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Jackson Hole
Photograph: Courtesy Jackson Hole

The 14 best ski resorts in America

Your ultimate guide to the best ski resorts in America, with leg-burning slopes, knee-deep powder and après afternoons

By Frederick Dreier

Our great nation contains some of the best ski resorts on the globe. To make matters better, it’s supposed to be an El Niño year, which means record snowfall could be in the works for the Western states. So, whether you’re looking for one of the best family vacations in America (and if you are, here are our top tips for family ski trips), some extreme outdoor adventures with friends, or you just want to indulge in some après mayhem, it’s time to hit the mountains. Here are the best ski resorts in America to help you plan your trip, from Colorado ski resorts to New York and beyond.

Best ski resorts in America

Steamboat Springs
Photograph: Shutterstock/Steve Estvanik

1. Steamboat Springs, CO

Colorado’s exploding population has turned the state’s front-range resorts into overcrowded parking lots on the weekends. That’s not the case at Steamboat Springs, where the three-hour drive from Denver thins the herds. What you will find is arguably the best snow in the state—the dry, light “champagne powder,” as the locals have named it. You will also find a quaint downtown where the fur coats and haute culture of Aspen and Vail are overshadowed by cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats. And after a day of shredding knee-deep powder, you have multiple relaxation options. Steamboat boasts two hot springs options, the Strawberry Park Natural Springs and Old Town Hot Springs. Oh yeah—the latter one features waterslides.

3 hours from Denver

Jackson Hole
Photograph: Courtesy Jackson Hole

2. Jackson Hole, WY

In recent years Jackson Hole has become a vacation hotspot for Hollywood and Washington, D.C. elite. Whether these celebrities actually ski on the mountain, however, is not yet known. Sometimes called “The Big One,” Jackson Hole boasts enormous snowfall and steep, eye-bulging terrain that’s not for fraidy cats. The tram to the summit passes over the famed Corbet’s Couloir, regarded as the most challenging ski run in North America. If you survive the skiing, the town of Teton Village boasts excellent post-slope dining and a wide range of bars. Most locals live 20 minutes away in the town of Jackson.

Regular flights to Jackson

Photograph: Courtesy Telluride/Brett Schreckengost

3. Telluride, CO

It’s difficult to focus on the ski slope at Telluride due to the jaw-dropping views in every direction: The resort sits in a box canyon, surrounded on all sides by the soaring, steep peaks of Colorado’s San Juan range. Telluride was once the state’s best-kept secret, due to the six-hour drive from Denver; the mountain is now known internationally, but crowds are still small, even on weekends. The area serves up great après ski, thanks to the aptly named Mountain Village town, which sits amidst the chairlifts, midway up the mountain.

Regular flights from Denver

Photograph: Courtesy Snowbird/Matt Crawley

4. Alta/Snowbird, UT

Alta and Snowbird are two separate ski resorts, but we’ve combined them due to their lift ticket partnership and terrain link through Mineral Basin. You can access either resort via ski lifts or a bus. Be warned: the nightlife and après action is limited. And snowboarders are no doubt familiar with Alta’s skiers-only demand. But the area’s world-renowned dry Wasatch powder is perhaps the best ski snow on the planet. And each year, Mother Nature dumps approximately 500 inches on the two ski areas, giving it some of the deepest powder around. Newbies are welcome, but Alta and Snowbird’s terrain is best enjoyed by advanced skiers.

40 minutes from Salt Lake City

Photograph: Courtesy Vail/Chris McLennan

5. Vail, CO

Vail is ubiquitous on global “Best Ski Resorts” lists, and it’s easy to see why. The powder always falls, even in drought years, thanks to the mountain’s cloud seeding program. The après opportunities are unrivaled. The back bowls go on forever. While it’s no longer the country’s biggest resort, Vail created the model for mega resorts that cater to skiers of all abilities. The resort’s front side is where you’ll find miles of zoomers and groomers, while the backside is where the experts go to play. You pay for your fun at Vail, which boasts one of the most expensive lift tickets in the U.S. ($151 for adults). And with so many opportunities for good food, drink and entertainment, you’re bound to leave with an empty wallet. It’s worth every penny.

2 hours from Denver 

Photograph: Courtesy Whiteface/Dave Schmidt

6. Whiteface, Lake Placid, NY

Whiteface takes East Coast skiing to a new level with the biggest vertical drop east of the Rocky Mountains and a section of backcountry terrain that would make a Coloradan feel at home. Oh, and there are also the ski runs that hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics. The real draw to Whiteface, however, is the nearby town of Lake Placid, which has plenty of bistros, bars, restaurants and bed and breakfasts. The town is still dominated by the ski jumps and bobsled runs from the Olympics. Don’t like to ski? Lake Placid also boats toboggan chutes, dog sledding and Nordic ski trails.

2 hours from Montreal 

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows
Photograph: Courtesy Squaw Valley

7. Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, CA

Ringed by world-class ski resorts, the Lake Tahoe region of California and Nevada draws millions of visitors each year. We’re inclined to steer all of them toward Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, the two largest resorts in the area. A single lift ticket grants you access to both areas, which are linked by a bus. Remember, we’re in an El Niño year, which should bring huge snows to the drought-stricken area. Squaw is the larger of the two, and its infrastructure from hosting the 1960 Olympics is still visible. Weekend crowds can be extreme at Squaw, but the mountain’s tramway, high-speed quads and gondola keep the lines moving.

2 hours from Sacramento

Big Sky
Photograph: Courtesy Big Sky/Lonnie Ball

8. Big Sky, MT

was already Montana’s largest ski area, so when it purchased the adjacent Moonlight Basin resort in 2013, it created a massive winter playground with terrain for all levels. Big Sky boasts more than 5,800 skiable acres and a vertical drop of 4,350 feet. The only small thing here is the crowd, due to Big Sky’s distance from any major cities. There’s not much in the nearby town, but you’ll be so tired from a day on the mountain, you probably won’t care.

1 hour from Bozeman

Photograph: Courtesy Stowe

9. Stowe, VT

Stowe’s ski runs date back to 1933, and since then it’s been the most popular resort on the East Coast. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it also boasts the most expensive ticket price at $115 for a day pass. The ticket is worth it though, especially when storms roll through. Stowe also features the best accommodations and après-ski options on the East Coast.

45 minutes from Burlington

Park City
Photograph: Courtesy Park City

10. Park City, UT

Park City, Utah is perhaps the quintessential ski town, thanks to its proximity to a major airport, collection of bars and restaurants and ability to please both rich folks and regular Joes. In 2015, Vail purchased Park City Mountain Resort and combined it with the adjacent Canyons Resort, creating the largest ski area in the United States, at 7,300 acres. Utah was unseasonably dry in 2014-15, but we’re praying that El Niño drops plenty of the white stuff on it this year. If so, we recommend you give this new behemoth a try.

40 minutes from Salt Lake City

Photograph: Courtesy Taos

11. Taos, NM

Beginners beware: Taos is best enjoyed by experienced thrill seekers who enjoy the steep and deep. More than half of the marked trails are black or double black, and Taos’ version of a blue run would be black at most other resorts. Reaching many of Taos’ best known terrain requires a hike. There’s a payoff for the experts, however. The small crowds are a respite from Colorado’s packed resorts, and the skies over northern New Mexico dump feet of light, crisp powder snow on Taos each year.

2.5 drive from Albuquerque

Sun Valley
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Sun Valley, ID

Planning a trip alongside skiers of all abilities? Look no further than Sun Valley, which includes two separate ski mountains, both accessible from the town of Ketchum. Intermediates and experts will love Bald Mountain’s 3,400 vertical feet and rugged tree skiing; the beginners can spend a day at Dollar Mountain, a treeless beginner slope that also features a tubing park. And at night, Ketchum serves up everything from cowboy saloons to fine dining.

Regular flights to Ketchum

Photograph: Courtesy Breckenridge/Zach Mahone

13. Breckenridge, CO

“Breck” is of the most popular ski resorts in Colorado due to its proximity to Denver, all-abilities terrain and amazing snow. This combination means that Breckenridge is often congested and competitive on the weekends. If you can skip away during the week, however, you will find a charming, laid-back vibe—and lots of snow. The real draw of Breck, however, is the town, which features the most varied nightlife of the Colorado ski towns. The bars range from upscale to dive, and the cuisine runs a similar gamut. It’s a safe bet that there’s a party going on almost every night of the week.

1.5 hours from Denver

Smuggler's Notch
Photograph: Courtesy Smuggler's Notch

14. Smuggler’s Notch, VT

Known by locals as “Smuggs,” Smuggler’s Notch is like a Pixar film: There’s equal enjoyment for both parents and kids. The gentle slopes of Morse Mountain are an ideal learning ground for newbies, while the upper steeps of Madonna Mountain are scare-worthy. But it’s Smuggs’ ski school and family programs that are the real draw.

1 hour drive from Burlington


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