the end of the ski day, users can put all their photos and achievements together with resort pictures, statistics and trail maps, making a collage on their computers. It’s fun and easy to do and creates a very professional looking personalized postcard to send out to friends via email or Facebook.

Mogul munching at Vail


With such vast and varied terrain, Vail offers several choices of complimentary mountain tours each day both for skiers and snowboarders of every ability. The two-hour General Mountain Tours meet at The Grand Press at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola (#19) and also at the Mid Vail Ski and Snowboard School each morning at 10:30. The higher level Blue Sky tour leaves at 11:00 am from Henry’s Hut at the top of Chair 4. And the 50+ specific tours meets at Eagles Nest on Mondays at 9:30am.

Of the ten mountain eateries,“The 10th” is the newest. Right in the heart of Vail Mountain, it provides a fine dining experience (complete with slippers and silver service), overlooking the majestic mountains of the Gore Range and the activity around the hub of lifts below.
The 10th, a swanky new eatery at Vail Mountain

As Vail Resorts also owns nearbyBeaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone, skiers can try out four resorts over a week’s vacation all from the same lift pass. Vail Resorts also owns Heavenly at Lake Tahoe, California and has also just bought neighboring Northstar and Kirkwood Mountain Resorts. 

Stats:

No. of runs: 193

No. of lifts: 31

Acreage: 5289

Average snowfall: 929 cm (366 inches)

Summit elevation: 3527 metres (11570 feet)

Longest Run: Riva Ridge 6.4 km (4 miles)

Other amenities include: Cross Country skiing; Snowshoe-ing; Cat-skiing at Keystone; Snow tubing, ski biking, kids’ snow-mobiles; Ice-skating in each sector; slopeside ski and boot valets at top hotels such as Four Seasons; hotel shuttles;

Season: November to mid April





Recommended Restaurants: Bully Ranch at the Sonnenalp hotel (affordable, lively atmosphere); Vendetta’s (Italian, locals favorite); Game Creek Restaurant (private club by day; open to public for fine dining accessed by gondola and snowcat at night)

Recommended Bars: RedLion and Los Amigos for Vail Village après ski and Garfinkels at Lionshead

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