Πέμπτη 14 Νοεμβρίου 2013 11:39:55 πμ
As we arrive here at the precipice of a new winter, we’re pleased once again to offer you the Forbes Top 10 U.S. Ski Resorts. The mountains haven’t moved and what constitutes snow hasn’t changed, but this year’s list was put together with an intensity of purpose and breadth of inputs that bests our previous efforts. We analyze more data and more of what matters for ski trips.
If you’ve read our rankings in the past, then you know that we use a proprietary algorithm that renders for each resort what’s known in PhD circles as the Pure Awesomeness Factor, or PAF. The PAF score for each resort is the most scientific and proven way to determine how many drips of fun can be wrung from one ski trip. It’s one of the more important metrics developed during our time. You’ve heard of Joules, Ohms, Amperes and the Richter Scale, of course? The PAF measurement will follow these names into history.
This year’s rankings: We spent a good deal of the summer greatly widening the data set we use to inform the PAF calculations. Our improved database includes more than 30 categories of data for 182 U.S. resorts. It was a long summer of toil, but we’re now prepared to release this emission of awesomeness to the world. Even better, in addition to the top 10 listed here, the entire rankings set—182 resorts worth of data, and rankings for regions, snow, expert mountains, family mountains and travel ease—now resides at ZRankings.com, the most comprehensive ski rankings site on the web.
We’re more confident than ever that the Forbes Top 10 U.S. Ski Resort List is the best one in the industry. Things we’re also confident in:
Top 5 Winter Gear for 2014- it’s a great winter to be in the market for some swag.
The Top 5 U.S. Ski Resorts for Families – the rankings crew is getting older; this matters to us.
A Q & A with the man of the moment in the skiing industry, Rob Katz, the CEO of Vail Resorts, the $2.5 billion company that owns marquee resorts in Colorado, California and, now, Utah
Before we get to the overall top 10 list, a few words on our methods:
To calculate PAF scores and determine which resorts are the best in the United States, our algorithm dances across more than two dozen categories of data on each resort, including: terrain makeup; lift quantity and quality; accessibility (a big, nearby airport is a plus); total vertical; vertical continuity (can it be skied all at once with a minimal of flat run-out or cat-tracks?); skiable acreage; ski town ambience; and, finally, and more important that any other single category—snow.
Data and rankings for 182 U.S. Resorts
We’ve always paid close attention to snowfall in these rankings. It’s the one thing that can send a ski trip from “that was a nice, fun, wholesome time” to an entirely different kind of trip: “I’m pushing my return flight back a week, pawning my wedding ring and putting up a down payment on a mountainside condo.” Or, more prudently, you could just buy new skis. The trips that shuffle to the top of your memory after decades of life’s general flotsam are the ones that came with 30 inches of snow. That’s just science.
So yes, snow is important. Snow regularly visits Stockholm.
Knowing that, we’ve greatly increased the depth of our snow data by hooking up with Tony Crocker, a fanatical skier who holds a statistics degree from Princeton and who has been tracking snowfall for more than 20 years with an actuary’s meticulousness. He is an actuary, in fact—the kind of math whiz who figures out how much a $100,000 annuity should cost for a 55-year-old who regularly treks to La Grave to appease an addiction to skiing icy 60-degree pitches.
Crocker actually should get a call from Stockholm, if the Swedes knew anything about skiing to go along with their inherent kinship with the cold. Crocker has compiled snowfall data on 100 resorts stretching back more than 40 years in some cases; it gives us an excellent idea of the averages and standard deviations of a ski area’s annual snow bounty. It allows us to reward a resort’s ranking for not only large annual averages, but also penalize rankings for inconsistent snowfall—i.e.: a annual snowfall of 500 inches is amazing, but less so if it often comes 6 feet at a time with large gaps—30 days or more—with little to no snow.
The best kind of snowfall comes dependably and with abundance. There are only a few places where these conditions dominate, and most of them boast high PAF scores. Alta being the ultimate case, of course, with more than a fifth of its winter days seeing more than six inches of snow, more than half of its months getting more than 90 inches of snow, and an extremely low penchant for drought—only 2% of its winter months get less than 30 inches of snow.
In addition to incorporating snowfall frequency and the chance of prolonged periods of drought, the PAF algorithm ingests data on snow quality when rendering its scores. As anybody who’s spent more than a few days skiing knows: not every flake is created equal. Some are feather light, some are sopping with moisture and some of them fit wondrously in the middle, giving skiers enough mass per unit of volume to float their ski, but not so much as to make skiing hard or dangerous. The snow that’s best for skiing contains between 8% and 9% moisture. The super light stuff—less than 7% moisture—can be fun if you get two feet or more of it, but any less and your ski easily falls through to the old, hard surface, creating the dreaded dust-on-crust effect.
Ten feet of snow in the Sierras, whose warmer storms often leave behind snow that’s 12% moisture or more, isn’t as valuable as 10 feet of snow in Utah, whose snow often hovers in that lovely zone between 8% and 9%. Colorado’s central mountain ranges receive some of the lightest snow, often below 7% moisture, which in giant abundance can be great, but put eight inches of that on a skied-up mogul field and you’re going to wish you stayed on the groomer. All of this said, snow varies storm to storm. Utah can get paper-dry snow and Oregon-style wet snow; the same goes for everywhere.
In addition to all of this wonderful data, we’re lucky this year to have a unique contribution from a stalwart in the ski industry to this year’s rankings. Greg Wright, a ridiculous skier and the publisher of Freeskier magazine, has equated each of our Top 10 Resorts with the celebrity that best fits the mountain’s persona. Alta, for instance, is Sid Vicious and Alyeska is Jack Kerouac.
This is fun. What’s also fun: winning a Ski Bum Scholarship from Columbia.It’s just as it sounds: awesome.
We try not to make readers slog through 800 words when we do one of these resort profiles that accompany our rankings, and that can be hard task considering how much work we put into our metrics and how many different elements we measure. The readability police have been emphatic in saying that a Top-10 Ski Resorts List that includes 8,000 words of narrative, no matter how sweet and righteous each and every single one of those words might be, in no way comprises the form we want.
We’ve assented to this request, but just know there’s a lot we didn’t say here. Luckily, we have the PAF—and the numbers it produces say a lot already.
You’ll find the hallowed Forbes Top 10 Ski Resorts List below. Enjoy the winter.
1. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming – PAF: 94.6
No. 1 Lift, No. 1 Mountain.
At some point during the last 20 years, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort went from being a sleepy, snowy outpost in the state with the fewest people to what is now a true destination resort. Jackson has always had the ultimate asset: an unrelenting vertical continuity with true skiing fall lines in every direction and a snowfall pattern that has proved stubbornly copious even when the rest of the West has suffered. That’s always been there.
What hasn’t always been there: An efficient gondola that ferrets people up 2,784 feet of vertical, installed in 1997. A Four Seasons, opened in 2003. A new $30 million tram in 2008, the greatest ski lift, technically and aesthetically, in North America. And perhaps the most important factor of all for any ambitious destination resort, and especially Jackson: air service that rivals any ski destination in the west that’s not Denver or Salt Lake City—and this mountain is just 35 minutes from the newly renovated Jackson Hole Airport that’s so gorgeous it’s almost bizarre. If a Russian oligarch had a tasteful streak of mountain fever, this is what he would build.
This gleaming airport now welcomes non-stops from American, Delta and United that hail from 12 different cities, among them: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and even Atlanta. So a place that was once hard to get to, but worth it, is now far easier to get to, and still worth it. Anybody who ever boards planes with the purpose of skiing should go here.
That Jackson is strictly the province of experts, huckers and powder fiends is a myth whose day is fading, but still perseveres in some corners. The bottom of the mountain is mild and inviting for beginners; and last year was the first season for Jackson’s new Casper high-speed lift that services expanded intermediate terrain, giving skiers a bastion of blue runs higher up on the mountain.
All of this destination resort talk shouldn’t give readers the idea they’re in for lift lines at Jackson. Representatives of the PAF algorithm, minions, if you will, have spent many a day mining Jackson’s slopes and in this time they have only reported significant lift lines at one lift, and only on powder days. The lift specified, of course: the tram. Even so, that 30-minute wait results in 4,139 vertical feet of skiing, which is an entire half-day for many people. And if that large spate of vertical includes Corbet’s Couloir, it could be the most indelible gravity-fueled journey a visiting skier ever takes.
As we mentioned in 2013’s rankings, the culinary scene in Jackson has kept up with the ski lifts and the lodging. For a perfect morning, we think Pearl Street Bagels is perhaps the best place for boiled dough that’s not in a zip code starting with one-zero. That’s serious praise from serious bagel eaters.
For snow geeks: Jackson’s snow isn’t quite as dependable as that of the west-facing side of Utah’s Wasatch, but it still posts high scores for its percentage of winter days with more than six inches of snowfall—16.4%—while its relation to the prevailing jet stream ensures that Jackson sees very few winter months with drought-like conditions—only 11% of months get less than 30 inches of snowfall. Jackson has a lot of terrain that faces east, which tends to lose snow more quickly, but that’s largely mitigated by the fact that Jackson, as just mentioned, is in Wyoming, which tends to be cold.
Jackson’s typical snow makes for excellent powder skiing as its density is closer to that of Utah’s (8%-9% water content) than it is to much of Colorado’s snow, which trends closer to 7% water, which still makes for wonderful stuff, but the Colorado snow, being so light, doesn’t float a ski as well, which can lead to more situations that coined the term “dust on crust,” as it takes more snow to gain sufficient coverage.
Greg Wright’s Celebrity Match: John Wayne.
Where to Stay: The options keep expanding at Jackson, but the best bet is to get into a condo in Teton Village. They’re well priced compared with other ski-in, ski-out options at top-tier resorts and your time from bed to tram can be cut to 5 minutes, assuming you sleep in your gear like we do.
2. Snowbird, Utah – PAF: 92.8
Like Jackson, Snowbird's lifts are as big as the mountain.
What if, say, you could board a plane in Chicago at 8 a.m., land someplace at 10:30 a.m., and before noon be standing atop a ski lift that just climbed 3,200 feet of a mountain that gets 500 inches of snow, and where nearly every fifth day is a powder day deeper than six inches? You would board the plane, clearly. And you’d be flying to Snowbird, a place where access, snow and terrain combine so beautifully that most travelers can ski four days while only staying three nights. And during your short getaway, you’ll likely get dumped on.
That lift doing all of the climbing is the Snowbird Tram, an ascending capsule that gives skiers more in one ride up than any other lift outside of Jackson Hole’s people mover. A lot of the things that make Jackson great are traits of Snowbird, as well: unrelenting vertical, magazine-worthy terrain everywhere, elite ski lifts, and a consistency of experience that traces back to snow, snow and snow.
The Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons west of Salt Lake City – Little holds Snowbird and Alta; Big houses Brighton and Solitude, hit the geographical lottery with the best snowfall—quality, quantity and consistency—of anywhere in our 182-resort analysis. If you’re looking for a great ski trip and you have four days or less, this is the only place.
The Cliff Lodge at Snowbird remains a model of what a ski hotel can become in the right designer’s hands: burly but refined, handsome, with not even a whiff of the trite log columns that adorn most mountain-side establishments. The self-serve ski lockers with built-in locks on the ground floor feature air tubes that dry your boots, helmet and gloves each night—a dandy feature reminiscent of some of the nicer ski hotels of Europe, like the Hotel Zurserhof in Zurs, Austria, a place that, after Chamonix, France, should rank high on your Continental hit list.
Bottom line: Snowbird is the second best ski resort in the United States—and it’s one of the easiest to get to. The airport code for Salt Lake City, by the way, is SLC.
Greg Wright’s Celebrity Match: Metallica.
3. Alta, Utah – PAF: 88.6
That'll do. A lot of resorts have pictures of people skiing powder, but Alta can take one almost every day.
If you haven’t spotted a random Alta sticker on the back of a car or on a bike helmet at some point in your life, no matter where you live, then you’re just not paying attention. If we compiled an index that tracked the number of stickers distributed and used per skier day per resort, Alta would surely top the list with ease. There’s something visceral about this place, something that compels people to peel a glossy, epoxy-backed piece of paper and affix it to what is usually their most or second-most valuable asset, their car, be it an old Toyota truck or a brand new Lexus.
Why do people do this? Why does Alta pluck a chord that Snowbird, its next-door neighbor, doesn’t? Because if you had to pick—and we do—the overall skiing experience is better at Snowbird, whose more contiguous vertical more than makes up for Alta’s small advantage in snow. Perhaps it’s Alta’s lack of snowboarders that makes people leave the place in a cultish frenzy. Or perhaps it’s the lift ticket prices that, at $79 for the highest-traffic days, are well below that of many other resorts—Vail’s price is $119. Or perhaps it’s just the snow.
Alta receives the top snow score at ZRankings, which assigns points for snow quantity, quality, consistency and deducts for the relative probability of prolonged drought, defined as less than 30 inches of snow in a month. Your odds of hitting such a month at Alta: 2% — the lowest risk of drought of any of the 102 mountains for which Tony Crocker has compiled data. Skiers also stand a 22% chance of hitting a powder day and a 51% chance of skiing during a month where more than 90 inches of snow falls. With an incredibly consistent annual snowfall of 530 inches—much of which is within that perfect zone of 8% to 9% moisture—Alta is peerless when it comes to skiing precipitation.
So if it’s snow first and snow second that you’re after, this is your place. You can even get a sticker.
4. Alyeska Resort, Alaska – PAF: 86.4
Big state, big mountain, big snow.
Alaska emits a perfect strangeness, from its towns unreachable by road, to its thousands of coastland miles that don’t see humans for decades at a time, to its north reaches, strictly the realm of oilmen and caribou. Alyeska captures some of this strangeness while still managing to resemble, just barely, a destination ski resort—essentially the only one in a state that has the terrain and snowfall for hundreds of them.
The PAF algorithm ranks Alyeska highly for its snow that falls at a rate of 650-inches per year, a large vertical drop and a wide variety of terrain. Getting to Alyeska—a vexing problem for any and all things related to Alaska—isn’t too bad of a chore, especially from the West Coast. The resort is only an easy and scenic 50-minute drive up the Cook Inlet from the Anchorage Airport. Flying to Anchorage isn’t as easy or cheap as flying to Denver, but it’s better—and cheaper—than flying into some of the regional airports that serve ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains.
The resort profits from a unique relationship with Chugach Powder Guides, which stage some of their operation right from the resort, getting their lucky clients 16,000 to 20,000 feet of vertical a day in Alaska’s Chugach range (the place where most of those funky, unbelievable lines get filmed for ski movies).
The place to stay: There’s multiple places to stay, but there is a clear, dominant property: Hotel Alyeska. With a chairlift out the back door, gorgeous rooms and a built-in registration desk for Chugach Powder Guides, this hotel offers luxury in the heart of Alaska’s snow belt.
Greg Wright’s Celebrity Match: Jack Kerouac.
5. Squaw Valley, California – PAF: 86.2
We like trams. Squaw Valley's got one. Check out Lake Tahoe in the distance.
Squaw Valley is the best resort in the Lake Tahoe area. In fact, it’s the best resort in any of the three contiguous West Coast states—and that’s a big deal, as there are a lot of great ski hills between Los Angeles and the Canadian border.
Squaw has an vast diversity of terrain—and vast diversity within its skier base—that could be the greatest of any resort anywhere. On a weekend day, you can watch some of the greatest skiers in the world shoot big lines down the Palisades and, a mere 20 minutes later, you can be skiing amongst giant throngs of San Francisco weekenders who ski like people from Texas. But remember, this is the place that gave us Shane McConkey and Jonny Moseley. Squaw’s elite skiers can challenge those of any area—including Jackson Hole.
With that diversity of skier and terrain also comes diversity of ski lifts. Squaw has it all, from classic fixed grips, cranking detachables, Alp-like trams and the only funitel—like a gondola, but on two ropes, for faster and safer rides in high winds—in the United States. Squaw’s KT-22 is one of the more iconic ski lifts in the world, whisking skiers over cliff bands, steeps and gullies to a set of crags that offer cold snow when the bottom of the resort is skiing like creme brulee.
So, yes, Squaw can get crowded. It’s a great mountain, it’s not a secret, and it’s just inside an acceptable weekend-trip driving radius from the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States. A metro area that happens to be known for its teeming young people with good jobs, lots of money and lots of free time. Many of these said young people may have contracted the scenester virus, a well-known affliction in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. And Squaw, for all its awesomeness, draws scenesters like quad-roasted coffee poured over organic donuts served with a side of smuggypants. That’s just the way it is. But you can deal with this and still ski Squaw. And you should.
Squaw gets tons of snow, nearly 500-inches a year. That annual dumping comes with a couple of caveats, however, one of them being the standard Sierra exception: the snow often carries a moisture content of more than 13%. That kind of heavy snow makes powder skiing harder and more laborious than the lighter stuff of Utah/Wyoming/Montana and Colorado. This high-moisture snow can also coagulate into a giant coal lump when just a breath of hot sun hits it. But there are cold dumps, too, in the Sierras and those can come in quantities—4 feet or more at once—that Rocky Mountain resorts just don’t see.
The other reason that Squaw’s giant snow totals don’t land it even higher in our rankings is the capricious nature of its snowfall. Squaw, like all of the Tahoe area, while it can get eight feet of snow in three days, can also go an entire winter month with nothing but a passing rain storm. A full quarter of Squaw’s winter months tally less than 30-inches of snow, drought material at a Western ski resort.
Greg Wright’s Celebrity Match: Shane McConkey. Greg further comments: “I know it’s obvious but that’s just how it will forever be for me.”
6. Vail, Colorado – PAF: 86.1
Vail's back bowls can be exquisite, so don't sleep in.
No resort has marketed itself better than Vail during the last 30 years. There was a time, not all that long ago, when Aspen was default ski resort people conjured when asked to describe vacationing in Colorado. That day has passed. We now live in the age of Vail—in more ways than one.
Vail’s hegemony traces to a number of things. For one, it’s got a great name. Vail. It just sounds like a place that’s wrapped in snow, castles and magic dust. It could be an elven village in a Tolkien novel where maladies disappear and everybody has a standing vertical jump of six feet. Alas, Vail didn’t enhance our jumping ability.
But being in Vail can enhance a lot when you’re coming from New York, Chicago or, as so many do, Denver. Vail occupies the best stretch of developed resort terrain in central Colorado. At a relatively dependable 350 inches of snow a year, it does well with snow for this part of Colorado, unlike some of the resorts on the east side—the wrong side—of Vail Pass: Keystone and Copper Mountain.
There are a number of good fall lines at Vail, including the trees of Game Creek Bowl, a favorite stash of those who know about the good life. Also on the Game Creek lift: Lost Boy, a green cruiser that runs down a ridge line at the top of the resort with fantastic views of the surrounding range and Aspen forests falling away from the mountain. If you arrive at Vail and there hasn’t been snow for a period, cutting up Lost Boy’s corduroy first thing in the morning is good bet. Just watch out for meandering Texans.
If you haven’t already heard, and you probably have heard, from elves or somebody, Vail is huge. It’s a good destination for plane-trekking skiers simply because there’s so much to be explored. The cursory warning must be offered here: on weekends, you may find yourself ‘exploring’ with the better part of the Denver metro area. Success in the ski business, and nobody has had it like Vail, means other skiers.
The resort deserves a lot of credit for addressing choke points, like the old chair No. 5, whose lines on big days could send people hiking up to chair No. 17, which isn’t exactly close. Chair No. 5 is now a high-speed quad that moves multiples of what the old, two-seater fixed grip used to deliver. So if you ski fast, this means more powder as the slower skiers won’t be able to depend on that old back-bowl fixed grip to slow you down.
Vail is owned by Vail Resorts, the largest, by far, operator of ski resorts in North America. The company has been on an expansion binge during the last few years and its stable now includes three resorts in the Lake Tahoe area and, most recently, The Canyons of Park City, Utah. Vail even owns two ski hills in the Midwest, outside of Detroit and outside of Minneapolis. Underpinning all of this expansion is the Epic Pass, which gives users full access to all of these mountains plus even some in Europe, including the resorts of Frances Les 3 Vallees.
Vail Resorts wants to be the Netflix of skiing—and the Epic pass is your subscription fee. For people who can put enough days in their winter against skiing more than one mountain in more than one place, it’s a wonderful arrangement, like binge-watching Breaking Bad one week and blowing through a Mad Men marathon the next week all for one fixed price. The full blown Epic pass with no restrictions at any of Vail’s resorts, is $729—a good deal. If you can put up with a few restrictions at some of Vail’s more popular mountains, a cheaper $569 pass is the only ticket you need.
Where to stay: There are more high quality, big properties at Vail than perhaps anywhere else, but the Ritz-Carlton Residences stand out for Pure Awesomeness.
Greg Wright’s Celebrity Match: Posh Spice (Victoria Beckham).
7. Mammoth Mountain, California – PAF: 84.5
Mammoth: hard to get to, but big and a legitimate PAF scorer
Mammoth Mountain doesn’t often make it onto the radars of destination skiers who aren’t originating from Southern California. But if people are willing to fly from the East Coast or the Midwest to Lake Tahoe—flyingpastRocky Mountain resorts—then these same people should certainly consider Mammoth Mountain.
Mammoth’s name befits its skiing as the mountain takes days to learn and years to master. There’s good terrain everywhere. Mammoth sits in a snow pattern not dissimilar from that of the resorts around Lake Tahoe with one major, positive caveat: it’s higher. Way higher. Mammoth’s slopes don’t begin until 8,000 feet and top out over 11,000 feet—putting it as much as 2,000 feet above some of the Tahoe stalwarts, including Squaw Valley. The same kind of Pacific storm system that brings February rain to the bottom of Squaw’s KT-22 lift might offer plump flakes to the lower slopes of Mammoth Mountain. What’s more, about two-thirds of Mammoth’s terrain faces north, keeping it cool and dry when other aspects are turning to Slurpee in the sun.
Mammoth does suffer from the same risk of drought as Tahoe does, however, as 28% of its winter months are quite dry, with less than 30 inches of snow precipitation. It can get similar prolific bounties, however, as a third of its winter months have featured more than 90 inches of snow.
Looking at the map, it would figure that Mammoth would be a favorite of Bay Area skiers, but because the road through Yosemite closes in the winter, getting there via road from San Francisco requires driving to Lake Tahoe and then proceeding south another 175 miles through Nevada and then back into California to Mammoth Mountain. Because of this, few Bay drivers choose to almost double their drive compared with the trip to Tahoe’s mountains. Much of Mammoth’s traffic comes from Los Angeles, in fact, which is about the same kind of drive as that from San Francisco—and L.A. doesn’t have a option that’s as good as Tahoe closer at hand.
For destination skiers not coming from California, Mammoth is worth a shot for those who like to switch things up. Mammoth is part of the fabulous Mountain Collective, so holders of that pass get two days for free at Mammoth plus every additional day at 50% off.
Greg Wright’s Celebrity Match: Jack Nicholson (that is awesome).
8. Grand Targhee, Wyoming – PAF: 83.8
Just another day at Targhee.
A lot of people know that the Park City ski areas—Deer Valley, Park City and Canyons—are inside of what’s known as a snow shadow of the areas just over the ridge on the other side of the Wasatch range—Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton. Storms hit that latter group first, and the teeth of the Wasatch shake clouds down for all of their big bills first. As storms cross the ridge into Park City, sometimes all they have left is spare change. Of course, when you’re starting with 500-plus inches of snow on West-facing side, it still means the Park City side gets 350 inches of snow a year.
What most people don’t realize, however, is that there’s a similar relationship between two resorts in Wyoming. The resort in the shadow—the resort getting less snow—is actually Jackson Hole, the No. 1 ranked resort as measured by the PAF algorithm. One reason for Jackson’s ranking is, yes, its snow: 450 inches a year, a big total that’s proven durable even during lean years for the rest of the West. The resort getting even more snow, on the other side of the range from Jackson, is Grand Targhee.
Although getting to Targhee from Jackson involves a drive across Teton Pass into Idaho through the towns of Victor and Driggs, the resort happens to be located in a Wyoming town befitting of its geographical situation and meteorological largesse: the town of Alta.
Targhee is often a quiet place. “Busy” means that a bunch of people showed up on a Saturday on a drive from the metropolis of Idaho Falls. People here, by the way, do not generally ski like Texans. They ski powder and a lot of it. They don’t, however, get the steeps and contiguous vertical that skiers at Jackson Hole enjoy. Targhee’s flaw is that it has a shape resembling half a swimming pool—a steep but short drop to a long run-out where vertical doesn’t count for as much. If Targhee had a more continuous fall line, it would not only be ranked even higher by the PAF, but it would also be a veritable training ground for pro skiers, much like Jackson and Squaw.
To be sure, there is great terrain at Targhee, it simply comes in smaller bites than the full entrees at Jackson and Snowbird.
Grand Targhee rates No. 3 in the Snow Scores at zRankings on the strength of its annual average of 500 inches of snow plus its Alta-like 20% chance of six inches of powder on a winter day. A robust 42% of winter months bring Targhee more than 90 inches of snow and only a minute 3% proffer less than 30 inches.
Greg Wright’s Celebrity Match: Tom Hanks.
9. Telluride, Colorado – PAF: 82.1
The terrain is as epic as the town.
For those who remember being amazed as a child on an initial trip to a theme park like Disneyland, or maybe a waterpark—an enthralled child asking, in her own head: how is the awesomeness of this place even possible!?—a first visit to Telluride elicits the same kind of inner response in adults.
So how is this place even possible? A coalescence of nature, tasteful planning and disciplined development make this place possible. It’s a place where cars are utterly unnecessary, where town and mountain meld into a complete ecosystem complete with an automated transportation system, where one of the best main streets in the Mountain West beckons with bars and a coterie of food, from barbecue and pub grub to elegant five star meals worthy of a major city.
That automated transportation system comes in the form of a gondola that’s free for all and runs from sun-up to midnight, easily ferrying people from historic Telluride in the valley below, up to Mountain Village, the independent town that anchors the upper resort and where much of the area’s lodging resides.
The town of Telluride barely looks real, with 14,000-foot peaks commanding the attention of a classic set of Italianate faux fronts on Main Street, which dead-ends in near a town park that stretches up a gulley that offers locals snowshoeing and more than a few ice-climbing pitches. On the ski town ambience front, Telluride has few peers. Only Aspen and Park City are in the same league.
And what of the skiing? It’s good to great. Lift lines, except on the most peak of peak days at hubs and crux points of the resort, don’t exist. Plenty of cruisers for the family and plenty of long, isolated bump runs for those 20-year-olds who still don’t know or care about ligaments.
The steep terrain at Telluride has expanded a great deal in the last 10 years and includes some of the hairiest in-bounds stuff in the United States. A two-hour hike to the apex of Palmyra Peak, facilitated by nifty sets of steel steps navigating around sketchy sections of rock and ice gives skiers 2,000 vertical feet on the north side of the 13,320-foot mountain (That snow stays cold in all but summer-like weather).
A view that justifies the trip.
Other shots that don’t require skiers spend a third of their day hiking include the Gold Hill Chutes, which can be reached in 20 minutes of hiking and reward skiers with snow that doesn’t see much traffic. The great thing about a lot of this terrain is that it gives skiers something of a backcountry experience without much of the requisite avalanche danger. Because this terrain is technically in-bounds, Telluride’s elite patrol group uses ordnance to eliminate faulty snowpacks before allowing the public onto the terrain.
New for this year is more snowmaking, which will help ensure early season dry spells don’t mess too much with peoples’ vacations. Flying into Montrose has gotten easier, too, with more flights from L.A., Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta. Telluride looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere and it feels like it, which is good, but the reality is that it can be easier getting in here than into a lot of resorts that are primarily serviced by Denver’s airport.
Telluride doesn’t get as much snow as many of the other resorts in our Top 10. If it got Alta’s snow, it would be in play for No. 1; it’s that great a place in all other phases. The threat of a bad month is real as nearly a quarter of winter months see less than 30 inches of snow and only 5% of months get more than 90 inches. The good news is that half of Telluride’s terrain sits on a north-facing slope, which, combined with its altitude, keeps its snow well-preserved and chalky on most slopes.
Where to Stay: Amazing amount of top-end lodging, but we love Mountain Lodge for the ambience, the location (walk to Mountain Village’s Market) and the quiet.
Greg Wright’s Celebrity Match: Butch Cassidy
10. Solitude, Utah – PAF: 81.7
Things are creeping toward world class at Solitude.
We make an effort to visit the resorts on our list at least once every three years. Solitude is a regular cog in that schedule and its location, like that of Alta and Snowbird, makes it easy: an easy 40 minutes from the Salt Lake Airport and skiers can be on the slope. Solitude is our Saturday mountain, especially when there’s a lot of new snow, a condition that exists about 20% of all winter days in Utah’s Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons.
People stream to Alta and Snowbird in big numbers on Saturdays; tourists, of course, but also a good sliver of the 1.2 million people who live in the Salt Lake metro area. Solitude remains far less affected by both tourist and local traffic. While a powder day at Alta can cause traffic backups for half a dozen miles, the same kind of snow fell at Solitude and skiers can usually coast right into the lot and up to a lift without getting a whiff of a queue.
Solitude is positioned on the north-facing wall of Big Cottonwood, one canyon north of Alta and Snowbird. The terrain here doesn’t drop away with the same severity as that of Little Cottonwood Canyon and it doesn’t have the same vertical as Snowbird, but there are great shots everywhere—and the same prolific snow pattern that’s bequeathed Little Cottonwood as sacred ground to most skiers. The only skiing nit with Solitude is the quantity of flatter run-out skiers must often traverse before reaching a chairlift.
But that extra travel is well worth skipping the elbow-to-elbow shoving match that a Saturday can be at Snowbird and Alta. In fact, on any big snow day during February, March and prime tourist weeks, Solitude is an excellent play for those uninterested in forging new scars of powder day battles one canyon south.
Solitude has improved its base area and lodging during the last 10 years, giving it more of a village-like destination feel rather than a sleepy local area. If you want the ambience of totally-off-the-radar in Utah, check out Powder Mountain.
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