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Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows
Photograph: Courtesy Squaw ValleySquaw Valley and Alpine Meadows

The best ski resorts in the US

The best ski resorts in the US offer leg-burning slopes, knee-deep powder, and top-notch après-ski

Scott Snowden
Edited by
Scott Snowden
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Winter is right around the corner to offer us some welcome relief from the heat and humidity of summer. And if you're a sports enthusiast, you know what that means: it's time to hit the slopes.

No doubt, you probably know a few of our favorites already — some of our top resorts aren’t just the best in the country, they’re some of the best worldwide. Those names include legendary resorts like Vail and Aspen, both in Colorado, along with Park City in Utah and Palisades (formerly Squaw Valley) in Lake Tahoe, California. These resorts are all world-renowned for their sugary powder, steep vertical drops, and après ski environs, after all.

However, if you're looking for a top resort with a little less name recognition, we've got even more options: avoid insane crowds in Durango, Colorado, or stick to family-friendly outings at Smuggler's Notch in Vermont. If you’re an expert, you’ll find plenty more resorts on our list that offer wide-open, wild country terrain for advanced and expert skiers in places like Taos, New Mexico. But whatever level of skiing you’re after, the best ski resorts and ski towns in the US offer something for every type of traveler – now pack your bags and get going, because it’s all downhill from here!

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Best ski resorts in the US

Park City, Utah, is the quintessential ski town thanks to its proximity to a major airport, its collection of bars and restaurants, and its ability to please both rich folks and regular Joes alike. 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 (that’s 7,300 acres, to be exact). To say there’s something for everyone here is a bit of an understatement.

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 — you’ll get the best of both world’s here.

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Ringed by world-class ski resorts, the Lake Tahoe region of California and Nevada draws millions of visitors each year. We’re incliined to steer all of them toward Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as 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. Palisades is the larger of the two, and its infrastructure from hosting the 1960 Olympics is still visible. Weekend crowds can be extreme but the mountain’s tramway, high-speed quads and gondola keep the lines moving.

Colorado's status as a top-notch winter destination has turned its 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. Here, you’ll find arguably the best snow in the state: 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. After a day of shredding knee-deep powder, there are also plenty of serene spots to kick your feet up. Steamboat boasts two hot springs, the Strawberry Park Natural Springs and Old Town Hot Springs, the latter of which features waterslides.

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Everyone knows that upstate New York has some of the best and most beautiful countryside on the eastern seaboard. As such the summers are sensational, the fall foiliage is phenomenal...and come the holiday season, it offers a winter wonderland of snow-coated shenanigans. Hunter Mountain isn't huge and it's certainly not as technically challenging as a black run in the Alps, or even as ridiculously wide as the runs at somewhere like Mammoth, but it's cozy, fun and if you stay at the Hunter Mountain Sanctuary, you can kick your boots off, enjoy a roaring open fire, a glass of mulled wine and gaze back at the mountain and the very runs you've just raced down.

Alta and Snowbird, UT
Photograph: Courtesy Snowbird/Matt Crawley

6. Alta and Snowbird, UT

Alta and Snowbird are two separate ski resorts, but we’ve combined them due to their lift ticket partnership — you can access either resort via ski lifts or a bus. A few warnings: the nightlife and après ski action is limited, and Alta is a skiers-only resort (sorry, snowboarders). 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 to give this area some of the deepest powder around. Newbies are welcome, but Alta and Snowbird’s terrain is best enjoyed by advanced skiers.

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It’s difficult to focus on the ski slope at Telluride when you have 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 Mountains. Telluride was once the state’s best-kept secret, due to the six-hour drive from Denver (there’s an itty-bitty airport here, but it’s mostly reserved for private flights). Even though the mountain now has an international reputation, crowds are still small, even on weekends. The area serves up great après ski thanks to the aptly named Mountain Village town, a development that sits amidst the chairlifts midway up the mountain.

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 right at home. Oh, and there are also ski runs that hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics, which means you’re gliding down historic slopes. 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’s main attractions are still dominated by the ski jumps and bobsled runs from the Olympics, but if you don't like to ski, Lake Placid also boats toboggan chutes, dog sledding, and Nordic ski trails.

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Big Sky 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. In total, 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 safe distance from any major cities. There’s not much in the nearby town (you’ll find a bit more bustle in Bozeman, a small city nearby), but you’ll be so tired from a day on the mountain that you probably won’t care.

Stowe’s ski runs date back to 1933. Since then, Stowe has been the most popular resort on the East Coast. Unsurprisingly, it also boasts an expensive ticket price. The ticket is worth it, however, especially when storms roll through and offer a soft padding for New England’s icy terrain. Stowe also features the best accommodations and après-ski options on the East Coast.

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Vail is ubiquitous on global 'Best Ski Resorts' lists, and it’s easy to see why. The après ski opportunities are unrivaled and the resort’s back bowls go on forever. While it’s no longer the country’s biggest resort, Vail created a model that caters 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 experts go to play. Of course, you pay for your fun at Vail, which boasts one of the most expensive lift tickets in the US alongside a roster of top-notch restaurants that are hard to resist — with so many opportunities for good food, drink and entertainment, you’re bound to leave with an empty wallet. Even still, it’s worth every penny.

Beginners beware: Taos is best enjoyed by experienced thrill seekers who enjoy the steep and deep terrain. More than half of the marked trails are black or double black, and let’s just say that Taos’ version of a blue run could easily be considered black at most other resorts. Reaching the bulk of Taos’ best 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 plenty of light, crisp powder on the mountain each year.

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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 can handle the intense 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, however, which is a destination in and of itself with small boutiques, trendy restaurants, and iconic lounges.

“Breck” is one 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, but it’s worth it if you can stand the crowds. Our tip? Slide into town during the week and you’ll find a charming, laid-back vibe — oh, and lots of snow. The real draw of Breck, however, is the charming town, which features the most varied nightlife you’ll find in Colorado’s ski towns. The bars range from upscale to dives, 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, so get ready to have a good time.

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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 take it to a whole other level. But at the end of the day, it’s Smuggs’ ski school and family programs that are the real draw — if you’re hoping to ease the little ones into skiing, this is the place to do it.

 

Though Vail, Aspen, and Breckenridge may be the first ski towns that come to mind when you imagine hitting the powder in Colorado, it would be a mistake to forget about the adorable town of Durango, located in the state's southwest corner. The quaint historic mining hub is packed with saloons, restaurants and shops, while its accommodations range from big name to boutique hotels. But for skiers, the real draw is the nearby Purgatory Resort with 13 lifts, more than 100 runs, multiple terrain parks, and a 2,000 foot vertical drop. Oh, and did we mention it's one of the most affordable major resorts out there? It’s as easy on the wallet as it is on the eyes.

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You might not perhaps think of Oregon as having an entry in this list of top ski resorts, but you'd be surprised. Along the Bend Ale Trail, which has the bonus of offering over two dozen breweries, is Mt. Bachelor. This popular and picturesque resort offers 101 runs over 4,300 acres to explore as you swish-swish-swish down the generous slopes. Moreover, the historic downtown of Bend, on the Deschutes River, also boasts a significant number of breweries (you'd think there might be a theme here) plus restaurants and boutique stores. 

 

The White Mountain National Forest itself offers a number of ski resorts and outdoors centers with hundreds of epic trails to explore. And just half an hour's drive is North Conway, a scenic little town full of color and character. And should you fancy a little break from carving up the slopes, the Mt. Washington Observatory’s science center often features exhibits about the peak’s extreme weather, plus you can take a ride on the Cog Railway and take in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains. There are plenty of restaurants and hotels to chose from, so you're spoilt for choice.

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Situated at the edge of Glacier National Park in Montana's Rocky Mountain range is an lively little town called Whitefish and the adjacent Whitefish Mountain Resort, just a few minutes drive northwards. A whole host of activities are on offer all year round, including snowboarding, skiing, snowmobiling, hiking (in snowshoes, obviously) and that's just in winter. Over 3,000 acres of the great outdoors are accessible with breathtaking views over mountains, forests, lakes and rivers. Plus there's a free shuttlebus service between the town and the resort so you can make your way back after a hard day on the slopes and enjoy a well-earned meal and a drink at one of the many restaurants and bars in town.

Save the best 'til last, right?! There's a very good reason why Mammoth Mountain, part of the Sierra Nevada range, is considered one of, if not the best, ski and snowboard resort in the country. Not only are the views nothing short of stunning, but there are so many beautiful slopes, each one seemingly as wide as a California freeway. None of this narrow-country-lane-black-run nonsense you'll find on European slopes! Here you can take up the whole road and not have to worry about it. 

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